The Real Life Walter White



The Real Life Walter White

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
We all know the name Walter White, but we bet you didn't know the real story behind Breaking Bad. Let's get one thing straight, Breaking Bad is a work of fiction. With that being said, life has a tendency to imitate art (and vice versa), and sure enough, there are a number of cases out there that bear a striking resemblance to the basic premise of Breaking Bad.
Few television series have risen to heights achieved by Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad”. Not only did it survive the Writer’s Strike of 2007-2008, but over its 5 season run, it earned 16 Primetime Emmys (among countless other awards) and became one of the highest-rated TV series of all time. With a spin-off series and film to it’s name, and considering its enduring pop culture legacy, “Breaking Bad” is undeniably among the greatest and most influential series in television history. Who would’ve thought that the story of a high school science teacher cooking meth in Albuquerque, New Mexico would resonate with so many viewers around the world?

Let’s get one thing straight. “Breaking Bad” is a work of fiction. Creator Vince Gilligan began with the simple concept of starting a series with a protagonist and having them evolve into an antagonist. Eventually this idea would evolve into the series we know and love today, without ever drawing direct inspiration from real life figures.

With that being said, life has a tendency to imitate art (and vice versa), and sure enough, there are a number of cases out there that bear a striking resemblance to the basic premise of “Breaking Bad”. In 2013, a Montana man by the name of Walter White received a 12 year sentence when he was arrested after having distributed an estimated 32 pounds of meth. Funnily enough, it was only when he got in an argument with his son (one that resulted in gunshots), that the police managed to bring his operation to a halt. Who knew that building a meth empire would cause a rift between father and son...?

More recently, in 2017, a former high school science teacher in New Mexico was handed a nine year sentence after being caught cooking methamphetamines. And in 2019, two college professors at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas were arrested for cooking meth in the university science lab. Prophetically, the college newspaper had once nicknamed one of the men “Henderson’s Heisenberg”.

But of all the real world Heisenberg’s out there, none bring to mind Bryan Cranston’s character quite as vividly as Walter Eddy White of McCall, Alabama. While the aforementioned crooks likely took inspiration from Vince Gilligan’s series (or were at least aware of it), this man’s career predates the TV character with whom he shares a name and profession. “Breaking Bad” premiered in 2008, and by that point in time, Alabama’s Walter White was already many years deep into running his very own meth empire.

Like his small screen counterpart, Walter E. White was a family man with a wife and kids. Rather than teach science, he did construction. Weekends were for playing catch and having family barbecues. He originally started cooking meth as a side-hustle, but he quickly found that it was not only easy money, but that he also had a real knack for it. He might not have had a cancer diagnosis to contend with, but White nonetheless had a family to provide for, and these extra earnings (theoretically) meant a better life for them.

Because the meth he was producing was of such superior quality to that of the competition, it was in high demand, and so he progressively went from cooking in evenings to doing it full time. Before long, White had quietly built himself a meth empire that was generating thousands of dollars a day. Like Heisenberg, his operation started small. Instead of an RV, he cooked out of a small shed. And, again like Heisenberg, he eventually needed to upgrade to a bigger space that would also help them steer clear of authorities, and so he and his partner moved production to a ranch.

While Heisenberg’s method is quite sophisticated, Walter E. White kept things simple, even as output increased. The fact of the matter is, he had a straightforward method involving iodine crystals, and he knew how to give the meth a bump that seemingly no other producer east of the Mississippi could compete with. And while he never developed a fancy alter-ego, White played it smart. He was in business for many years, managing to build his empire without drawing attention to himself. He was the cook and his partner handled distribution, significantly reducing his risk.

Unfortunately, as fans of the series know all too well, building a meth empire, however good your intentions or careful you try to be, never ends well. Walter E. White was making a fortune, but the business changed him and took its toll on him personally. His wife eventually divorced him and his relationship with his children got to the point that he and his eldest son, with whom he worked in construction, stopped speaking altogether. Though his personal life was falling apart, business was still booming, and so like his small-screen counterpart, White became consumed by his criminal endeavor.

The inevitable finally happened in 2008. Despite trying to keep a low profile, the reputation of his meth drew the attention of the authorities. In a very “Breaking Bad” type moment, Walter E. White got a call from his problem-solving-type lawyer, warning him that the cops were catching on. And so White did the smart thing and stopped cooking. But his partner wasn’t willing to call it quits just yet, and ultimately brought the heat down on both of them. Walter E. White was arrested in Tuscaloosa County in 2008 and charged with trafficking, among other related charges. His partner, Sammy, was busted multiple times and ultimately earned himself two life sentences.

White managed to score probation, but he was too deep into the world of meth, and so he ultimately wound up getting arrested on similar charges in Bibbon County in 2012. When he missed his court date, he earned himself a place on the sheriff's most wanted list, with $2 million bond to boot. Walter E. White, the one-time meth kingpin of Alabama had hit rock bottom.

By all rights, that could have been the end of Walter E. White’s life as he knew it. But for whatever reason, the judge took pity on White and reduced his bond to just $10,000 so that he could seek treatment.

While Bryan Cranston’s terminally-ill Walter White went out in a blaze of glory, Walter E. White got a second chance. A group of individuals from his son’s church community pitched in to pay his bond. He was admitted to the Foundry Rescue Mission & Recovery in Bessemer, Alabama, where he turned over a new leaf. During this time, he also reconnected with his estranged family, including his eldest son and grand-daughter. Between his family and the Foundry, Walter E. White seemingly found a new lease on life.

White’s case received national attention in December 2013, when he was the subject of a Vice documentary. At the time, he was still awaiting trial. However, he’s since had his day in court . . . and all things considered, he came out pretty well.

It’s been reported by some outlets that he was sentenced to 12 years in prison; but that’s actually the OTHER Walter White from Montana. Walter White from Alabama received a much lighter sentence. According to court records obtained by WatchMojo, on March 10th, 2014, he was tried for four drug-related felonies and a misdemeanour, including manufacturing and trafficking methamphetamine. He pled guilty to just one felony: possession of a recreational controlled substance. The jury dismissed the other charges, and White was sentenced to a fine of $2,000, and 32 months probation and suspended confinement.

Like “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, Alabama’s Walter White eventually had to face the consequences of his actions. Fortunately for the meth “chef”, however, his fate turned out to be very different to his fictional counterpart’s.