Harvey Weinstein: from Hollywood ‘God’ to convicted rapist

Harvey Weinstein pictured at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2012 with actress Meryl Streep, who famously called him 'God'

New York (AFP) – For decades, Harvey Weinstein was untouchable, reigning over Hollywood as the mega-producer Meryl Streep famously called “God.” On Monday he became a convicted rapist facing up to 29 years in prison.

The “Pulp Fiction” producer with a knack for making Oscar-winning movies was taken into custody after a New York jury found him guilty of rape and a criminal sex act.

It capped a sensational downfall for Weinstein, 67, almost three years after allegations against him ignited the #MeToo movement, made him a pariah and ended his career.

Nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, have come forward alleging 40 years of vile predatory behavior by Weinstein.

The accusations, first made in The New York Times and New Yorker in October 2017, sparked a sexual harassment watershed that ended the careers of several powerful men as tens of thousands of women shared their stories of abuse online under the #MeToo hashtag.

Once the darling of film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, Weinstein was quickly expelled from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, the institution that awards the Oscars.

The one-time Democratic Party donor, who hobnobbed with Hillary Clinton, disappeared from public life, surfacing occasionally from reported sex addiction treatment, his name toxic and his reputation in tatters.

– 81 Oscars – 

Then on May 25, 2018, he was charged with predatory sexual assault. Images of him handcuffed were beamed around the world.

Weinstein maintains that all his sexual relationships were consensual but he was convicted of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and of raping ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013. 

The 12 jurors cleared him of the most serious charge of predatory sexual assault, which carried a possible life sentence.

Weinstein appeared confident during the trial, laughing and smiling for journalists as he shuffled into and out of court every day using a walking frame following back surgery.

He chomped on mints as six women testified that he had sexually assaulted him.

Weinstein looked ashen-faced as he was led away from the courtroom Monday, considerably lighter than the 300 pounds (136 kilograms) he carried at the height of his success.

His lawyer Donna Rotunno, accustomed to making provocative statements, said her client took the verdict “like a man.”

Weinstein sparked outcry just before the trial began when he expressed no remorse in an interview with The New York Post, complaining to the tabloid that the world had forgotten how he “pioneered” women-led films.

“I made more movies directed by women and about women than any filmmaker and I’m talking about 30 years ago,” he said, suggesting he may even be able to rebuild his career if acquitted.

– ‘Scissorhands’ –

Born in Queens, New York, on March 19, 1952, the son of a diamond cutter, Weinstein studied at Buffalo University and initially produced rock concerts until he and younger brother Bob went into the movie business.

They co-founded Miramax Films, a small distribution company named after his mother Miriam and father Max, in 1979.

Their hits included 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” for which Weinstein shared a best picture Oscar. The company was sold to Disney in 1993 and the brothers left in 2005 to start up The Weinstein Company.

Over the years, Weinstein’s films received more than 300 Oscar nominations and 81 statuettes. 

The movies he steered to Academy Awards glory include “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Iron Lady” — which won best actress for Streep as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Through it all, the burly executive was famous for his hard-nosed approach to work and Oscars campaigns. He was nicknamed “Harvey Scissorhands” for his aggressive editing of movies.

Weinstein once had a personal fortune estimated at $150 million but it has rapidly disappeared following his fall from grace.

The Weinstein Company was declared bankrupt last year under an avalanche of lawsuits related to sexual misconduct claims.

Last month, Weinstein reached a $25 million settlement with more than 30 actresses and former employees who sued him. The bill will be met by insurers and his former company.

Prosecutors say Weinstein has sold five properties totaling $60 million in the last two years to pay legal fees and support his two ex-wives.

The second, English fashion designer Georgina Chapman, divorced him following the scandal.

He has been living in relative obscurity in a rented home in a New York suburb close to the two young children he has with Chapman. 

On Monday, he will spend his first night behind bars before sentencing on March 11. But his story may not be over, as he plans to appeal and is facing a separate case in Los Angeles.

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