David Geffen was born on February 21, 1943 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he grew up. After flunking out of the University of Texas in just one semester, he worked at approximately 17 different jobs in New York City before landing a position as an usher at the CBS-TV studio. Geffen subsequently used a fake UCLA diploma in order to get hired as a mail sorter at the William Morris Agency, where, within a few years, he became an agent who specialized in signing and managing rock-and-roll artists. By 1970, he was a millionaire. That same year, Geffen—dismayed by Atlantic Records’ refusal to sign the musician Jackson Browne to a contract—collaborated with music manager/record executive Elliot Roberts to form a new label, Asylum Records.
In 1975 Geffen left Asylum Records and became a vice president of Warner Brothers Pictures. He was fired from Warner approximately three years later, and in 1980 he launched his second music label, Geffen Records, where his first signee was the disco superstar Donna Summer. In 1995 Geffen partnered with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to found the DreamWorks movie studio.
For additional details about Geffen’s career in the entertainment industry, click here.
Geffen first spoke publicly about his own homosexuality at a 1992 AIDS benefit in Los Angeles, and then went on to become a prominent gay-rights advocate. In the early 1990s he befriended then-governor Bill Clinton and raised some $18 million for the latter’s ’92 presidential campaign. Geffen was particularly enthused about Clinton’s pledge to end the longstanding ban on open homosexuals in the military. But when the new president ultimately settled on a “don’t-ask-don’t tell” policy, Geffen considered it far too tepid and felt grievously betrayed. In 1993, he took out full-page newspaper ads protesting the Clinton policy.
Notwithstanding that bone of contention, Geffen and Clinton remined fast friends throughout the 1990s. As bestselling author Jason Mattera writes in his book Hollywood Hypocrites: “Geffen and Bill Clinton were so close, in fact, that Clinton called Geffen incessantly, whether the latter was at his Beverly Hills mansion (previously owned by Jack Warner) or driving his car, or if it was late in the evening. When Clinton was in Hollywood he would crash at David Geffen’s pad. When Geffen was in Washington, D.C., on more than one occasion he stayed at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom.”1
After watching Illinois State Senator Barack Obama deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the Hollywood mogul immediately urged him to run for the highest political office in the country. “I thought he [Obama] was a remarkable guy,” Geffen told the Los Angeles Times. “After I heard him give that speech, I called him up and said, ‘You’re going to run for president and I’m going to support you.’” According to Geffen, when then-U.S. Senator Obama decided in 2007 to launch his bid for the ’08 presidential election, he called Geffen and said: “David, I guess you’re right. I am running for president and I’d like your support.”
In February 2007 Geffen became one of the first major donors to offer his exclusive support to Obama’s presidential campaign, hosting a $1.3 million fundraiser for the senator. In a Maureen Dowd column that appeared the following day in the New York Times, Geffen was quoted as having: (a) disparaged Obama’s chief Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, as an “incredibly polarizing figure” who was ill-suited to lead the nation at that time; (b) described Bill Clinton as a “reckless guy who gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him”; (c) stated that “the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in”; and (d) characterized Bill and Hillary alike as habitual prevaricators: “Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”2 By contrast, said Geffen: “Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family.”
Collectively, Geffen and his DreamWorks partners were Obama’s top fundraiser during the 2008 presidential campaign, and they continued their fundraising work for the president after he took office.
In 2008 Geffen donated $100,000 to a campaign aimed at defeating Proposition 8, a statewide ballot initiative that sought to prevent gay marriage from becoming legally permissible in California. The Proposition passed by a 52-to-48 percent margin, but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court two years later.
On October 20, 2010, it was reported that Geffen and four other Hollywood Democrats would co-host a November 4th fundraiser for Rahm Emanuel, who had recently resigned his post as President Obama’s chief of staff in order to run for the office of Chicago mayor.
In 2014, Geffen, anticipating that Hillary Clinton would make another run for the White House in 2016, said he “absolutely” would support Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, calling her “an extraordinary, smart, accomplished woman.”
Through the David Geffen Foundation (DGF), a Los Angeles-based charitable philanthropy that he established in 1987, Geffen contributes money to a host of groups and causes that share his political and social agendas—most notably, promoting gay rights and helping people with HIV/AIDS.
For additional information on David Geffen and his Foundation, click here.