Harvey Weinstein: from Hollywood 'God' to convicted rapist

Peter HUTCHISON
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Harvey Weinstein pictured at a gala in New York in 2012 with actress Meryl Streep, who famously called him 'God'

For decades, Harvey Weinstein was untouchable, reigning over Hollywood as the mega-producer Meryl Streep famously called "God." On Wednesday the convicted rapist was contemplating spending the rest of his life in prison.

A week before his 68th birthday, the "Pulp Fiction" producer with a knack for making Oscar-winning movies was sentenced to 23 years in jail for rape and sexual assault.

The sentencing in New York capped a sensational downfall for Weinstein, 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.

On February 24, he was found guilty of rape in the third degree and a criminal sexual act in the first degree, but cleared of the most serious charge of predatory sexual assault.

Weinstein, in a wheelchair following heart surgery and considerably lighter than the 300 pounds (136 kilograms) he carried at the height of his success, came across as unrepentant when he addressed the court at his sentencing.

"I'm totally confused," he said, suggesting he was a victim of the #MeToo movement.

"I was the first example and now there are of thousands of men being accused. I'm worried about this country."

He also pleaded with the judge that he "might never see my children again."

- '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 in March 2018 under an avalanche of lawsuits related to sexual misconduct claims.

In December last year, 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 was living in relative obscurity in a rented home in a New York suburb close to the two young children he has with Chapman before his trial started in January.

Weinstein spent ten days in hospital following his conviction after complaining of chest pains. He had a stent installed before being transferred to New York's notorious Rikers Island jail to await sentencing.

Weinstein is expected to be incarcerated in upstate New York. But his story may not be over: he has appealed and is facing a separate case in Los Angeles.