F. Lee Bailey, a private investigator turned relentless and theatrical defense lawyer whose career fortunes rose and fell but whose fame remained intact, died Thursday. He was 87 and living in a hospice center in the Atlanta area, the Washington Post reports. Bailey represented accused killers, drug lords, and other unpopular defendants, many of them celebrities. Along the way, he became one himself and enjoyed it, regularly appearing on TV talks shows and once in a vodka ad while writing bestselling books. "You will be missed," O.J. Simpson, one of those clients, tweeted Thursday. He also represented Patty Hearst, Sam Sheppard, and the Boston Strangler. Steven Brill, who founded Court TV, said Bailey was "an enduring legal figure in the sense that he's been willing, and in fact relished, taking on clients that were the demons of society."
Bailey was born in Waltham, Mass., and sent to a boarding school when he and his mother didn't get along, per the New York Times. Years later, the school's headmaster remembered Bailey as "far too much a law unto himself." He started law school at Harvard, dropped out, joined the Navy and then the Marines, and later graduated from Boston University Law School after starting a private detective agency while a student. He was the class valedictorian. His own legal problems included fraud charges, IRS issues, bankruptcy, and disbarment in two states over accusations involving millions of dollars in stock owned by convicted international drug trafficker. He also was jailed for contempt of court, once being censured by a judge for "his philosophy of extreme egocentricity." Through the ups and downs, his cool but dramatic style and astounding memory could mesmerize courtrooms. "In litigation someone always loses," Bailey said, "but they don’t always stay the loser." (Read more obituary stories.)