How Did Gary Johnson Become a Hitman?

Netflix’s black comedy film ‘Hit Man’ chronicles the efforts of Gary Johnson to arrest individuals of varying kinds who have been plotting murders. As a fake assassin, he meets and tricks them into talking about their wish to see their targets murdered and giving him his “fee,” only for his colleagues to arrest them in no time. In real life, Gary was nothing short of a superstar among fake assassins who were an integral part of law enforcement at the time. He has been described as the “Laurence Olivier” of his field, which makes the fact that he accidentally became a hitman all the more intriguing!

The Accidental Hitman

Being a hitman was not a part of Gary Johnson’s plans. Gary became a fake assassin with enough background in law enforcement. He served as a military policeman who oversaw conveys during the Vietnam War and as a sheriff’s deputy in Louisiana after his return from the war front. He received his first undercover gigs while working in the Port Arthur police department in Texas. His main assignments involved him “playing” a drug addict buying drugs. “I don’t think the drug dealers ever suspected I might be a cop because my personality was so weird, to begin with,” Gary told Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth about his start as an undercover agent.

Regardless of his stints with law enforcement bodies, Gary dreamt of a different kind of life. He wanted to attend the University of Houston for a doctoral program in psychology. When the institution rejected his application, Gary did odd jobs in the DA’s office. His duties or responsibilities, according to Hollandsworth’s profile of the man, included gathering physical evidence, finding witnesses for upcoming trials, tracking down stolen automobiles, and assisting in stakeouts. Gary didn’t have a particular direction in the office until a lab technician named Kathy Scott decided to murder her husband for an insurance payout, retirement benefits, and two houses.

When the authorities learned about Scott’s plan, they saw Gary at his desk. Likely for no particular reason, his officials chose him as the hitman to trap Scott. He became Mike Caine, a badass biker in Hollandsworth’s words, to lure the woman to his colleagues. After Scott was sentenced to eighty years in prison, the demand for Gary increased. The next call came from Galveston County, as the officials there had to arrest an oil rig worker who wanted his wife killed for the custody of their children. Soon after their meeting, the guy was arrested, and Gary added another feather to his cap.

The Laurence Olivier of Hitmen

Gary emerged as the go-to guy in the field of fake hitmen during a time when his peers failed to make their targets talk. The police stations in and around the Greater Houston area realized that Gary had a knack for it. His clientele couldn’t be any more diverse. According to Paul Duggan’s feature in The Washington Post, the people who sought his service included “housewives, barflies, business owners, burger flippers, pencil pushers, an Elvis impersonator, [and] a church pianist who wanted the choir director dead.” Even a high school student tried to hire him with a fee of $5.30 and seven Atari video games.

Regardless of who was in front of him, Gary made them talk. “They called him a ‘Laurence Olivier fake hitman’ because he approached the job differently,” Glen Powell, who plays Gary and wrote ‘Hit Man’ with director Richard Linklater, told the press about his inspiration. “Instead of just becoming the hitman for hire [sitting] across from someone who is trying to kill their husband or their wife or their business partner, he embodied their fantasy of what a fake hitman is,” the actor added. The hitman’s bosses never hesitated to shower him with praises.

“He’s the perfect chameleon. Gary is a truly great performer who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself [in]. He never gets flustered, and he never says the wrong thing,” Michael Hinton, who once served as Gary’s supervisor, told Hollandsworth about the hitman. His excellence, however, came with a price: personal relationships. Gary, who had gotten divorced thrice, was never able to maintain a long-term relationship. “I only trust dead people and my enemies because I know where they stand,” he told The Washington Post.

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