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‘Midnight Express’ Author Billy Hayes Slams Oliver Stone’s ‘Self-Serving’ Book (Guest Column)

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, Brad Davis, 1978. ©
©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Eve

Billy Hayes, author of the autobiographical book “Midnight Express,” on which the film directed by Alan Parker and written by Oliver Stone was based, disagreed with several of the assertions made in Stone’s new book, “Chasing the Light.”

Oliver Stone, acknowledged master of revisionist history, has made several self-serving comments about me and the film version of “Midnight Express” in his new book. As he embarks on his book tour and spreads his thoughts, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Oliver claims he’d heard no objections from me about his script, as if anyone even asked me after I’d signed away the rights. He claims he was stunned to learn that I’d made three hash smuggling trips to Turkey prior to being arrested on my fourth trip, since I’d made no mention of the first three in my best-selling 1976 book or in the following three years while the film was being made. This was all at the height of the War on Drugs. My lawyer informed me I would be opening myself up to arrest in the U.S. by admitting prior smuggling trips. We were also concerned that the Turkish government would ask for my extradition, so it was clear to us I needed to protect myself.

Oliver, whose films are frequently criticized for straying from the truth, claims that if he knew the full story, he would not have taken the job — the job that won him his first Academy Award and dramatically advanced his career. Yeah, right. He says that his sense of truth was offended. Where was his sense of truth when he substituted what I actually said to the Turkish Court during sentencing, which was that I couldn’t agree with them, all I could do was forgive them, with his rabid screed against Turkey, having my character call them “a nation of pigs” and vowing to “f**k all their sons and daughters”? This scene, along with Oliver’s completely concocted scene where I kill a Turkish guard, which I did NOT do, led to the Turkish government issuing an Interpol warrant against me that stood for the next 20 years. Not issued when I escaped or when my book came out, but when they heard Oliver’s ranting words coming from my character’s mouth in the film. Not that it mattered to him, apparently.

In fact, my escape, as portrayed in the film, is also complete fiction. I didn’t kill a guard and prance out of prison. I escaped from Imrali Island prison by rowboat in a storm, traveled across half of Turkey and swam the Maritza River to freedom in Greece.

Oliver claims I wasn’t honest with him about my sexuality and complains about the criticism he received from the LGBT community for his sanitizing the prison sex in the film. Since I wrote about my prison relationship in “Midnight Express,” which I assume he read, his statement is quite baffling. If he just forgot, I can relate, I’m 73 now myself. Or does he need to continue justifying the changes he makes in the stories he tells in his effort to, in his words, “reflect the spirit of the truth”? What truth?

Oliver claims my statement about “forgiving the Turks” was only revealed much later, after the movie was released, while it, too, is in my book. I guess he forgot again. And yet his snide reference to my statement being “suspiciously Christ-like” is actually true in a way, as I learned in prison that my reason for being is simply to love, and in that darkest hour of being sentenced to life, offering them forgiveness was all I could do to keep it together.

In “Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes,” the one-man show I’ve been performing around the world for the past seven years, I get to be all that I am and to give back all that I have to offer; in the Q&A that follows each performance the audience response is informative and gratifying. Oliver’s name often comes up and I’ve always been respectful of his work and acknowledged the positive effect the film has had on my life. It saddens me that he feels the need to aggrandize himself at my expense.

As for his rather snippy question about how I live with myself? Quite well, thank you; happily married to the same woman for 40 years, still doing daily yoga, and at peace with the world. I wish Oliver the same…