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The Untold Truth Of The Bowery King From John Wick

In a few short years, the Keanu Reeves-led John Wick franchise has grown into one of the most popular and recognizable film series in the world. While it often receives the bulk of its praise for its visual presentation and seamless fight sequences, it doesn't get nearly enough credit for its world-building. The lore behind the John Wick universe and the characters that inhabit it are incredibly interesting to dive deep into. Chief among these entities is the mysterious and disheveled Bowery King, brought to life by the legendary Laurence Fishburne.

First introduced in John Wick: Chapter 2, the Bowery King presents himself as nothing more than a homeless man with an affinity for pigeons. This description, however, hardly scratches the surface of who he really is: A crime lord and data trafficker who runs his deep network out of a homeless shelter called the Soup Kitchen. As of this writing, his real name and the finer details of his backstory are unknown, but there's still a lot more to him than the films have stated outright.

As fans eagerly await the fourth installment, which will feature the character prominently, now is as good a time as any to uncover the previously untold truth of the Bowery King.

The Bowery King and John Wick are no strangers to one another

In John Wick: Chapter 2, after Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) puts a $7 million bounty on John Wick's head, he's on the run from every able-bodied assassin in the world. With no supplies and a dwindling chance of survival, he turns for assistance to the Bowery King, who hesitantly supplies him with a handgun and only seven rounds — one for each million. During their meeting, they briefly touch on their shared history, and how Wick's past change of heart led to the King's unofficial coronation. 

Years before the events of the John Wick films, the man who would become the Bowery King was the titular assassin's target. The two faced off, and Wick came out the victor but elected not to finish his opponent off, instead leaving him wounded. This defeat drove the Bowery King to quietly climb the ladder in the criminal underworld, eventually taking hold of the Soup Kitchen and recruiting New York City's panhandlers and street beggars to his cause. Without Wick's decision to show him mercy, it's unlikely he'd have risen through the ranks as he had.

The High Table and The Bowery King shared a complex business relationship

Even though his operation is largely undercover, the Bowery King's burgeoning system of spies and informants didn't go unnoticed. He's no stranger to those pulling the strings in the High Table, and they have been business partners for a long time, although their interactions have been rocky at best. The two parties began collaborating as soon as the Soup Kitchen became the epicenter of the Bowery King's network, with the King offering up its services in exchange for the High Table's resources. Although the likes of Winston (Ian McShane) and Sofia (Halle Berry), ran their respective Continental hotels under High Table jurisdiction, the King did things a bit differently out of his own hubris and self-interest.

Screenwriter Derek Kolstad spoke to Inverse and elaborated on how the Bowery King's mode of operation tends to rub the High Table the wrong way. "We find out the assassins' world is split between those who operate under certain guidelines and those who don't," he said. The Bowery King never pledged any honest fealty to the High Table and continued to run fairly independently from them, much to their dismay. This is why they didn't mind sending assassins to his doorstep to wipe out his people and maim him for aiding John Wick, even before he was labeled "excommunicado." Suffice to say, their mutual arrangement has come to its resounding conclusion for the time being.

The Bowery King is a major part of a popular John Wick fan theory

As with any film, there are a handful of John Wick fans who've cooked up some very interesting theories about the franchise. One of the most popular subsets of them connects the John Wick universe to that of the Matrix, which also starred Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, whose debut as The Bowery King only added fuel to the fire. As one would imagine, a theory involving the Matrix tends to get a bit meta the deeper the rabbit hole goes. The bare bones of it are that John Wick's adventures are all part of a computer simulation that Neo is experiencing inside the Matrix a la a video game

The Bowery King's involvement is where the theory really starts to pick up steam, especially in the way he recruits Wick at the end of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The High Table, which some fans construe to actually be the machines that created the matrix, targets both men for termination. Neither plan on taking it laying down, so, Morpheus — Fishburne's character in said trilogy — could've disguised himself as the Bowery King to awaken Neo to the idea that his John Wick life is only a farce, and that they need to take down the ones responsible. It's a crazy theory, but you have to admit, it is nothing if not intriguing considering how secluded the Bowery King is.

Laurence Fishburne prompted the creation of The Bowery King

It's not too common in Hollywood for a character to arise almost completely because an actor wanted to take part in a particular franchise, but that was the case for the Bowery King. As Laurence Fishburne explained in an interview on the FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras YouTube channel, the first John Wick movie made him want to throw his hat in the ring for the sequel.

"I actually got together with Keanu in the summer [of 2015] and was just telling him how much I enjoyed the first picture and how much I would love to come play with him if the opportunity presented itself," Fishburne said. This prompted Reeves to put in a good word for his friend with the directors. Sure enough, as the seasoned actor explained, "They sent me the script, and immediately when I read it I just thought, 'Okay, this is gonna be great.'" As fate would have it, Fishburne turned out to be an excellent addition to the cast and the Bowery King character fit perfectly into the gritty, action-packed John Wick mythos.