In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington produces one of his top performances playing John Creasy, a depressed former CIA agent and Marine. Creasy reluctantly accepts a job to protect Pita, the daughter of Mexican tycoon Samuel Ramos. John finds some joy and purpose in life bonding with the young girl. 

The happiness is soon replaced with pain and bloodshed as a kidnapping ring comprised of police and gangsters abducts Pita. Creasy embarks on a suicidal mission to rescue Pita, eliminating everyone in his way. John finds Pita and, in a moment of pure selflessness, gives himself up to save the girl. 

John Creasy is a fictional character created by novelist A.J. Quinnell

Man on Fire is based on A.J. Quinnell’s 1980 novel of the same name. A.J. Quinnell is a pen name used by author Phillip Nicholson. 

John Creasy is a fictional character created by Quinnell. Some outlets state that Creasy was based on a real CIA agent, but there’s no evidence that Quinnell drew inspiration from a real-life character when creating Creasy. 

Former SEAL Team 6 sniper Howard Wasdin is commonly and wrongly cited as John Creasy’s real-life equivalent. Wasdin was forced to retire after nearly losing his leg during a mission in Somalia. 

Like John Creasy, Wasdin struggled with depression. In Man on Fire, John nearly committed suicide, but his gun misfired. Wasdin wrote in one of his books that he contemplated shooting a 9mm bullet through his head, thinking his ending would make everyone’s lives easier.

“That was the bottom part,” Wasdin told The New York Post. “I see it as a weakness. Obviously, at that point, I wasn’t mentally tough enough to ward off the depression.” Wasdin recovered through sheer force of will – he didn’t ask for help or visit a therapist.

Creasy and Wasdin’s stories have similarities, but there’s no connection between the pair. When Howard enlisted in the Navy in 1983, Quinnell’s book Man on Fire was three years old. Therefore, there’s no way that Wasdin’s experiences inspired John Creasy. 

Man on Fire was based on two high-profile abductions

John Casey in Man on Fire is fictional, but Quinnell based Pita’s kidnappings on two real-life abductions.

The first one involved the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy Singaporean businessman. The Triad demanded a ransom, but the magnate refused to pay, fearing that the criminals would target his other children. Consequently, the kidnappers killed his son. 

Quinnell also drew from the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the grandson of J. Paul Getty, one of the wealthiest men worldwide at the time. The kidnappers took Getty III from his Rome residence and demanded a $17 million ransom.

The older Getty refused to pay for the same reasons as the Singaporean businessman: he feared that criminals would target his other grandchildren. Furthermore, he suspected that Getty III had faked his abduction for an easy payday. 

Getty changed his mind after receiving a piece of his grandson’s ear in the mail, alongside a letter threatening to send more pieces. John paid $2.2 million, a fraction of the initial ransom demand, securing the release of Getty III five months after the abduction.

Nine people were arrested in connection to the kidnapping, but only two were convicted; authorities released the rest due to lack of evidence.