Australia criminal Mark 'Chopper' Read dies

File photo: Mark "Chopper" Read, 4 June 2002 Mark "Chopper" Read spent almost half his life behind bars

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One of Australia's most notorious criminals, Mark "Chopper" Read, who later became a novelist, has died of liver cancer, his manager says.

Read spent 23 years in jail for kidnapping and malicious wounding but was never charged with murder, despite once claiming he had killed 19 people.

He became a best-selling crime author and successful artist after his release.

He was the inspiration for 2000 film Chopper, which starred Eric Bana.

The 58-year-old died on Wednesday at Royal Melbourne Hospital, his manager said. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

Read grew up in Melbourne, and was a ward of the state by the time he was a teenager.

He became known as a "standover man", who stole from drug dealers and abducted and tortured other criminals for money.

Chopper Read was a criminal-cum-celebrity and a household name in Australia, the BBC's Jon Donnison in Sydney reports.

The self confessed hitman from Melbourne's underworld spent almost half his life behind bars on a string of violent offences, our correspondent adds.

He once claimed to have killed 19 people, although he said in an interview earlier this year that the real number was "probably about four or seven".

Former prison chaplain Peter Norden told ABC radio that Read mostly "wasn't a successful crook. He got caught for most of the things he did."

After his release from prison in the 1990s he wrote several best-selling crime books, and turned to painting, which he described as "a form of therapy" to relieve his anger.

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