Howard Weitzman, an entertainment lawyer whose client list bristled with the names of some of the nation’s most famous, and infamous, celebrities — including Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and, for two days, O.J. Simpson — died on Wednesday at his home in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. He was 81.
The cause was cancer, said Diana Baron, a spokeswoman for his wife, Margaret Weitzman.
In a career spanning five decades, Mr. Weitzman was the lead attorney in more than 300 civil and criminal jury trials, representing more than 1,000 people. His client list read like a Who’s Who of the last half-century’s superstars, among them Marlon Brando, Magic Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, Ozzy Osbourne, Morgan Freeman and Britney Spears.
He also represented major motion picture studios as well as the powerhouse talent agencies William Morris, ICM and CAA, giving him a 360-degree view of the inner workings of the entertainment industry and a Rolodex of top-level connections that enhanced his reputation as a fixer. He was often ranked as one of the most influential lawyers in the country.
John DeLorean, the flamboyant automobile executive who was accused of cocaine trafficking. In a 1984 trial during which the jury heard audiotapes of Mr. DeLorean making incriminating statements, Mr. Weitzman demolished the credibility of a key informant, argued that the F.B.I. had entrapped his client and won an acquittal.
With cable television in its infancy, Mr. Weitzman was one of the first lawyers to face round-the-clock television coverage of a big trial. He quickly turned it to his advantage, addressing the news media — and the court of public opinion — from the front of the courthouse.
“Part of my reasoning for talking to the media at all was to try and even the scales,” Mr. Weitzman told Southern California Super Lawyers magazine in an interview in 2008. “I learned then that on TV they tend to take three words from the 10 sentences you spoke. You learn pretty quickly to speak in sound bites if possible.”
Reporters found him helpful, congenial and entertaining, The Washington Post reported during the DeLorean trial. He gave them insights into his legal strategy, the paper said, as well as “a steady supply of his own humorous asides and highly quotable denunciations of the government and its informer.”
Johnnie Cochran Jr., another superstar defense lawyer, helped short-circuit the boy’s civil suit by having Mr. Jackson pay him a sum believed to be in the millions of dollars.
When a young fan accused Justin Bieber of fathering her child in 2011, she demanded that he take a DNA test. Mr. Weitzman, representing Mr. Bieber, said that his client would submit to such a test — and at the same time threatened to countersue the woman, saying she was making a bogus claim. She dropped her suit.
He also represented Mr. Bieber when he was sued by his former bodyguard, who said Mr. Bieber had punched him in 2012. Just before the trial was to begin, Mr. Weitzman announced that the two had reached an agreement, and the suit was dropped.