Dressed in a sharp white suit and knuckle dusters, for a long time Dave Courtney was the archetype of the east London gangster.
Making a name for himself through his (sometimes spurious) affiliation with other famous East End hardmen such as the Krays, Roy Shaw and Lenny McLean, Courtney became one of Britain’s best-known gangsters, before pivoting from a life of crime to enter the world of film and writing.
But his showbiz career was cut dramatically short in the early hours of Sunday morning, when police found the 64-year-old dead at his famous Camelot Castle home in south east London.
A post announcing his death on his Instagram account said Courtney "took his own life", having shot himself with a firearm at his lavish Plumstead home.
It said: "It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dave Courtney at the age of 64."
In his final Facebook post, Courtney could be seen watching Charlton Athletic win 4-0 against Reading on Saturday, with the ex-criminal enjoying the “full works” at The Valley stadium, eating a three-course meal.
Courtney’s many brushes with the law allegedly inspired Vinnie Jones's character in the film Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, which brought him to the attention of Hollywood.
He then swapped his life of crime to become an author and actor, publishing six books, and starring in crime documentaries and low-budget gangster films.
Tributes have flowed for the actor on social media, with fans and colleagues expressing their shock and love for the notorious mobster.
Writer and author Rocky Troiani said: “This is a post I never thought I would be writing. The loss of Dave Courtney is beyond words so heartbreaking to write. Dave had been a close friend for many years as well as a great support for my charity work as photo shows here and even for a little sick girl just a couple of years ago dressed a Father Christmas.
“Dave had a heart of pure gold and would help anyone that genuinely needed it. I will miss my Christmas Eve call this year. Such a sad loss and one that has broken many hearts too. God bless you sir you will be so sadly missed.”
Actor Terry Stone wrote on Facebook: "He always had lots of funny stories to share and was always the life and soul of any party.
"What Dave did for me was he gave me my first break into acting and he was a really good friend of mine when I was promoting One Nation & Garage Nation back in 1990’s [sic]."
So from his many, many court cases, to his lavish south east London Camelot Castle home, here is everything you need to know about the gangster nicknamed the “most feared man in Britain”.
Murder attempts, brushes with the Krays and inspiring Lock Stock – an early life of crime
Born in Bermondsey in 1959 and raised in south east London, Courtney was a young boy when his dalliances with the capital’s criminal underworld began.
He was just nine years old when the infamous gangster Krays twins were jailed, but claims to have arranged security for Ronnie Kray's funeral in 1995.
Throughout his life, Courtney’s brushes with London’s gangster scene continued. He was very open about his exploits, claiming to have been the target of many murder attempts, including being shot, stabbed and having his nose bitten off, during a life of crime and violence. After surviving a car crash on the M20, Courtney claimed that it was an attempt by "someone who had a grudge against him" to kill him.
Never a shrinking violet, he quickly became one of Britain’s best-known gangsters, referring to himself as Dave Courtney OBE – “One Big Ego”.
He even claimed that he spent some time in Belmarsh Prison as a high-security prisoner, corroborated by ex-prison guard Jim Dawkins in his book The Loose Screw.
When Guy Ritchie’s black comedy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels came out in 1998, Courtney watched in shock as he saw a scene from his own life play out on screen.
Writing in one of his books, he recalled: “I banged the lid of the sunbed down on him and whacked him hard four or five times. The Perspex behind his head shattered.
“I waited until he came round enough to hear me. ‘Listen, you ever take a liberty again with a mate of mine and never mind the sunbed tan, I'll spit-roast you'. I think I got the message across, judging by the terrified look in his eyes as I walked out.
“And if that little incident sounds familiar to you, it's because they later used it in the film Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels – with Vinnie Jones playing me.”
However, it’s still somewhat unclear how much Courtney played up his dramatic life for the media. Former members of the Richardson gang, Bernard O'Mahoney and Frankie Fraser, have accused Courtney of fabricating and embellishing his past criminal record - which Courtney has denied.
His many, many court cases
Whether or not all of Courtney’s self-proclaimed exploits are completely accurate, what is certainly true is that he is no stranger to the legal system, finding himself in court for a string of charges throughout the early Noughties.
