Johnnie Cochran was born in Shreveport, Louisana, on October 2, 1937, the son of Johnnie L. Cochran and Hattie Cochran. His father, Johnnie Sr., was an insurance agent with Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, while his mother, Hattie, sold Avon products. Cochran attended public schools and distinguished himself through his academic achievements.
He graduated high school in Los Angeles in 1955 and was top of his class before enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration in 1959 and a Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in 1962.
Legal Career and Achievements
In 1963, Cochran passed the bar exam and in 1964 received his first case, which was a celebrity case. Within two years he had settled into private practice and later opened his own law firm in Los Angeles under the name Cochran, Atkins & Evans. By the late 1970s, Cochran had already established a good reputation in the black community.
He took on highly publicized cases of police brutality and defended prominent clients. Cochran defended celebrities such as Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Todd Bridges and so many others who were not mentioned. He established himself as a sought-after lawyer and was able to handle cases of police brutality that were presented to him.
Johnnie Cochran drew his inspiration from Thurgood Marshal and this led him to decide to dedicate his life to the legal profession because he had a passion for defending the helpless and oppressed. For Cochran, his career was a calling to which he had to respond, he saw it as an opportunity for him to fight for what was right and challenge the evils and fight for what he thought was wrong.
As a lawyer, Cochran also had ups and downs in his career; there were times when he suffered major setbacks, but he did not give in and was not discouraged from doing what he thought was right because he truly believed in himself that by practicing the legal profession he could make a difference in the world.
The case that brought him into the international spotlight and made him one of the most respected trial lawyers in the United States was that of former American footballer O.J. Simpson, who was charged with double murder.
Cochran established the Johnnie L. Cochran Snr. Scholarship for African-American men at the University of California, Los Angeles, and he also served as chairman of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, whose primary goal was to revitalize economically disadvantaged communities.
Johnnie Cochran was married twice. First, he was married to Barbara Berry Cochran in 1960. His marriage to Barbara, a primary school teacher, ended in 1977 and he remarried Sylvia Dale. The marriage lasted from 1985 to 2005, and his first marriage produced two daughters – Tiffany and Melodie – while he had a son, Jonathan, from his former girlfriend Patty Sikora.
History of Domestic Abuse, Double Life
Johnnie Cochran was considered a man who led a double life. He was accused by his first wife Barbara of having an affair with his longtime lover Patty Sikora. She wrote in her book Life After Johnnie Cochran, published in 1995, that she was beaten and harassed by the lawyer several times when they were still together as a couple.
She described Cochran as fraudulent, manipulative, controlling, and abusive. She also said that in most cases, when she confronted him about his affair with Patty, the lawyer would get so angry and beat her up. These accusations against Barbara became very public during the murder trial of O.J. Simpsons. She also claimed that Cochran and his father tried to pressure her to deny the abuse allegations she had made in the past.
Johnnie Cochran’s Death
In December 2003 Johnnie Cochran was diagnosed with a brain tumor and he decided to have surgery to remove it, which he did in April 2004. During the process of his recovery, he stayed away from the media for some time. Sadly, Johnnie Cochran died at his home in Los Angeles on 29 March 2005.
His coffin was presented to the public at the Angelus Funeral Home on 4 April and the next day (5 April) at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles. A memorial service was held at the West Angeles Church of God on April 6, 2005, and he was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
On January 24, 2006, one year after Cochran’s death, Los Angeles Unified School District officials approved the renaming of the “Mount Vernon Middle School” where he once studied after him. The approved new name was Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School, and in 2007 the “Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center” was established with Keith Black, the neurosurgeon who treated Cochran as head of the research center.