David Geffen

David Geffen

: Photo from Creative Commons / Author of Photo: mikesolita


* Longtime Bill Clinton supporter, until breaking with him in 2001
* Came out as gay in the early 1990s
* Early supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run
* Major left-wing organizer and fundraiser
* Multi-billionaire

The Rise of a Music & Movie Mogul

David Lawrence Geffen was born on February 21, 1943 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he was raised by his Jewish parents. His father, the Russian-born Abraham, was a pattern maker. His mother, a Ukrainian native named Batya, made and sold women’s undergarments.

After flunking out of the University of Texas (Austin) in just one semester, Geffen worked at a long series of odd jobs in New York City before being hired as an usher at the CBS television studio. He 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 musical artists like Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

By 1970, Geffen was a millionaire. That same year, he collaborated with his friend, music manager/record executive Elliot Roberts, to form a new label, Asylum Records. Under the aegis of Asylum, Geffen signed up such rising talents as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles.

Geffen continued to serve as president of Asylum Records through its 1973 merger with the Warner label Elektra, which resulted in the formation of the new Elektra/Asylum label.

In 1973 Geffen began a two-year romance with the popular entertainer Cher.

In 1975 Geffen left Asylum Records and became vice chairman of Warner Brothers Pictures, a position in which he was quite unhappy. After being mistakenly diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer in 1976, he spent four years in semi-retirement before returning to the music industry in 1980. At that time, he launched his second music label, Geffen Records, where his first signee was the disco superstar Donna Summer. Such music icons as John Lennon and Elton John also released albums with Geffen Records.

In 1995 Geffen partnered with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to establish the DreamWorks movie studio, with each partner contributing $33 million to get the venture off the ground.

The David Geffen Foundation

In 1987, Geffen established the David Geffen Foundation as a vehicle for his charitable philanthropy, focusing chiefly on matters related to public health (AIDS/HIV), education, arts & culture, LGBT issues, civil liberties, Jewish community concerns, and the needs of the Los Angeles community.  Mr. Geffen fully funds the foundation with his own money.

As of 2021, the David Geffen Foundation’s assets were $481 million. That same year, the Foundation awarded $108.3 million in “charitable disbursements” to scores of organizations. Among the beneficiaries of the Foundation’s support over the years have been the ACLU Lesbian/Gay Rights Project, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Liberty Hill Foundation, the Nation InstituteNational Public RadioPlanned Parenthood, and UNICEF.

A New Gay-Rights Advocate

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.

Geffen’s Relationship with Bill Clinton

In the early 1990s, Geffen befriended then-Arkansas 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]

Geffen and Clinton had another disagreement in 1999, when the president responded to a series of deadly shootings in American high schools by urging the entertainment industry to tone down its emphasis on violence. Geffen, in turn, said: “Why not blame the libraries? They’re full of violent books.”

Geffen severed his relationship with Clinton in 2001 when the president refused Geffen’s request that he pardon Leonard Peltier, a Sioux activist who had been convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975. In a 2007 discussion with columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen would look back on the Peltier matter as “yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in.” “Everybody in politics lies,” added Geffen, “but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Big Fundraiser for Democrats

In 1999 Geffen hosted a Hollywood fundraiser that took in some $1.5 million for Democratic congressional candidates.

Supporting Obama for President

After watching Illinois State Senator Barack Obama deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Geffen immediately urged him to run for the highest political office in the country. “I thought he [Obama] was a remarkable guy,” Geffen later 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, collaborating with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to host a $1.3 million Beverly Hills fundraiser for the senator. Among the celebrities who attended were George Clooney, Eddie Murphy, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Aniston, and Jackson Browne.

Later that same evening, a private dinner at Geffen’s home was held for those fundraisers who had brought in $46,000 or more that day. 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.” (NOTE: The quotes cited in “c” and “d” were referenced previously in the section titled “Geffen’s Relationship with Bill Clinton.”)

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.

Opposing Proposition 8

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.

Fundraiser for Rahm Emanuel

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.

Praising Hillary Clinton

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.”

Donating Small Sums to Both Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

Geffen again backed the Democrats in the presidential race of 2016, but he did so with much less passion than in previous election cycles. In February 2016, he donated just $2,700 to the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “I am not supporting anybody,” he said in an email to The Wall Street Journal.

Geffen Hosts Leftist Celebrities on His Yacht

On April 14, 2017, Geffen hosted a number of political and celebrity luminaries for an excursion on his 454-foot, $300 million yacht. Among his guests were Barack and Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, and Oprah Winfrey.

On March 28, 2020, as the deadly coronavirus pandemic shifted into high gear across the United States, Geffen posted an Instagram message accompanied by a photograph of his massive yacht, Rising Sun, sailing on open waters somewhere off the coast of the Grenadines in the Caribbean Sea. His post read as follows: “Sunset last night… isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe.” After receiving massive backlash from other social media users who criticized him for so blatantly highlighting the massive wealth that gave him the ability to isolate himself in ways that were impossible for almost everyone else, Geffen deleted his entire Instagram account.

Supporting The Lincoln Project

In 2020, Geffen donated at least $300,000 to the Lincoln Project, an organization of putative Republicans who despised President Donald Trump and sought to block his reelection.

Opponent of Voter-Integrity Laws

In April 2021, Geffen was one of numerous Hollywood celebrities and corporate elites to sign a two-page open letter titled “We Stand for Democracy,” which voiced opposition to the “restrictions on voting” that, according to the signatories, were inherent in voter-integrity bills which Republican legislators had recently passed in certain states — most notably Texas and Georgia. Those bills incorporated such elements as Voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, a reduction in the use of mail-in ballots, prohibitions against drive-through voting, bans on the distribution of unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots, and rules stipulating that voting machines cannot be connected to the Internet. Featured as an advertisement in both The New York Times and The Washington Post on April 14, the letter read as follows:

“A Government of the people, by the people. A beautifully American ideal, but a reality denied to many for much of this nation’s history. As Americans, we know that in our democracy we should not expect to agree on everything. However, regardless of our political affiliations, we believe the very foundation of our electoral process rests upon the ability of each of us to cast our ballots for the candidates of our choice. For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us. We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot. Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans.”

Other high-profile signatories of this open letter included JJ Abrams, George Clooney, Channing Dungey, Lee Daniels, Larry David, Demi Lovato, Peter Chernin, Kate Hudson, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Queen Latifah, George Lucas, Samuel L. Jackson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Norman Lear, Rita Moreno, Gwyneth Paltrow, Katy Perry, Shonda Rhimes, Shari Redstone, and David Zaslav.

Geffen’s Massive Wealth

As of December 2023, Geffen’s net worth was $9.44 billion. He is generally regarded as the wealthiest man in the U.S. film industry.


  1. Jason Mattera, Hollywood Hypocrites (Simon & Schuster, 2012), Kindle Edition, Loc. 187-89.
  2. Ibid., Loc. 225-30.

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