Frank Lucas, played by the actor in the 2007 film, died in New Jersey, his brother said.
TMZ reports he was being transferred to hospital for an unknown health issue and died on the way.
He established notoriety by dealing heroin in Harlem in the 1960s and 70s.
He used to boast of using coffins of dead US servicemen to transport narcotics.
“We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins, except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos”
Frank told New York in 2000: “Who the hell is gonna look in a dead soldier’s coffin?
“We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins, except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos.”
American Gangster would later inspire an album from Jay-Z.
The rapper told Rolling Stone: “Frank Lucas, it’s something about when African-Americans reach somewhere, no matter what they’re doing, if they reach somewhere that no one has ever been before, you’re like ‘Go! Go!”
Frank claimed his drug empire was making around £791,000,000 per day at its peak.
He was born in North Carolina before he moved to New York City, where he immersed himself in the drug trade.
Frank was jailed for a whopping 70 years in prison, but was given a reduced sentence after ratting out other gangsters.