In November 2000, Courtney walked free from the Old Bailey after he was cleared of being part of a plot to plant cocaine on an innocent woman. During the trial, he was named as a registered police informant using the alias "Tommy Mac".
Four years later, Courtney was charged with assault after being accused of beating his girlfriend Jennifer Lucrea Pinto during a row over an alleged affair with the female ex-partner of EastEnders star Steve McFadden. Pinto claimed she was attacked after she complained about being treated like a slave. The incident lasted almost a decade, finally coming to trial in 2012, where Courtney was cleared of all charges.
Outside court, Courtney said: "I can't say I'm overjoyed because I didn't actually do it. The only people that shout 'yes' when they get a Not Guilty is if they actually done it."
But Courtney soon found himself in hot water again, and this time he wasn’t so lucky.
In 2009, he landed himself in court on three separate occasions. In January, he was given an 18-month conditional discharge at Bristol Crown Court, on a charge of possessing live ammunition without a firearms certificate.
In a scathing put-down, his defence of not knowing that the single live pistol round was live rather than a stage prop prompted Judge Ticehurst to say, "It perhaps undermines your street credibility and your stage performance that you cannot distinguish between a real round and a fake round. But perhaps that's not for me to say."
Four months later, in May 2009, Courtney filed for bankruptcy, reportedly owing £400,000 to creditors, including taxes of £250,000.
In July of the same year, he was arrested and charged with possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of a firearm whilst being a prohibited person. He was sent in custody to Woolwich Crown Court for trial, but was found not guilty of all charges in December.
From crime to creativity: a gangster-turned-film-star
While for a long time Courtney was the archetypal London gangster, in later life he experienced something of a career switch.
Pivoting from crime to creativity, he began to make a living starring in a series of low-budget crime films, such as Six Bend Trapp, Clubbing to Death and The Dead Sleep Easy. He also starred in, directed and produced his own film, Hell To Pay.
As well as appearing on the big screen, Courtney also published seven books – including titles such as Dodgy Dave's Little Black Book – and recorded a version of I Fought The Law with Scottish pop-punks Mute.
At the time of his death, Courtney was reportedly in the process of writing an eighth book.
A nightclub, sniper statue, and suits of armour: inside Camelot Castle, his south east London mansion
As well as his criminal skirmishes, Courtney's infamous south east London home has itself been something of a local landmark in recent years.
Dubbed Camelot Castle, the Plumstead property is reportedly decorated with fake guns, swords, and suits of armour, numerous pictures of the late Queen, a jacuzzi, gold lion paintings, Union Jacks, and a statue of a sniper.
A former school turned mansion, it is also reportedly home to a replica of King Arthur's Sword in the Stone and a bust of his own head.
A blue plaque on the wall reads: “David J Courtney born 17.2.1959 amusing raconteur, prolific author and infamous f***er resides here.”
Courtney told BBC London he had a mural painted on the side of his house that depicted the Kray twins, Lenny McLean, Joey Pyle, Charlie Richardson, Ronnie Biggs, John Gotti, Roy Shaw, Freddie Foreman, Howard Marks and Al Capone.
"And I'm stuck right in the middle of it, me and a bunch of mates," he said.
In the front room hangs a painting of Dave with a halo and angel wings. Courtney also claimed the painter filled half a pot of paint with his blood so that “the skin is Dave Courtney's DNA”.
A cinema room also doubled as a nightclub and a “dungeon” where adult films are reportedly made.
A quiet philanthropist
Somewhat at odds with his tough guy persona, Courtney was also a dedicated philanthropist.
While patron to an ADHD charity called Misunderstood in Rochester for ten years, Courtney delivered talks on ADHD in schools.
In 2017, he also opened up his Castle Camelot home in Plumstead to hold a disco raising funds for the charity Autistic Inclusive Meets (AIM).
“An awful lot of people I know have autistic children,” he said. “If I’m going to help with a charity, I’m going to help one I know personally.”
After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, Courtney even drove supplies into Ukraine on multiple occasions to help with the war effort.
Earlier this year, he also headlined a charity afternoon in support of Leamington-based addiction charity New Chapters.