Howard Weitzman, a longtime Hollywood power attorney and partner with Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert law firm who represented top celebrities from Marlon Brando to Michael Jackson to John DeLorean, died Wedsnesday at the age of 81, Variety has confirmed. An announcement from his family says he died after a short illness but does not specify a cause.
“Our beloved friend and partner Howard Weitzman passed away yesterday,” a statement from Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert reads. “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.”
Once one of the most prominent lawyers in the country, Weitzman represented Jackson during his headline-making battles against child molestation allegation from a 13-year-old boy in the early 1990s to mid 1990s. Weitzman also gained fame as the first attorney to represent O.J. Simpson in June 1994 when the former football great was investigated and arrested on suspicion of the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Weitzman bowed out after a few days when attorney Robert Shapiro stepped in. Simpson was acquitted in 1995. Weitzman was later vocal in interviews that he believed Simpson was guilty of the brutal crime.
“There are people whose opinions are that the wrong verdict was arrived at in that trial. I am one who holds that opinion,” Weitzman told Los Angeles Business Journal in 2002.
Weitzman was well known throughout the industry as a fixer with connections to help sort out sticky situations. He worked closely with private investigator Anthony Pellicano, who relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago at Weitzman’s behest to work on auto magnate John DeLorean’s many legal entanglements. Pellicano went to federal prison in 2008 after being convicted of wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy and fraud. He was released in 2019.
Weitzman also represented the Jackson estate in a lawsuit over HBO’s 2019 documentary “Finding Neverland.” One of Weitzman’s biggest recent triumphs came when an appeals court reversed an unpaid royalties verdict for producer Quincy Jones, reducing the Jackson estate’s liability to around $2.5 million from $9.4 million.
Other clients in recent years included pop star Justin Bieber, producer Ivan Reitman, singer Axl Rose and mega showrunner Chuck Lorre during his 2011 battle with “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen.
Weitzman was a native of Los Angeles who earned a law degree from USC. He nabbed his first high-profile case in 1973 as the court-appointed attorney for Manson family member Mary Brunner, who bore a child with Charles Manson. He was also represented members of the Black Panthers in legal cases, according to a 2015 interview he gave to California Super Lawyers magazine.
In his 1990s heyday Weitzman made regular TV appearances on such shows as CNN’s “Larry King Live” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I’ve been fortunate over the years to represent some of the most high profile cases and personalities,” Weitzman told Super Lawyers. “I definitely don’t look at myself as a celebrity.”
A graduate of USC Law, Weitzman served from 1995-1998 as exec VP of corporate operations for Universal, where he was responsible for restructuring the corporate part of the business. Weitzman’s appointment raised eyebrows as it coincided with the acquisition of the studio by Seagram Co. in 1995. After Universal he joined the digital startup Massive Media, which was envisioned as a legal alternative to the pioneering music file-sharing service Napster, but the company shuttered in 2000. From there, Weitzman returned to private practice as a partner with Proskauer Rose.
Over his long career, Weitzman was lead trial attorney in over 200 civil and criminal jury trials, and represented over 1,000 individuals and companies on matters ranging from intellectual property and entertainment issues to family law and estate issues.
Other court cases involved huge awards in the Hulk Hogan and Erin Andrews invasion of privacy cases.
A-list clients for the litigator, transaction attorney and strategic adviser included every major motion picture studio, talent agencies William Morris Agency, ICM and CAA, and such high-profile names as John DeLorean, Morgan Freeman, Magic Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and Sean Combs.
Weitzman’s high-profile and industry connections landed him cameos in such movies as 2005’s “Thank You for Smoking” and in a 2014 episode of the Steven Bochco TNT drama “Murder in the First.” He also served as a legal consultant to “Murder in the First” and Bochco’s 1995-96 ABC drama “Murder One.”
Survivors include his wife, Margaret Weitzman, and two sons, Jed and Armen.
A statement by John McClain, John Branca and the Michael Jackson estate team released on April 8 reads: “We are heartbroken at the passing of our friend and colleague Howard Weitzman. Howard has always been a relentless fighter for righteous causes and ferociously fought for Michael during his lifetime and after. He has been an integral part of the Estate team. 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. It is his friendship we will miss most of all.”