Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Harvey Levin is the reigning king of celebrity news. Trained as a lawyer, Levin went on to launch the celebrity news website TMZ, a controversial competitor to traditional media credited with breaking bombshell stories such as the death of singer Michael Jackson. Founded in 2005, the website quickly rose to prominence when it broke the story of Mel Gibson's DUI arrest and subsequent anti-Semitic rant. These days, TMZ is one of the most-cited entertainment news sources in the country. In addition to his work with TMZ, Levin hosted 'The People’s Court' and served as creator and executive producer of ‘Celebrity Justice’ from 2002 to 2005. But what sticks out most about Levin is his unusual career path, which started with him practicing law and teaching at three different law schools before eventually finding his calling in the entertainment industry. For his broadcast work, Levin has been nominated for nine Emmys.
Arriving at the University of Chicago Law School in 1972 was not exactly a fulfilment of Levin’s dreams. He had just graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he'd studied political science. He considered pursuing a PhD, but chose law school instead; he was drawn to Chicago for its rich history in politics and legal battles. Levin's early uncertainty did not affect his grades, as he was considered to be one of the top students in his class. Geoffrey Stone, one of his law professors, recalled Levin as a confident student who was “always eager to debate.” In 1975, Levin graduated with a Juris Doctor from the University of Chicago Law School.
Since his graduation ceremony, Levin has remained tied to his alma mater and has returned on several occasions at the behest of the law school. His first return visit was in 2010, when he was asked to deliver a speech for the University of Chicago's current law students. During that speech, Levin discussed what he wouldn't allow his company to publish, which included a photo of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps holding a bong. Then, Levin drew comparisons between the lively debates in his newsroom and his days studying constitutional law in the classroom.
Furthermore, this was not Levin's only campus visit. In 2013, he was again a guest speaker, this time returning to his alma mater to deliver some colorful stories and discuss how he used his law school skills in his everyday life. “I haven’t spent an hour in my business life where I haven’t used what I learned here,” he said to students. “I’m keenly aware of what this place did for me.” Levin then added that throughout his career, he has tapped into the skills of critical thinking and advocacy that he learned as a law student.
His hard work certainly didn't go unnoticed by University leaders, who in 2015 awarded Levin with the Professional Achievement Award, an honor for those University of Chicago alumni whose achievements have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the University, and real benefit to their communities.