SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Jack Palladino, the flamboyant private investigator whose clients ranged from presidents and whistleblowers to scandal-plagued celebrities, Hollywood moguls and sometimes suspected drug traffickers, died Monday at the age of 76.
Palladino suffered a devastating brain injury Thursday after two potential robbers tried to grab his camera outside his home in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
He held on to the camera but fell and hit his head. The photos he took before his attackers escaped were used by police to track down two suspects. They were charged with assault with a lethal weapon and other crimes.
“He would have liked to know,” his wife Sandra Sutherland told The Associated Press on Monday. She added that she had said to her husband while he was unconscious in the hospital, “You know what, Jack, they have the bastards and it was all you do.”
In a career spanning more than 40 years, Palladino worked for a who’s who of the famous and sometimes infamous, alternately hailed as a hero or denounced as a villain, depending on who his client was at the time.
He was hired by Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign to protect women who stood up to claim they had sex with the future president.
He was also the family investigator for a 14-year-old boy who won a multi-million dollar settlement from Michael Jackson after accusing the entertainer of molesting him. Jackson was never charged with a crime in this case.
Two of his best-known clients were former tobacco company executive and whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and former automotive executive John DeLorean.
In the Wigand case, Palladino exposed a deliberate campaign by Big Tobacco to target the former executive of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. smeared after his allegations that chemicals were added to tobacco products to be addictive became public. Palladino also starred in “The Insider,” the 1999 film about the case.
For DeLorean, he found that the former General Motors chief executive officer had been installed by authorities accusing him of trafficking millions of dollars in cocaine. This was a failed attempt to shore up his failing DeLorean Motor Co. DeLorean was acquitted.
“Jack was a pillar of the legal and professional community. He firmly believed in due process, the rights of the First Amendment, in particular freedom of expression and the press, “said Palladino’s attorney Mel Honowitz in an emotional statement confirming Palladino’s death.
Although he still occasionally took cases, Palladino largely retired a year ago, his wife said, adding that the two were looking forward to traveling and photography, which was a passion for both.
The couple married in 1977, the same year they founded Palladino & Sutherland Investigations.
While many are holding back in their business, they have fared from doing anything. They publicly filmed high profile cases while the media sometimes compared them to Nick and Nora Charles, the fictional, clever high society detective team of husband and wife in the Dashiell Hammett potboiler “The Thin Man”.
Her clients included everyone from the Black Panthers and Hells Angels to celebrities like Courtney Love, Robin Williams and Kevin Costner. They once found a truckload of stolen gear for the Grateful Dead, and Palladino has spent years investigating the Jonestown cult’s mass suicide in Guyana.
Some celebrity customers, such as Williams and Costner, have been the target of fan or tabloid abuse. In Love’s case, she has been linked to unfounded allegations that she played a role in her husband, Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
“I’m someone you call when the house is on fire and not when there is smoke in the kitchen,” Palladino told the San Francisco Examiner in 1999. “You are asking me to deal with this fire, save you and do whatever it takes to be made fire – where does it come from, where does it go, will it ever happen again? “
Over the years, some people, including the women who made allegations against Clinton, complained that Palladino sometimes threatened and molested them, their families and friends.
Although he would admit that he wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions, Palladino denied ever crossing the line, ethically or legally.
All he ever was was the truth, he said, adding that he could understand it better than most other private eyes.
“I am not a selfless person,” he told the examiner. “I’m a motivated, arrogant person who holds myself and everyone around me to incredibly high standards.”
John Arthur Palladino was born on July 9, 1944 in Boston, the son of a pipe fitter.
After graduating from Cornell University in English, he studied law at the University of California at Berkeley and passed the 1978 state bar exam. By then, however, he had already discovered that his real passion was research.
When he was a student in 1971, he was jailed in an undercover operation in New York’s Nassau County to expose rampant crime in the county’s prisons. In 1974 the family of newspaper heir Patricia Hearst hired him to investigate members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the gang of young revolutionaries who had kidnapped them.
“I planned to be a lawyer,” he told People magazine about his college years. “I didn’t know then that investigations would make everything else seem boring, unchallenged and uninvolved.”
Rogers reported from Los Angeles.