LOS ANGELES – Johnnie Cochran Jr.'s (search) most celebrated clients, O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, joined civil rights figures and Hollywood stars at the lawyer's funeral Wednesday, remembering Cochran's cunning legal skills and his commitment to the people he represented.
Cochran, 67, died March 29 of an inoperable brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with the tumor in December 2003.
"He didn't just love justice or admire justice — he did justice, he achieved justice, he fought for justice, he made it happen," said Mayor James Hahn (search), the former city attorney and a Cochran friend.
The Rev. Al Sharpton (search) drew applause from the packed West Angeles Cathedral — a throng that ranged from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Michael Jackson (search) — by describing the emotional aftermath of the Simpson trial.
"We didn't clap when the acquittal of Simpson came for O.J.," Sharpton said. "We were clapping for Johnnie."
"We were clapping because for decades our brothers, our cousins, our uncles had to stand in the well with no one to stand up for them. And finally a black man came and said, 'If it don't fit — you must acquit,'" Sharpton said, referring to Cochran's famous quote from Simpson's sensational trial about a glove found at the murder scene.
The line drew a roar from the crowd, which also heard from other figures in Cochran's life, including two other members of the Simpson "dream team," Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck.
The line was on the back of T-shirts being sold for $10 outside the church. The shirts had a picture of Cochran on the front with the words: "Freedom and justice."
Colorful and eloquent, Cochran became a legal superstar after helping clear Simpson.
"Johnnie fought for his clients," Simpson told reporters outside the cathedral. "He was just a good friend, a good Christian man and a great lawyer."
Jesse Jackson called Cochran "the tallest tree in our legal forest. ... The national stage did not make Johnnie, it revealed him."
The range of mourners reflected Cochran's work in high-profile civil rights cases and high-glamour trials. Also paying respects were such celebrities as Stevie Wonder (search) and Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
Neufeld said Cochran's real accomplishments were in civil rights and defending downtrodden clients: "Johnnie Cochran taught us the importance of doing well by doing good. He lived it and preached it, and the world is a better place for all of us."
In a tribute advertisement published in the Los Angeles Times, former colleagues called attention to a lesser-known case — Cochran's advocacy for people affected by 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Okla.
"We will continue the struggle in his memory and honor," said the ad from the Center for Racial Justice. A federal appeals court last year denied an effort to reinstate the group's lawsuit over the riots, saying the statute of limitations had expired.
"Johnnie was to this era what Thurgood Marshall was to the era before him," Sharpton said, referring to the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. "The press does not understand why thousands are here. But you would've had to be someone stopped by a cop only because of your skin color to know why we love Johnnie Cochran."
Wonder sang a song titled "I'll Be Your Shelter In The Rain" and paused to say, "Johnnie, I'll never forget your heart. For so many on this planet, you were the shelter in the rain."
Cochran's other high-profile clients included Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, football great Jim Brown, actor Todd Bridges, and rappers Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.
Combs said Cochran "saved my life" after his arrest in 1999 on charges stemming from a Manhattan nightclub shooting. He was later acquitted.
"All I wanted was to be able to walk like Johnnie Cochran," he said to laughter. "Johnnie Cochran had a smile that would make you want to go get your teeth cleaned, so light, so beautiful. Johnnie was a gift from God."
In 1997, Cochran won freedom for Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a former Black Panther who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The attorney called the moment "the happiest day of my life practicing law."
The crowd, which overflowed the 5,000-seat cathedral, rose and cheered Pratt's appearance at the funeral.
Michael Jackson, who came from Santa Barbara County with lawyers who are defending him on child molestation charges, smiled as he left the service and said, "It was incredible."
Cochran's burial was to be private and at an undisclosed location.