LOS ANGELES – Famed attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. (search), who became a household name when he defended O.J. Simpson (search) against murder charges, died of a brain tumor on Tuesday at the age of 67.
"Certainly, Johnnie's career will be noted as one marked by celebrity cases and clientele," the family said in a statement. "But he and his family were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community."
Cochran died at his home in Los Angeles, his family said.
The flashy yet venerable attorney's health started to falter last year, according to media reports. Following his surgery in April 2004, Cochran began to avoid the limelight after having welcomed it for so many years.
In an interview with the New York Post last September, he said, "I'm feeling pretty good" and described himself as "90 percent" improved. Rather than a tumor, he called his ailment a neurological condition requiring a procedure.
Since gaining a reputation in Ebony magazine as "the best in the West" in the early 1980s, Cochran eventually became the go-to guy for black celebrities in trouble. His client list included former "Diff'rent Strokes" star Todd Bridges, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Michael Jackson (search), who is now facing child molestation charges, and former football great Simpson.
Reacting to news of Cochran's death Tuesday, Jackson had kind words for the lawyer he considered "a great humanitarian."
"Johnnie Cochran was a true gentleman who embodied class, brilliance, honesty and integrity," Jackson said in a statement. "His fight for justice transcended color, age or economic status. ... I loved him, and I will miss him. I am proud to have called him my friend."
Simpson, who had expanded his career to acting since retiring from the NFL, was arrested in the summer of 1994 on charges he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (search), and her friend Ron Goldman (search ). Cochran signed on as part of a "dream team" of lawyers defending the Hall of Famer.
Simpson, reached at his home in Florida, also praised Cochran on Tuesday, saying "I don't think I'd be home today without Johnnie."
He said other members of his defense team also deserved credit for his acquittal, but added: "Without Johnnie running the ball, I don't think there's a lawyer in the world that could have run that ball. I was innocent, but he believed it."
The case quickly became a media circus, set in motion with the televised police pursuit of a white Ford Bronco on a Los Angeles freeway. One of the most memorable moments of the televised trial came from Cochran, who instructed the jury in closing arguments: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
Those words, referring to the moment when Simpson tried on a pair of bloodied gloves to show they did not fit, appeared to resonate. Simpson was found not guilty of murder.
In a trial that involved celebrity and domestic abuse, the Simpson trial became best known for dividing the country along racial lines. Cochran had accused a group of Los Angeles police officers, led by Mark Fuhrman, of framing his client.
The trial left many of those certain of Simpson's guilt furious at Cochran, the leader of a group of expensive celebrity lawyers that included F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.
In legal circles, the verdict represented the pinnacle of success for a respected attorney who had toiled in the Los Angeles legal profession for three decades.
And thanks to his showmanship and the notoriety of the trial, Cochran was widely lampooned on late-night talk shows, "Saturday Night Live" and "Seinfeld."
In "Lethal Weapon 4," comedian Chris Rock plays a policeman who advises a criminal suspect he has a right to an attorney, then warns him: "If you get Johnnie Cochran, I'll kill you."
The flamboyant Cochran enjoyed that parody so much he even quoted it in his autobiography, "A Lawyer's Life."
"It was fun. At times it was a lot of fun," he said of the lampooning he received. "And I knew that accepting it good-naturedly, even participating in it, helped soothe some of the angry feelings from the Simpson case."
While Cochran seemed to revel in his fame, he often emphasized justice for the less well known.
"The clients I've cared about the most are the No Js, the ones who nobody knows," said Cochran, who proudly displayed copies in his office of the multimillion-dollar checks he won for ordinary citizens who said they were abused by police.
"People in New York and Los Angeles, especially mothers in the African-American community, are more afraid of the police injuring or killing their children than they are of muggers on the corner," he once said.
By the time Simpson called, the byword in the black community for defendants facing serious charges was: "Get Johnnie."
Cochran represented former Black Panther Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. When Cochran helped Pratt win his freedom in 1997 he called the moment "the happiest day of my life practicing law."
He won a $760,000 award in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Ron Settles, a black college football star who died in police custody in 1981. Cochran challenged police claims that Settles hanged himself in jail after a speeding arrest. The player's body was exhumed, an autopsy performed and it revealed Settles had been choked.
His clients also included Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, who was tortured by New York police, and Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old black woman shot to death by Riverside police who said she reached for a gun on her lap when they broke her car window in an effort to disarm her.
As a youth, Cochran idolize Thurgood Marshall, the attorney who persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw school segregation in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision and who would eventually become the Supreme Court's first black justice.
"I didn't know too much about what a lawyer did or how he worked, but I knew that if one man could cause this great stir, then the law must be a wondrous thing," Cochran said in his book. "I read everything I could find about Thurgood Marshall and confirmed that a single dedicated man could use the law to change society."
While Cochran never argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, a case involving him is on the docket this session. Tory v. Cochran (search) involves a bitter ex-client who was ordered to never display a sign or speak about Cochran again. During arguments last Tuesday, justices seemed skeptical of Cochran's attorney's claim that the injunction did not violate the First Amendment.
Born in Shreveport, La., the great-grandson of slaves, grandson of a sharecropper and son of an insurance salesman, Cochran came to Los Angeles with his family in 1949. In the 1950s, he became one of two dozen black students integrated into Los Angeles High School.
Even as a child, he had loved to argue, and in high school he excelled in debate.
After graduating from UCLA, Cochran earned a law degree from Loyola University. He spent two years in the Los Angeles city attorney's office before establishing his own practice.
He briefly became a special assistant to the Los Angeles County district attorney in the 1970s, setting up a unit to prosecute domestic violence cases.
After returning to private practice, Cochran built his firm into a personal injury giant with more than 100 lawyers and offices around the country.
Flamboyant in public, he kept his private life shrouded in secrecy, and when some of those secrets became public following a 1978 divorce, they were startling.
His first marriage, to his college sweetheart, Barbara Berry, produced two daughters, Melodie and Tiffany. During their divorce, it came to light that for 10 years Cochran had secretly maintained a "second family," which included a son.
When that relationship soured, his mistress, Patricia Sikora, sued him for palimony and the case was settled privately in 2004.
Although he frequently took police departments on in court, Cochran denied being anti-police and supported the decision of his only son, Jonathan, to join the California Highway Patrol.
He counted among his closest friends Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, the city's former police chief, and the late Mayor Tom Bradley, who had been a Los Angeles police lieutenant before going into politics.
But in the Simpson case, Cochran turned the murder trial into an indictment of the Police Department, suggesting officers planted evidence in an effort to frame the former football star because he was a black celebrity.
By the time Simpson was acquitted, Cochran and co-counsel Shapiro were on the outs. Shapiro, who is white, had accused Cochran of playing the race card and of dealing it "from the bottom of the deck."
Simpson, meanwhile, was held liable for the killings following a 1997 civil trial and ordered to pay the Brown and Goldman families $33.5 million in restitution. Cochran didn't represent him in that case.
After Simpson, Cochran stepped out of the criminal trial arena, concentrating instead on civil matters. For a time, he represented high-profile athletes and music stars in contract matters.
He remained a beloved figure in the black community, admired as a lawyer who was relentless in his pursuit of justice and as a philanthropist who helped fund a UCLA scholarship, a low-income housing complex and a New Jersey legal academy, among other charitable endeavors.
Cochran is survived by his second wife, Dale Mason; his son, Jonathan Cochran, from a prior relationship; his daughters Tiffany Cochran Edwards and Melodie Cochran, from his first marriage; and sisters Pearl Baker and Martha Jean Sherrard.
FOX News' Jane Roh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.