The rich, powerful and famous often think they are above the law, and in Hollywood this has created a huge market for shadow agents willing to bend (or even outright break) the rules to customers. In that ugly arena of the 80s and 90s, no one was more coveted than Anthony Pellicano, a Chicago-born private detective who became “Mr. Fix-It to the Stars” – until his company of telephone tapping becomes widespread threw him behind bars.
The latest episode of FX’s “The New York Times Presents” documentary series, Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano (March 10, on FX and Hulu) is a two-part exposé on Pellicano’s clandestine conduct on behalf of the likes of Chris Rock, Courtney Love, Farrah Fawcett and die hard director John McTiernan, who eventually served his sentence thanks to his connection to the infamous PI The study of a man who was apparently very comfortable getting his hands dirty – by intimidating and terrorizing targets – for the biggest entertainment heavyweights, it confirms that Los Angeles is a viper’s nest of duplicity and depravity, and that its people will do whatever it takes to pursue their ambitions and retain what they have achieved.
Cleverly directed by John Pappas, Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano is juiciest when it features never-before-seen clips of phone conversations between Pellicano (who recorded all of his calls) and clients like Love, former CAA and Disney bigwig Michael Ovitz, and Rock, who discusses his dilemma regarding a woman he slept with (behind his wife’s back) and now claims to have been raped and carrying his child.
Hearing Rock talk about how he’s framed for a banter during which he removed his condom in order to ejaculate on his back is to get an unvarnished glimpse into the sordid side of A-list stardom. For Pellicano, this seedy milieu was home sweet home, as evidenced by his story to Rock: “I want to completely blacken this girl…I want to make her look like a manipulative, lying, lying motherfucker. That’s what I want.”
Pellicano’s background with an abusive alcoholic father whom he replaced with other tough-on-the-street father figures provides telling context for his transition to a career as a private detective with a particular focus on wiretapping. Describing himself as “the prince of darkness,” Pellicano used mafia tactics, a notion underscored by his statement to Love: “If you come to me, it’s the end. I’m an old-fashioned Sicilian. I’m only going one way. I have a very heavy hand, darling.
His big break came when, after a successful run in his hometown, he moved to California in 1982 and was part of attorney Howard Weitzman’s successful defense team for auto industry titan John DeLorean. With this high-profile win under his belt, Pellicano quickly proved himself a hot commodity, and in the early ’90s he teamed up with top LA lawyers including Weitzman, Terry Christensen, Marty Singer, Dennis Wasser and Bert Fields. Therefore, when Michael Jackson was accused in 1993 of child molestation, Pellicano was held back to do what he did best: make the problems go away by any means necessary.
In this case, as in many others mentioned in Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano, the private detective used his skills to benefit the Goliaths rather than the Davids, who suffered thanks to the frightening pressure he exerted. Jude Green, ex-wife of financier Leonard Green, remembers Pellicano harassing and surveilling her throughout her divorce. The same goes for Linda Doucett, former girlfriend and colleague of Garry Shandling, whom Pellicano was hired to manage by Shandling’s friend and producing partner Brad Gray (who eventually became CEO of Paramount Pictures).
Of the nightmares featured in this docuseries, however, none are as shocking as the one recounted by journalist Anita Busch, who while working on a story about actor Steven Seagal’s ties to organized crime , received numerous death threats, including a first in which a dead fish with a rose in its mouth was left on the windshield of his car with a note that read “Stop”.
According Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicanothe real culprit behind Busch’s vicious bullying was not Seagal but, instead, Ovitz, who disliked Busch and his comrades The New York Times journalist Bernard Weinraub’s series of articles about him. What is beyond doubt, however, is that Pellicano was the guy used to scare Busch. In order to answer (and defend against) these accusations, Pellicano appears in a new interview in the show’s second hour, but it’s largely for nothing; boasting that “I’ve broken the law all the time” but “I’ve never prosecuted innocent people”, he comes across as an individual who wants to be candid while not admitting any of the wrongdoing presented so convincing by the federal agents, journalists and victims featured here.
Once Pellicano found himself in the crosshairs of the FBI, Hollywood elites were rightly afraid that their secrets were about to be released to the world. Luckily for (most of them), Pellicano was shrewd enough to make sure his treasure trove of wiretap records never fell into the hands of the authorities. What ultimately got him locked up for 15 years were his own phone conversations with clients, which made it clear he had done no good. Yet since his 2019 release, Pellicano has reportedly landed on his feet in his glitzy old stomping ground, and the fact that CAA co-founder and former Universal Studios COO Ron Meyer continues to call him a friend ( and praises his refusal to report his clients) speaks volumes about an industry culture that continues to value Pellicano’s underhand secret service.