Drug abuse writer accused of exaggerating crime record

A writer whose memoir about drug abuse became a massive bestseller in the US after Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club has been accused of exaggerating his criminal record in the work.

James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a graphic description of his troubled past, was the second biggest selling title in America last year after shifting 1.77 million copies, and is currently top of the nonfiction paperback list.

In October Winfrey described it as “like nothing you’ve ever read before”, on an edition of her show entitled The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake At Night, turning it into an overnight literary sensation.

But investigative website The Smoking Gun alleges Frey made inflated claims about his criminal record and involvement in an accident that killed two high school students.

“Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey’s book”, it said.

The 36-year-old had embellished details of his “purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw ’wanted in three states’,” the article alleged.

The Smoking Gun said he also “invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students”.

And it claimed that when the authors of the article interviewed him, Frey “did, for the first time, admit that he had embellished central details of his criminal career and purported incarceration for ’obvious dramatic reasons’ in the nonfiction work”.

Frey pre-empted the publication of its article by posting a letter the authors had written to him and a reponse on his own website.

He said: “This is the latest investigation into my past, and the latest attempt to discredit me.

“In an effort to be consistent with my policy of openness and transparency, I thought I should share it with the people who come to this website and support me and my work.

“So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response.”

Before that, he had threatened to sue The Smoking Gun.

The memoir has captivated millions of readers with its story of violence, addiction and recovery.

Winfrey’s selection of Frey’s book, which she described as “a radical departure”, was the first for a living writer in nearly two years, and it is still prominently displayed on her book club website.

The movie rights have been purchased by Warner Bros.

Frey has said previously that he initially pitched a version of his story as a novel, but that publishers showed no interest.

The book’s hardcover publisher, Doubleday, and paperback publisher, Anchor, said in a joint statement: “We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book which has touched the lives of millions of readers.”

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