What Happened to Gary Johnson? Where Is the Real Hit Man Now?

Life as an undercover cop posing as a hitman isn’t easy. Well, maybe it was for Gary Johnson. The new hit Netflix movie is based on his real life, and despite some things being over-exaggerated and made up, what really happened to the actual Gary Johnson is no joke.

The new movie follows college professor Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) who works sting operations for the New Orleans Police Department and becomes a pretend hit man. After many arrests and costume changes, Madison (Adria Arjona) walks through the door, and asks him to kill her abusive husband. What happens next is over an hour of steamy romance and thrills that keep you on your toes.

Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson.

The story is based on a Texas Monthly article about the real-life Gary Johnson who has a lot of parallels with his movie counterpart. He indeed was college professor and did sting operations as a side hustle. He was named the “Laurence Olivier” of his field when he was undercover. “He’s the perfect chameleon,” one of Johnson’s former supervisors told the publication “He never gets flustered, and he never says the wrong thing. He’s somehow able to persuade people who are rich and not so rich, successful and not so successful, that he’s the real thing. He fools them every time.”

What happened to Gary Johnson?

After more than 70 arrests, life as an animal-loving Buddist, and serving the US during the Vietnam War, Gary Johnson died in 2022. He lived a quiet and peaceful life and his cause of death is unknown. Like what the end credits said, he did not murder anyone. “We made that part up,” it says in parenthesis.

Hit Man’s director Richard Linklater described Johnson to Decider as “chillest dude imaginable” after meeting him to discuss making the film. “He was so nonplussed. You would think when someone’s making a film, with your name on it, about your life, your occupations—but he was like, ‘Yup. Sounds good,’” he recounted. “I thought I had to, like, impress him or sell him on letting us do it. He was like, ‘Well, Skip says you’re a good guy. Fine with me.’”

Linklater also said that his life as a pretend hitman didn’t stress him out. “He really was beautifully detached from it,” he said. “It was that Zen master in him. He had a Buddhist service after he passed away. I think he was that Vietnam vet who—aloneness was okay with him. You know? He was married a couple of times, and was very close to his exes, which we tried to portray in the movie. They like him. He was a really good person. No one ever say anything bad about him. But he’s a complex guy. He contained the multitudes, let’s say.”

Powell, who served as a writer for the film as well, and Linklater made the decision to make some disclaimers at the end of the film if they said it was based on a true story. “I noticed from an early screening, people were asking questions: ‘Well, if it’s based on a true story and there’s this murder, did he get away with it? Is he a murderer?’’” the director told Netflix’s Tudum. “And it’s like, ‘Oh no, we made that up,’ but I realize you can’t say that to every audience member.”

Hit Man is now streaming on Netflix.

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