The Political Life Of Marion Barry, Explained

HBO will air a documentary tonight on Marion Barry, inarguably one of the most intriguing, mercurial, and seemingly invincible figures in American politics. The Nine Lives of Marion Barry (see the trailer here) will go on at 9 p.m. Eastern.

In former lives, Barry has been a civil rights activist, City Council member, mayor of DC, felon, federal prisoner, City Council member (again), mayor (again), and, most recently, City Council member (again). Barry took a bullet near his heart in 1977 attempting to defend the District Building from terrorists, and rose to become mayor the following year...ran up against allegations of drug use in the 1980s...nominated Jesse Jackson as a candidate at the Democratic National Convention in 1984...was caught on tape by the FBI using crack cocaine...and spent six months in prison...only to return, elected mayor again in 1994...declined to run for reelection in 1998 amid more scandal...and returned again to win a City Council seat in 2004.

The intrigue doesn't end there. Last month, in what by this time may be considered a predictable relapse into scandal, Barry was arrested and accused of stalking his former girlfriend, whom he had recently hired with taxpayer money as a contractor to award grants to nonprofits before some of them were legally incorporated, leading to more controversy, and perhaps a federal probe.

Following that storyline in print makes one wonder how Barry has stayed alive, through everything. The documentary by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer begins to answer that question--it shows Barry in the full swing of his political skill and personal charisma as he rose to become a star in the 1970s...two needed attributes for attracting so much scandal and rising from the ashes. To some, Barry seems as inexplicable as he is controversial; in The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, Flor and Oppenheimer attempt an explanation.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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