Roy Cohn Biography

(American Lawyer and Prosecutor)

Birthday: February 20, 1927 (Pisces)

Born In: New York City, New York, United States

Roy Cohn was an American lawyer who had served as the chief counsel of Joseph McCarthy. The duo was known for investigating and prosecuting communists for crimes of espionage. The two also pursued government officials and artists who were closeted homosexuals or associated with foreign communists. Before teaming up with McCarthy, Cohn rose to fame for playing a significant role in incriminating Ethal and Julius Rosenberg for spying on the U.S. government on behalf of the U.S.S.R. He represented high-profile personalities such as U.S. president Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, George Steinbrenner, and Aristotle Onassis. He also represented people with criminal pasts, such as Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti. He also advised politicians such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan. However, his career came to an unceremonious end due to his unethical and unprofessional conduct. It later came to light that Cohn was a closeted homosexual. He died due to complications from AIDS.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Roy Marcus Cohn

Died At Age: 59


father: Albert C. Cohn

mother: Dora Marcus

Born Country: United States

Lawyers American Men

Height: 5'8" (173 cm), 5'8" Males

Died on: August 2, 1986

place of death: Bethesda, Maryland, United States

Notable Alumni: Horace Mann School, Columbia Law School

Grouping of People: Gay

Cause of Death: AIDS

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Columbia University, Columbia Law School, Horace Mann School

Childhood & Early Life

Roy Marcus Cohn was born on February 20, 1927, into a strict Jewish family in The Bronx, New York City, U.S.A.

He was the grandnephew of Joshua Lionel Cowen, a renowned inventor and the founder of ‘Lionel Corporation.’

He was the only child of his parents, Dora (nee Marcus) and Judge Albert C. Cohn.

He attended two major Ivy preparatory schools: the ‘Horace Mann School’ in The Bronx and the ‘Fieldston School’ in New York City. He attended the ‘Columbia College’ on the main campus of the ‘Columbia University’ in Manhattan, New York City. At the age of 20, he graduated from ‘Columbia Law School,’ the professional graduate school of ‘Columbia University.’

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Roy Cohn was admitted to the bar on May 27, 1948. He leveraged his family’s influence to work with the then-U.S. attorney, Irving Saypol, in Manhattan.

One of the earliest cases assigned to him was the prosecution of communist party leaders under the ‘Smith Act.’ He succeeded in convicting 11 of them.

In 1948, he became a board member of the ‘American Jewish League Against Communism.’

In 1950, he secured the indictment of William Remington for perjury.

He was instrumental in the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for spying on the U.S. government.

His role in the Rosenberg trial was noticed by J. Edgar Hoover, who referred him to Joseph McCarthy.

Between 1951 and 1954, Roy Cohn worked with McCarthy to investigate many suspected communists. They also claimed that foreign communists had compelled closeted homosexuals working with the U.S. government to spy on their behalf, in exchange for keeping their sexuality secret. Their theories even convinced U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to sign a decree to bar homosexuals from working with the federal government.

Even prominent cultural figures were targeted by Cohn and McCarthy for their sexuality. They also blackmailed several opponents by threatening to divulge their sexual orientation.

However, the Army–McCarthy hearings led to the downfall of the team of McCarthy and Cohn. Cohn resigned from his position in 1954 and began private practice.

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He had a flourishing career as an attorney. He counseled influential politicians such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan business magnates such as George Steinbrenner and Aristotle Onassis; members of the mafia such as Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti; and religious organizations such as the ‘Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.’

He became Donald Trump’s attorney in 1973 and also worked as a mentor. They worked together until 1985.

Roy Cohn introduced his client Rupert Murdoch, a world-renowned media mogul, to Trump.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, he was investigated by the federal authorities, but they could not prove the charges of unprofessional conduct leveled against him.

In 1986, he was disbarred for unethical practices and professional misconduct, including coercing his client to alter his will.

Takeover of Lionel Corporation

Roy Cohn, along with a group of investors, bought 200,000 of about 700,00 shares of ‘Lionel Corporation’ from founder Joshua Lionel Cowen and his son, Lawrence Cowen.

However, Cohn failed to steer the company in the right direction leading to losses. He was compelled to quit in 1963.

Personal Life, Illness, & Death

Roy Cohn lost his mother when he was 40. He was extremely attached to her.

It was rumored that Cohn was gay and had had a sexual relationship with his colleague G. David Schine. However, Cohn vehemently denied both these claims. Nevertheless, there were strong indications that he was a closeted homosexual.

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In 1984, after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Cohn tried his best to keep it a secret. He also undertook experimental drug treatment and participated in clinical trials of ‘AZT.’

He desperately wanted to maintain that he was suffering from liver cancer, and not AIDS, even to the last day.

He died due to complications resulting due to AIDS on August 2, 1986, in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A, at the age of 59.

He was interred in the ‘Union Field Cemetery’ in Queens, New York.

Literature, Art, & Media

Roy Cohn had written quite a few books, the first of them being ‘Only a Miracle Can Save America from the Red Conspiracy,’ published in 1954.

Almost 14 years later, in 1968, he released ‘McCarthy.’

In 1972, he published ‘A Fool for a Client: My Struggle Against the Power of a Public Prosecutor.’

After 5 years, in 1977, he authored ‘McCarthy: The Answer to Tail Gunner Joe.’

He released ‘How to Stand Up for Your Rights and Win!’ in 1981.

The following year, his book ‘Outlaws of Amerika’ The Weather Underground’ was released.

In 1986, he wrote ‘Roy Cohn on Divorce: Words to the Wise and Not So Wise.’

‘The Autobiography of Roy Cohn,’ co-authored by Sidney Zion, was posthumously published on March 1, 1988.

A biography titled ‘The Life and Times of Roy Cohn: Citizen Cohn,’ written by Nicholas Von Hoffman, was published on March 1, 1988.

He was included as a character in Tony Kushner’s revolutionary 1991 ‘Broadway’ play ‘Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.’ Eleven years later, the play was adapted into a miniseries of the same title by ‘HBO.’ The play was revived later by other productions.

The TV movie ‘Citizen Cohn,’ released in 1992, featured James Woods as Cohn.

A one-person show by Ron Vawter, titled ‘Roy Cohn/Jack Smith,’ became quite popular in the early 1990s. Gary Indiana wrote the part of Roy Cohn.

Two documentaries on Cohn, ‘Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn’ and ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?,’ where released in 2019. The former was directed by Ivy Meeropol, granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

See the events in life of Roy Cohn in Chronological Order

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