Stan Lee – in need of his own super hero

– Hollywood Reporter

At Marvel in New York in the ’60s, he created the comic book characters that dominate the box office today. But at 95 and reeling from his wife’s death and a fight with his daughter, Lee stands at the center of a nasty battle for his care (and estate) as one friend pleads for help: “He’s in need of a superhero himself.”

Back in early February, fighting what he later called “a little bout of pneumonia,” 95-year-old Stan Lee had an argument with his 67-year-old daughter, J.C. This was hardly unusual, but it seems to have been a breaking point.

The comic book legend — whose creative tenure at the helm of Marvel Comics beginning in New York in the early 1960s spawned Spider-Man, Black Panther and the X-Men and laid the foundation for superhero dominance in Hollywood that continues with the April 27 release of Avengers: Infinity War — sat in the office of his attorney Tom Lallas and signed a blistering declaration.

The Feb. 13 document, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, begins with some background, explaining that Lee and his late wife had arranged a trust for their daughter because she had trouble supporting herself and often overspent. “It is not uncommon for J.C. to charge, in any given month, $20,000 to $40,000 on credit cards, sometimes more,” the document states. It goes on to describe how, when he and his daughter disagree — “which is often” — she “typically yells and screams at me and cries hysterically if I do not capitulate.”

Lee explains that J.C. will, “from time to time,” demand changes to her trust, including the transfer of properties into her name. He has resisted such changes, he states, because they “would greatly increase the likelihood of her greatest fear: that after my death, she will become homeless and destitute.”

The declaration then explicates how three men with “bad intentions” — Jerardo “Jerry” Olivarez, Keya Morgan and J.C.’s attorney, Kirk Schenck — had improperly influenced his daughter, a woman with “very few adult friends.” The document claims the trio has “insinuated themselves into relationships with J.C. for an ulterior motive and purpose”: to take advantage of Lee and “gain control over my assets, property and money.”

Lee’s estate is estimated to be worth between $50 million and $70 million (it’s been reported he receives $1 million a year for his Marvel ties). And while his primary role with the company is now mostly ceremonial — including a cameo in nearly every film — he remains a deity in fanboy culture. Despite the fact that his health requires nursing care at home and on the road, up until his most recent illness, Lee was a jovial regular at international comic conventions, where he can draw thousands of paying autograph seekers.

A few days after the declaration was notarized, however, Lee changed his mind — or someone did. Whatever happened, Lallas was soon out as Lee’s attorney in a confrontation that grew tense enough that the LAPD was called to the legend’s Hollywood Hills home.

Morgan and J.C. began consolidating their power over Lee. Mike Kelly, Lee’s assistant for nearly a quarter-century who used to come by the house most days for one-on-one meetings, was limited to weekly pre-approved and supervised visits. A new accountant (Vince Maguire, Tobey’s brother and Morgan’s friend) was hired. The housekeeper and gardener, who had been with Lee for decades, were sent packing. And a revolving door of lawyers were retained over six weeks until the pair introduced Lee to his current counsel, Jonathan Freund.

Lee’s phone number has been changed, and his emails are being monitored and composed by Morgan. (“Stan Lee has macular degeneration and his eyes cannot see small letters,” Morgan explains. “I have been taking him to the eye doctor and reading his e-mails for him for many years. This is his request, and he thanks me for helping him.”)

When Morgan learned that THR had obtained a copy of the seemingly damning declaration, he filmed a video of Lee distancing himself from the document. In the clip, while Lee doesn’t deny signing the declaration, he calls its contents “totally incorrect, inaccurate, misleading and insulting.” (Lallas says he went through the contents with Lee “word by word, line by line.”)

In the video, an animated and robust Lee goes on to state that “my relationship with my daughter has never been better, and my friend Keya Morgan and I also have a great relationship … anybody who is saying anything [else] … is just spreading lies.”

J.C. declined to speak with THR. Instead, Schenck, her lawyer, says “the story isn’t that J.C. is taking advantage of her father, but that she’s potentially being taken advantage of by multiple men.” Lee himself remains mostly silent, except for the brief recorded statements coordinated and released by Morgan.

