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Famed attorney Johnnie Cochran dead

From Lenny Bruce, to Michael Jackson, to O.J. Simpson


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Cochran's passion was taking on police misconduct cases.
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, perhaps best known for his successful defense of O.J. Simpson, died Tuesday afternoon after suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, his family said. He was 67.

"Johnnie Cochran was a loving, heartful human being who cared about everybody," said William Epps, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, which Cochran attended for 18 years.

Cochran died at 12:30 p.m. PT (3:30 p.m. ET) at his home in Los Angeles. His family was by his side and he had been in a hospice, Epps said.

Cochran's family and members of his law firm issued a joint statement saying the "world has lost not only a legendary attorney, but an outstanding humanitarian."

"Johnnie's career will be noted as one marked by celebrity cases and clientele. But he and his family were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community," the statement said.

"As Johnnie always said, 'An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' It was his rallying cry as he worked to right many wrongs, and as he provided a voice to those who needed to be heard. He was deeply committed to helping and inspiring others, especially young people."

'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit'

Simpson told CNN: "I loved him as a good Christian man. I look at Johnny as a great Christian. I knew him as that. He was a great guy."

Simpson said he last saw Cochran at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game a few months ago and found the flamboyant lawyer to be in good spirits. "We were praying for him then, and I still am," Simpson said.

Simpson added that he knew Cochran long before he hired the African-American lawyer to lead his "Dream Team" defense. "I was in social circles with Johnnie, and we knew each other in that way," he said.

Cochran was the lead attorney for Simpson, accused of murder in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her acquaintance Ron Goldman.

During Simpson's 1995 trial, Cochran famously quipped, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," in reminding jurors during his summation that the former star football running back couldn't fit his hands inside a bloody glove found at the scene of the killings.

The simple rhyme hammered home for jurors the defense argument that the evidence against Simpson not only failed to fit the crime, but the defendant himself.

Cochran convinced the jury that race defined the Simpson case and the police investigation against the onetime Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Southern California.

Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case, but he was later found liable in a civil trial and order to pay the victims' families $33 million.

Comedian Lenny Bruce

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on October 2, 1937, the great-grandson of a slave, and grew up in a prosperous family.

He was raised in Los Angeles and attended UCLA, supporting himself by selling insurance policies for his father's company. He graduated in 1959 and earned his law degree from Loyola Marymount University in 1963.

He passed the California bar in 1963, then took a job in Los Angeles as a deputy city attorney in the criminal division.

His career was intertwined with celebrities almost from its beginning: Among his early cases was a 1964 effort to prosecute comedian Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges.

In 1965, he entered private practice and soon opened his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans. His current practice, The Cochran Firm, was established in 1981 and has offices in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

He made his name with a series of high-profile police brutality and criminal cases in the late 1970s and worked as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He negotiated a 1993 settlement in a civil lawsuit against pop star Michael Jackson that accused him of child molestation -- a case that has resurfaced in Jackson's current criminal trial on other child molestation charges.

And he represented Reginald Denny, the white truck driver beaten by a black mob at the height of the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

Cochran argued that the city's police department was guilty of discrimination for failing to protect the neighborhood where Denny was assaulted.

In another high-profile case, Cochran represented Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant sodomized with a broken broomstick by two New York City policemen.

And although his 1972 defense of former Black Panther Party member Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt for murder charges wound up in defeat, Cochran's perseverance eventually led to the reversal of that conviction -- and his client's release -- 25 years later.

The names went on and on: rap singer Sean "Puffy" Combs, on trial for weapons and bribery charges; Rosa Parks, in the lawsuit launched against OutKast and their label, LaFace Records.

But it was the Simpson trial that defined him.

In his 2002 book, "A Lawyer's Life," Cochran wrote that the case "gave me the platform to try to change some of those things that need to be changed in this country."

"It was the Simpson case that put me squarely in a position to make a difference. And that was precisely the reason I became an attorney," he wrote.

Cochran's flamboyancy inspired parodies -- among them the Jackie Chiles character on "Seinfeld," who unsuccessfully defended the show's gang in the series finale, and sketches on "Saturday Night Live."

"At times, it was a lot of fun," Cochran wrote of the "Seinfeld" spoof. "And I knew that accepting it good-naturedly, even participating in it, helped soothe some of the angry feelings from the Simpson case."

CNN's Dree DeClamecy, Stan Wilson and Eric Philips contributed to this story.


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