Willie Gary knew right away that Jamie Foxx would be a perfect fit to play him in The Burial (out Friday on Amazon Prime Video), a drama based on real life The film, based on the incident, focuses on a seminal court case from Gary’s storied legal career.
“He came to Florida to meet me and we found out we had a lot in common,” Gary, 76, told USA Today at his law firm in Stewart.
These overlaps include growing up in church, excelling in football, and creating a life that defies childhood expectations. For Gary, it meant going from Georgia sharecropper’s son to multi-millionaire lawyer; for Texas-born Eric Bishop Fox, it meant going from class actor to Oscar-winning actor Award-winning actor and musician.
“There’s just one big difference between us,” Gary joked. “I tried to sing and he able Sing. “
“Funeral,” adapted from a 1999 New Yorker article by Jonathan Hale, tells the story of a case Gary won in 1995 against Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee), the white owner of a Mississippi chain store. Jones) is hired by a funeral home to sue Canadian funeral giant Loewen Group for breach of contract.
Although Gary had little contract law experience, his winning record and attractive courtroom presence piqued O’Keefe’s interest.
Very unlikely. The group’s chief executive, Raymond Loewen, has hinted he is eager to buy some of O’Keefe’s properties, while O’Keefe is eager to sell to stay afloat. They reached an informal agreement to sell, but Loving stalled. At the same time, Loewen purchased another funeral home business in the state that had a long-term agreement with funeral insurance held by O’Keefe.
O’Keefe yells and a deal is reached, but Loving doesn’t live up to his end of the bargain and O’Keefe loses the cash. Hoping to save his generations-old business from bankruptcy, O’Keefe sued, this time with a vengeance.
Gary is in his 40s, a very successful and flamboyant lawyer who has his own plane painted with the slogan “Wings of Justice” and specializes in personal injury cases.
But the odd couple proved to be a winning combination: Gary not only won the case, but also obtained a $500 million verdict by focusing on Loving’s discriminatory practices based on race (the parties later agreed to a $129 million settlement) . Loewen Group eventually filed for bankruptcy.
Willie Gary says client Jeremiah O’Keefe, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is ‘the best father figure’
O’Keefe passed away in 2016, but is still very much alive for Gary.
“Jerry was the best father figure I’ve ever met in my life, and that includes a lot of people,” Gary said of his late friend, whose accomplishments included becoming a World War II flying ace. “I’m lucky to call him a friend.”
In real life and “The Burial,” the trial took place in Jackson, Mississippi, and the jury was primarily black.
Gary won them over through a series of tactics, including cracking down on Loewen’s CEO for allowing his sales staff to overcharge mostly poor black customers while emphasizing O’Keefe’s commitment to blacks , including denying the Ku Klux Klan a parade permit while serving as mayor of Biloxi in the 1970s.
“You did that in that part of the country, well, you risked your life, but Jerry stepped up,” Gary said.
The victory brought Gary’s fame to new heights, with magazine features and a “60 Minutes” profile coming. After the verdict, Loewen told the New York Times, “I had at least a dozen attorneys, and not one of them pointed out the dangers of Southern juries. But, to be fair, Willie Gary was a unique personality, so I Think our legal counsel was caught off guard as well.”
Gary also came forward and told reporters: “I fought within the rules.”
Were Johnny Cochrane and Willie Gary friends or rivals?
In the mid-1990s, another impeccably dressed and eloquent black lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, became a protagonist. He defended OJ Simpson and in his closing argument Spoken the now famous line: “If it doesn’t fit, you must be acquitted.” A pair of gloves found at the crime scene.
In “The Funeral,” Fosse’s character Gary makes several references to having a professional match with Cochrane. Gary denied they were rivals and claimed the admiration between him and Cochrane, who died in 2005, was mutual.
“We have style, we have love, we have respect,” Gary said. “We’d even send each other cases. The Disney World case (in 2000, Gary and Cochran won a $240 million verdict over Disney stealing a sports restaurant concept), that’s what Johnny sent me. We’re friends. But I understand the film industry.”
For Gary, the new film is an unexpected reward for “just doing something worthwhile.”
But this is not the culmination. Gary remains open to his next legal challenge and spends most of his time working at Gary, Williams, Watson, Parenti & Gary.
“I was born in a tough area in Georgia and Florida, so I’m no stranger to hard work,” he said. “I don’t think I ever want to pass up the opportunity to help a family get what they think they deserve. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t practice law.”
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