Sofía Vergara takes the lead in the new Netflix miniseries Griselda, a dramatization of the life of Colombian drug dealer Griselda Blanco, known as “the Godmother of Cocaine.” The Modern Family star is often almost unrecognizable in her jaw-dropping performance as Blanco, and Vergara also executive-produced the series.
Set throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Griselda re-creates the key moments in Blanco’s rise to power in Miami, including many of the fatalities that occurred along the way. Here’s what you need to know about the true story behind Griselda, one of the most anticipated TV shows of the year.
Difficult early life and first marriage
Griselda Blanco was born in Colombia on February 15, 1943, Brittanica says. After being abandoned by her father, she moved to the city of Medellín with her mother, a sex worker and alcoholic who allegedly subjected her daughter to violent abuse, according to the Independent. Blanco’s life was far from easy, with the young girl growing up in poverty, allegedly turning to prostitution and pickpocketing to make ends meet at a young age. In one apocryphal story noted by Brittanica, an 11-year-old Blanco helped kidnap a boy from a wealthy family, and then shot him dead when the ransom wasn’t paid.
According to Vice, Blanco moved in with forger and pimp Carlos Trujillo, who would become her first husband, when she was just 13. The couple had three children together: Dixon, Uber, and Osvaldo, according to Biography.com. The family moved to New York in 1964, where Blanco began selling marijuana, the BBC says. But Blanco split from Trujillo by the late 1960s, and allegedly had him killed in the early 1970s.
“It is important to remember who Griselda was early on in her life,” Vergara told the BBC. “She was an immigrant raising three kids completely alone. She had nothing—no education or tools to survive.”
Second marriage and drug trafficking
Following her divorce from Trujillo, Vice notes, Blanco married cocaine trafficker Alberto Bravo. Together, the couple set up an illustrious drug trafficking operation, using Bravo’s clothing import business in New York as a cover. Blanco opened a lingerie factory in Colombia, specifically adjusting the garments to include compartments suitable for smuggling cocaine, Vice says. Her ingenuity is highlighted in Griselda, as is the future “Cocaine Godmother” enlisting the help of female smugglers, as she believed they would pass undetected more easily while traveling. At the height of their success, Blanco and Bravo allegedly employed a network of as many as 1,500 drug dealers, while also collaborating with notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, the Daily Mail says.
Although their business was booming, Blanco’s marriage to Bravo took a dark turn; apparently, she believed he was stealing from her. After the couple returned to Colombia from the United States, where they faced drug charges, Blanco killed Bravo during a shootout in the capital, Bogotá. The 1975 firefight also reportedly claimed the lives of six bodyguards, The Telegraph says. Blanco was injured during the shootout as well, getting hit in the stomach by fire from Bravo’s Uzi, a detail explored in Griselda. Biography.com notes that Bravo’s death, on top of Trujillo’s killing, was the basis for a new nickname for her: “the Black Widow.”
The Cocaine Cowboy wars
Her second marriage behind her, Blanco moved her three sons to Miami in the late 1970s, where she began building the empire she would become known for, Brittanica says. She quickly became known for her penchant for violence and her involvement in the “Cocaine Cowboy” wars, a long series of public gunfights and other grievous acts of violence that took place all over the Florida city. In 2018, assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Schlessinger told the Miami Herald: “She was a complete sociopath. She murdered people at the drop of a hat. She would kill anybody who displeased her, because of a debt, because they screwed up on a shipment, or she didn’t like the way they looked at her.”
Blanco wed her third husband, Dario Sepulveda, in 1978, according to Vice, and the couple welcomed a son, Michael Corleone Blanco, named for Al Pacino’s character in The Godfather. It’s believed that Blanco’s drug smuggling operation raked in as much as $80 million per month, the Daily Mail says. In fact, her operation was so successful, she was offered $15 million to give up her territory in the early 1980s, but refused, the BBC reports.
The family reportedly lived a lavish lifestyle, with Blanco demonstrating her power as the Godmother of Cocaine on many horrifying occasions. According to Vice, she reportedly hosted orgies at her mansion in Miami, held people at gunpoint and forced them to have sex, and ordered the deaths of eight strippers for their reported involvement with her husband. Besides being a purveyor, Vice says, Blanco was also an enthusiastic consumer of drugs, which may have led to some of her dangerous criminal behavior. The Telegraph notes that when Blanco ordered the death of former cartel member Jesus “Chucho” Castro, his two-year-old son Johnny was tragically killed by accident instead.
Sepulveda’s death and Blanco’s arrest
Sepulveda and Blanco’s marriage couldn’t withstand what was happening within the family’s drug smuggling empire. He fled to Colombia in 1983, leaving Blanco behind, but taking Michael with him, the Daily Mail says. This “kidnapping” of their son made Sepulveda a target, Vice notes, and Blanco reportedly had him assassinated while the boy watched.
In 1984, Blanco subsequently left Miami for California, in an attempt to escape her rivals in the drug business, Brittanica says. However, the law was also on Blanco’s tail, and in 1985, DEA agent Bob Palumbo arrested the Cocaine Godmother after hunting her for a decade. She was found guilty of conspiring to manufacture, import, and distribute cocaine, and received a 15-year sentence, Vice says.
In 1994, she was also charged with three counts of first-degree murder in Florida, but would end up pleading guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder, thanks to her associate Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, who features prominently in Griselda. As the Daily Mail notes, Ayala was the star witness in the government’s original case against Blanco—but that case fell apart when it was discovered the hit man had engaged in phone sex with more than one secretary in the prosecutor’s office. Blanco received a 20-year sentence for the murders, which ran concurrently with her previous sentence, Vice says.
Death and legacy
In 2004, Blanco was released from prison and deported to Colombia, the BBC says. There, she lived under the radar until 2012, when she was killed outside of a butcher shop in Medellín by a gunman on a motorcycle, Brittanica says.
Biography.com says Blanco’s three older sons—Dixon, Uber, and Osvaldo—all became drug traffickers like their mother. In fact, all three died before her, and Distractify notes that no one knows the exact circumstances of their deaths. Blanco’s youngest son, Michael, is still alive, and just this month filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Vergara over Griselda, Entertainment Tonight reports, aiming to halt the release of the series.
The Netflix miniseries covers much of Blanco’s life, with Vergara seamlessly transforming into the drug kingpin while also exploring her fellow Colombian’s identity as a woman and a mother. “This is why I wanted to play Griselda,” the actor explained to the BBC. “She is a mother, villain, lover, and killer all at the same time. She above everyone shows how complex humans can be.”
Amy Mackelden is a freelance writer, editor, and disability activist. Her bylines include Harper’s BAZAAR, Nicki Swift, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Bustle, Healthline, and HelloGiggles. She co-edited The Emma Press Anthology of Illness, and previously spent all of her money on Kylie Cosmetics.