Like many great legal showmen, he could fill a courtroom with his righteous indignation. But with Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., it wasn't just an act. To be sure, his fame rested on his skillful—to critics, cynical—raising of racial issues in getting O.J. Simpson acquitted of murder. But what Cochran himself cherished most were the hundreds of downtrodden, often African-American, clients he had represented over the years. "The clients I've cared about the most are the No-J's," Cochran once said, exhibiting the gift for aphorism that had become his trademark, "the ones who nobody knows."
At his death from a brain tumor on March 29 at his home in Los Angeles, Cochran, 67, was known by almost everyone as one of the country's most prominent attorneys. That in itself was a remarkable accomplishment for the grandson of a Louisiana sharecropper. Cochran first made his name in L.A. by taking on the LAPD in a series of high-profile police-brutality cases. In recent years Cochran, who was married to second wife Dale Mason, 54, and had three grown children, had defended other notables, including Sean "P. Diddy
" Combs and Michael Jackson. But to those who knew him, he'll be remembered for the life lessons he taught as much as for the legal strategems. As he once told Court TV anchor Jami Floyd, "The day you stop looking forward to the mystery and challenge of every tomorrow is when you stop living."