However, nearly all of the other players in the messy drama over Lee’s estate and well-being are speaking out. Their often conflicting stories reveal an increasingly toxic and combative situation involving broken alliances, abrupt expulsions and allegations of elder abuse against one of America’s most influential and beloved cultural icons. On several occasions, the turmoil drew the attention of law enforcement.

Says one longtime insider: It’s “an utter shit show.”

 

As much as Stan Lee’s public life was defined by his fame and achievements, his family was shaped by the forceful personalities of his strong-willed, England-born, former-model wife, Joan, and their long-troubled dilettante daughter. In their charmed seven-decade marriage, Joanie (as everyone called her) had urged Lee to take key professional risks, most notably to create the Fantastic Four — revolutionary at the time for being superheroes with real flaws — while she maintained the resolute last word on the couple’s household affairs.

Until recently, Lee and Joanie had been blessed with the good fortune of surviving into their 90s with mental acuity and physical agility that wowed those around them. But Joanie’s death from a stroke on July 6 at age 95 marked the end of their evening martini ritual at home in the exclusive Bird Streets of the Hollywood Hills (Leonardo DiCaprio is a neighbor) — and the beginning of pandemonium.

Signs abounded that chaos would reign if Joanie were the first to die. There was Lee’s people-pleasing habit of telling whoever was in front of him whatever they wanted to hear, his history of bad financial decisions (like never properly cashing in on Marvel) and his susceptibility to bad actors (including a doomed partnership called Stan Lee Media with Peter F. Paul, a convicted drug dealer). Add to this Lee’s Depression-bred distrust of banks, leading to rumors he’d hid millions in cash all over his property.

Joanie was always more successful at handling their unruly only daughter, with whom Stan has a powder-keg relationship. Though some with an intimate knowledge of the household speak of her vivacious spirit and kindness, the never-married J.C. also has a reputation as a prodigious shopper with an ill-tempered personality who has been kicked out of multiple businesses around Los Angeles, including, according to a dining companion at the time, the Chateau Marmont. She’s chafed at what she sees as unjust restrictions on her trust and has taken that out on her father. According to medical personnel who have cared for Lee, J.C.’s badgering, often insulting phone calls to her father (which can number in the dozens a day and which, out of a mix of guilt and love, he nearly always answers) frequently leave him hoarse from fighting. “For any little thing, she’ll argue,” says a former caregiver. “She’s very inconsiderate.”

According to household staff and business associates, there have been times when J.C.’s verbal outbursts have turned physical. One incident took place in winter 2014, explains Lee’s former business and asset manager Bradley J. Herman, after J.C. discovered that the new Jaguar convertible parked outside, which she thought had been purchased for her, was in fact only leased — and in her father’s name. Herman, in Stan’s office to handle some paperwork, recalls that the argument spiraled out of control after J.C. called her parents “fucking stupid” and Joanie told her the car was “now [Joanie’s.]”

According to Herman — whose active Hollywood client list he keeps private but who previously worked for Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra — J.C. then roughly grabbed her mother by one arm, shoving her against a window. Joanie fell to the carpeted floor. Lee, seated in a nearby chair and looking stunned, told J.C. he was cutting her off: “I’m going to stick you in a little apartment and take away all your credit cards!” Herman recalls Lee shouting. “I’ve had it, you ungrateful bitch!” In “a rage,” J.C. took hold of Lee’s neck, slamming his head against the chair’s wooden backing. Joanie suffered a large bruise on her arm and burst blood vessels on her legs; Lee had a contusion on the rear of his skull. (J.C. has previously denied the incident.)

Shortly afterward, allegedly at Joanie’s behest, Herman took photos that purport to show her injuries, which he shared with THR (another visitor to the house shortly thereafter confirms the wounds). Herman contends the parents asked him not to pursue the matter with police, wary of publicity and law enforcement for their daughter, whom they viewed as emotionally fragile and who they told intimates was still haunted — even as a senior citizen herself — by the bullying of her childhood.