Howard Weitzman, a fixture on The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of Power Lawyers for representing the likes of Marlon Brando, Morgan Freeman, Justin Bieber and other A-list stars, has died. He was 81.
Weitzman’s son Jed told Billboard that his father died peacefully at his Pacific Palisades home Wednesday surrounded by family, listening to music from his favorite artists, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell. A source said the cause of death was cancer.
It was on behalf of notorious automaker John DeLorean in the 1980s and O.J. Simpson in the 1990s that Weitzman became known to many outside Hollywood.
Before the “Dream Team” came along, he represented Simpson when the former NFL star was arrested in connection with the brutal slaying of ex-wife Nicole and her lover, Ron Goldman. Weitzman originally told the media that Simpson was on a flight to Chicago at the time of the murders, then bowed out of the case, citing a heavy workload. In later years, he was publicly cagey about the reasons he left Simpson’s side, though he did take credit for introducing Simpson to some of the other members of his legal team, including Johnnie Cochran. (Ken Lerner portrayed Weitzman on the 2016 FX limited series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.)
Weitzman worked in-house from 1995-98 at Universal Studios, where he focused on restructuring, before returning to private practice, eventually co-founding the entertainment law boutique Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert in 2006.
Although Weitzman split with Simpson, the attorney nevertheless maintained controversial clients throughout his career, perhaps none more so than Michael Jackson, who regularly cycled through lawyers. (Coincidentally, Weitzman last recalled seeing the entertainer at Cochran’s memorial in 2005.)
After Jackson’s 2009 death, the co-executors of his estate turned to Weitzman to lead litigation matters. “It’s been a real roller coaster ride,” he told THR in 2010. “Not a week goes by where something strange doesn’t happen. There are consistent claims by people claiming to be Michael’s wife or child.”
Recently, he battled the IRS in a high-stakes case over estate taxes and HBO over the 2019 sex abuse documentary Leaving Neverland.
“We are heartbroken at the passing of our friend and colleague,” said John McClain, John Branca and the entire Michael Jackson estate team in a statement. “Howard brought more than just his skills as a brilliant lawyer to the team; he had the uncanny ability to find ways to resolve issues outside of the courtroom – a skill not all litigators possess. And one of the truly amazing things about Howard was how he could make anyone he met – whether they were on the same side as him or opposing him – feel like a respected colleague and his friend. ”
An avid jazz collector, he was a two-time recipient of the Jerry Geisler Memorial Award for outstanding trial work in Los Angeles. He also repped at times Arnold Schwarzenegger, Courtney Love, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Sean Combs, Chuck Lorre and Magic Johnson.
Upon his passing, his firm of Kinsella Weitzman made the following statement: “Our beloved friend and partner Howard Weitzman passed away yesterday. A renowned trial lawyer and dealmaker, Howard skillfully handled some of the most famous cases in Hollywood. Howard’s wit, charm, and brilliant legal mind are legendary, and we will miss him dearly. We send our love and condolences to Howard’s wife Margaret, his sons Armen and Jed, and to his many clients, friends, and admirers. RIP Howard, you will always be a giant.”
Howard Lloyd Weitzman was born on Sept. 21, 1939. He grew up in Los Angeles and worked in his parents’ grocery business while avidly playing baseball. He got his undergrad degree at Los Angeles City College. A 1965 graduate of the University of Southern California Law Center, he worked his way up to partner at Wyman, Bautzer, Kuchel & Silbert and began cultivating top clients.
In 1984, Weitzman represented DeLorean in a closely followed narcotics trial. DeLorean was acquitted despite being caught with a suitcase full of cocaine (Weitzman said it was a set-up), and two years later, Weitzman was successful once again in representing the auto executive in a racketeering and tax evasion case. As much as his courtroom prowess was admired, so too was his communication skills beyond the courtroom. His press conference on courtroom steps during the DeLorean trial captured attention. “He helpfully puts his more obscure courtroom questions into context, indicates his current strategy and delivers small homilies on the dangers of a government entrapment operation gone wild,” wrote the Washington Post at the time.
Despite continually working in the public eye, Weitzman maintained that the justice system would function better in private. “I am one of those people who doesn’t like cameras in the courtroom,” he once told an interviewer. “I believe it changes how people act, that is, the lawyers, the witnesses, the judges. I think the coverage can taint a jury one way or another.”
Survivors include his sons, Jed and Armen, the latter known for playing the manservant Garfield on the 2015-18 Comedy Central series Another Period. He was married to Stacey Weitzman (who later wed actor Henry Winkler) and interior designer Margaret Weitzman.
Besides representing high-profile clients in wide-ranging matters, Weitzman advised film productions and even had onscreen roles, appearing in the black comedy Thank You for Smoking (2005), directed by Jason Reitman (a client), and on the 2014-16 TNT legal drama Murder in the First. For that Steven Bochco series, he played a recurring character named “Howard Weitzman.”