LOS ANGELES – Divorce lawyer Marvin M. Mitchelson (search), who pioneered the legal revolution known as "palimony" and represented scores of Hollywood clients in high-profile, big-money marital disputes, has died. He was 76.
Mitchelson died Saturday after a battle against cancer at the Rehabilitation Center of Beverly Hills, his longtime publicist Sy Presten said Sunday.
"He was practicing [law] up until the time he got sick a couple of months ago," Presten said. "He was a workaholic, he worked around the clock."
Mitchelson began practicing law in 1957 and first gained national attention in 1963, when he won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing attorneys for indigent people appealing previous court rulings.
But gold-plated Hollywood divorces became the specialty of the flamboyant attorney -- even when there wasn't an actual marriage involved.
The Marvin vs. Marvin palimony case made him a household name in the 1970s. Mitchelson won a $104,000 award for Michelle Triola Marvin, the live-in lover of actor Lee Marvin (search).
The award was later overturned, but the precedent-setting concept of palimony upheld by the California Supreme Court as part of the case came to signify a new social order for unmarried, cohabitating partners.
Michelle Triola took the name Marvin during their liaison. Mitchelson fought for and won her right to bring the lawsuit and would say later that the day she was allowed into court was the day marriage and family law changed forever.
While Mitchelson saw the indigent defendants case as his greatest accomplishment, his practice took a turn toward the glamorous following Marvin vs. Marvin.
"They came to him," Presten said of celebrity clients. "The more celebrities you have, the more you get. ... He loved to get the publicity."
His notoriety once landed him a guest role playing himself on the television show "Golden Girls."
In his first celebrity divorce case in the 1960s, Mitchelson won a then-astonishing $1 million settlement for actor James Mason's wife Pamela.
He represented actress Joan Collins (search) and model Bianca Jagger in high-stakes divorces, won millions for the ex-wife of billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and took on a Saudi Arabian sheik, Mohammed Al Fassi, in a lawsuit that spanned two decades and ended with an order for the sheik to pay his estranged wife $270 million.
"I had a tremendous practice," Mitchelson told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview. "I practiced in 45 of 50 states and had lots of overseas cases. I was flying around a lot. I was totally caught up in it for 20 or 30 years. ... I was all over the place and I was totally stressed out."
In 1993, the high-flying attorney lost everything when he was convicted and jailed for evading taxes on some $2 million in income.
The state bar suspended him and he was forced into bankruptcy. He lost the fabled Beverly Hills "castle" where he and his family lived and a collection of Rolls-Royces.
During the next three years, he fought to stay out of prison while undergoing treatment for heart disease and malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
Mitchelson would recall later how he wept during his first day in federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, and his determination to survive the sentence.
He became a prison appellate attorney and helped gain freedom for three inmates. He also helped others learn to read and write and started prison French and opera clubs.
When he left prison in 1997, Mitchelson returned to law. He worked as a consultant for other lawyers until his license was restored in 2000.
"I've been through a load of stuff," Mitchelson said in 2001. "I always believed you do the best with what you have."
In recent years, Mitchelson worked from an office high above Sunset Boulevard that was much more spartan than the ornate quarters where he once presided under a stained glass replica of Botticelli's Venus.
Mitchelson had no need for his own counsel as a divorce attorney. He was married for 45 years and often joked that he wasn't setting a good example for his practice, Presten said.
Mitchelson is survived by his wife, a son and a sister.