Is the Series Based on a True Story?


A deeply complex story about a man making the best of a bad situation, Breaking Bad exemplifies the concept of a morally gray area led by an antihero protagonist. On one hand, Walter White was a victim of circumstance and just wanted to set his family up for a comfortable life after a terminal cancer diagnosis. On the other hand, he became a kingpin renowned for selling crystal meth to do it. Regardless, his story took the nation by storm as one of the most compelling television shows ever made.

Of course, a show with such a fascinating story is often rumored to have roots in the real world. Theories circulated for ages after the show’s run on whether the premise or its characters were based on real people and events. Now that the show is over 14 years old, we’ve got a concrete answer – and it might surprise you! If the release of the prequel series Better Call Saul‘s sixth season has you buzzing for more, here’s a brief assessment of whether Breaking Bad is based on a true story.

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Related: Breaking Bad: Where the Cast is Today

Who is the Real-Life Walter White?


Real Life Walter White
Via: Mental Floss

The series depicts Walter White in a, must-see performance from Bryan Cranston, as a brilliant chemist, being an alumnus of the California Institute of Technology and a former researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He helped a team at the Laboratory win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and founded the Gray Matter Technologies firm. Sometime later, he pulled out of his company and witnessed his ex-girlfriend and former friend marry and ultimately profit off his work. By the time we see him in the show’s first episode, Walter is a disenchanted 50-year-old high school teacher and part-time car washer suspended in a world that does not share his passion.

When Walter is diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer and is told he’ll likely die within two years, he realizes he can not leave his family in debt and financial instability. Thus, he taps into the insanely profitable world of drug dealing and becomes New Mexico’s most prominent crystal meth dealer. Five seasons of Walt’s deepening entanglement with the local drug trade showcases his descent into villainy, and the finale displays his death amidst an incredibly well-outfitted meth lab just as the police arrive … all on his 52nd birthday, no less.

Related: Breaking Bad Star RJ Mitte Wants Walt Jr. to Return in a Spinoff Series

Believe it or not, there’s a real-life case involving a real Walter White, a former construction worker who gave up his career to make a name for himself in – you guessed it – the ultra-lucrative drug trade. He was known as a meth kingpin and regarded himself as having cooked the best meth in all of Alabama for around ten years. The 53-year-old faced trial in 2014, where he was tried for four counts of drug charges and a misdemeanor. Surprisingly, he only pled guilty to one count of possession, and the jury dismissed all other charges. White’s ultimate punishment was a $ 2,000 fine with 32 months of probation.

If you’re confused about his sentence, you may be thinking of another Walter White, who was also a meth dealer. According to CBS News, that Walter operated out of Montana, distributed an estimated 32 pounds of the meth and was eventually shot by his son, Brandon. His court sentence was a far heftier 12 years in prison.

Is Breaking Bad Based on the Real-Life Walter White?


Breaking Bad Jesse and Walter White
Via: Sony Pictures Television

Despite popular belief, Breaking Bad did not take any inspiration from real-life stories of drug dealers. Rather, creator Vince Gillian first conceptualized the idea after working on The X-Files. He wanted to produce a show with a main character who would gradually become the antagonist; he hoped to subvert television’s way of keeping characters stagnant to prolong runtime. At one point, he and fellow writer Thomas Schnauz joked about selling meth out of an RV during an unemployment period – one thing lead to another, and Gilligan finally pitched his concept to Sony, Showtime, and several other networks. FX, and then AMC, jumped on the premise and Breaking Bad as we know it would go on to become an award-winning series that spanned five unforgettable seasons.


As it would seem, the existence of real-life meth dealers named Walter White is purely coincidental. So far, none have gotten into the business over a diagnosis of terminal illness, though others (not named Walter White) were chemists and / or teachers. Many of these individuals were involved in the trade well before Breaking Bad was created, so it’s safe to say that this incredible series was simply the product of a wild idea and the victim of circumstantial coincidence. Who knew?



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