Gavin de Becker, a famed security consultant and author, became the subject of public fascination this week after his client, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, disclosed the shocking details of an alleged blackmail and extortion attempt. On Thursday, Bezos published a post on Medium accusing American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, of threatening to release intimate pictures of him unless he called off an investigation helmed by de Becker and a forthcoming piece on the matter by the Washington Post.
Bezos hired de Becker last month to look into how the Enquirer had obtained private texts revealing his extramarital relationship with Lauren Sanchez. AMI had apparently been concerned about de Becker’s investigation and his assertion to the Daily Beast that there may have been “political motives” behind the Enquirer’s article.
De Becker has made his mark as the founder of Gavin de Becker and Associates, a security consultancy firm that caters to public figures. Here’s a look at some of the highlights and oddities from his extensive career.
Security and Sleuthing for the Stars
De Becker’s client list has included the likes of Madonna, Michael J. Fox, Cher, and Tom Hanks. He is credited with revolutionizing the celebrity security industry, inventing methods to evaluate the likelihood of threats, and rigorously systematizing security protocols. His security tool, Mosaic, has been used to profile domestic abusers and assess threats to school.
De Becker has taken on some unusual assignments over the years. In the 1990s, he helped comedian Garry Shandling, who was at one point his best friend, conduct sweeps of wiretaps possibly planted by private investigator Anthony Pellicano. He helped Bill and Camille Cosby handle threat inquiries after their son was murdered in 1997.
In 2001, when George Harrison was suffering from cancer, de Becker hurried him away to a secret location. Even Harrison’s close friends had to arrive at a fake address before being escorted to the real one. (The fake address even ended up on Harrison’s death certificate.) Olivia Newton-John hired de Becker in 2005 after she became dissatisfied with officials searching for her boyfriend Patrick McDermott, who disappeared during a fishing trip in California. The Coast Guard ultimately concluded that McDermott likely drowned, though private investigators have speculated that he may have escaped to Mexico to avoid debts.
Given his proximity to the entertainment industry, it makes sense that de Becker has made cameos in the celebrity press. He dated Geena Davis, known for her roles in Thelma & Louise and Beetlejuice, for more than a year in the 1990s. People magazine reported that Davis threw him a surprise bingo-themed birthday bash in 1992 at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel with a guest list that included actor Ed Begley Jr. Davis also arranged for the University of Southern California marching band to come play some of de Becker’s favorite hits.
Alanis Morissette also had a “very long” relationship with de Becker that lasted until around 2002, according to the Toronto Star. Some reportedly speculated that he was the inspiration for the pop star’s hit single “Hands Clean,” released that same year. However, Morissette informed the New York Times during a press junket that the song was about one of her early collaborators in the music industry.
The Gift of Fear
In 1997, de Becker published his best-known book, The Gift of Fear, which outlines how people can hone their instincts to predict and avert violent attacks. In the book, de Becker describes a childhood filled with abuse from his mother. At one point, he writes about witnessing his mother shooting his father, and the signs that may have predicted the violent act.
The book reached the No. 4 spot on the New York Times best-seller list and received rave reviews from Oprah Winfrey, who invited de Becker on her show. The book is still a reference point in advice columns more than 20 years later, and celebrities such as Anna Kendrick, Jodie Foster, Larry King, and, of course, Jeff Bezos have publicly praised it.
In 2008, Meryl Streep, a friend of de Becker’s, described how the book informed her portrayal of a righteous nun in the movie Doubt. Ben Carson also referenced the book in an op-ed directed at then-opponent Donald Trump in 2015 during the presidential primaries, in which he discussed the benefits and faults of fear in addressing terrorism.
Defending Mel Gibson
In 2006, Mel Gibson infamously spewed anti-Semitic vitriol at a Los Angeles police officer who had pulled him over on suspicion of drunk driving and subsequently arrested him. The incident attracted international attention and roiled the film industry.
In the week after the arrest, as reported by the Associated Press at the time, de Becker took out an ad in the Hollywood Reporter responding to a blog post denouncing Gibson by Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel. At the time, the Hollywood Reporter generally charged $3,500 per page.
In the ad, de Becker wrote that it was unfair to judge Gibson for things he said while drunk. “You wrote that ‘alcoholism does not excuse anti-Semitism,’ which is obvious. Also true is that alcoholism cannot be used to prove anti-Semitism,” the two-page ad read, in part. “You describe your position as ‘standing up against bigotry.’ I suggest that your position is bigotry, bigotry about alcoholism. And more than that, it’s bigotry about humanness itself, for every one of us has said terrible things.”
He signed the note: “Author of Bestselling Books about Violence and Words. Bar Mitzvah 1968, Graduated Hebrew School 1969. Never Been Really Drunk. Said Plenty of Regrettable Things When Sober.”