One winter, Mr. Egan plodded the streets of East Harlem in a Santa Claus suit, clanging a bronze bell. When the bell rang twice, his partner emerged to handcuff another drug peddler. In four days, they arrested 37 dealers.
By the time he left the department in November 1971, he was a first-grade detective credited with more than 8,000 arrests. The 1962 case that led to "The French Connection" catapulted him into a Hollywood acting career. It involved a dapper French drug smuggler named Jean Jehan, who convinced a French actor, Jacques Angelvin, to hide 97 pounds of heroin in his Buick, which arrived in New York by ship. Five men, including Mr. Angelvin, were arrested and convicted. But Mr. Jehan escaped.