Remembering Fred Levin, In His Own Words

Jan 14, 2021

Credit University of West Florida

A private funeral service will be today for renowned Pensacola Attorney Fred Levin, who died Tuesday, at the age of 83, due to complications from COVID-19.

In 2014, Levin spoke to WUWF about his extraordinary life after the release of a biography titled, And Give Up Showbiz? Here's an excerpt from that interview. 

“I mean I had so many great things happen in my life. It’s almost staggering,” said Levin, as he explained why he wanted to take part in the writing of the book by Josh Young.

“I’m in the Hall of Fame of Boxing. I'm a Hall of Fame trial lawyer. In the country of Ghana, I’m a chief. The law school has the Frederic G. Levin College of Law at the University of Florida. And, I could go on and on about the so many great things that have happened in my life. I really was a superstar and nobody could have loved me more than I loved myself.” 

But, beyond his many achievements, Levin conceded that the book idea came up after the loss of his wife and time to reflect on regrets about how he treated her.

“So, here was an opportunity for me to ask forgiveness, too late; but, at the same time to let people know that there is more to life than me, me, me. It’s just that I had so many great things happen, but when I look back, I really screwed up,” he acknowledged.

Credit By Fred Levin - Own work

Levin  was born in 1937. He was the son of a pawnbroker and dog track manager and says he enjoyed growing up in Pensacola in the prosperous post-World War II years of the 1950s.

"Well, I had a great life. The '50s were fabulous times," he said of the good life he and the country enjoyed back then. He went off to college and decided to stay and attend law school.

"And, when I got into law school, I realied that it was serious business and that's when I got serious and my total life changed," he said.

He started to recognize racism in the community and saw just how ugly it could be with attacks on a law school classmate, who became the first black to enter a white public institution in Florida.

"I didn't have the guts to stand up for him," he acknowledged. "Then, at the end of the first semester, I was leading the class and then I went up and I befriended him and I watched as more and more guys came over to our side."

He said that set the stage for his life of recognizing the bad and how if you stand up, it could make a difference and he reiterated, "It did make a difference."

Throughout his illustrious and controversial legal career, at the helm of the law firm now known as Levin Papantonio Rafferty, made millions of dollars litigating personal injury cases, while also making headlines for his outspoken candor.

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF Public Media

He also made many influential friendships, such as US presidential candidates Jack Kemp, Bob Graham, Reubin Askew, Gary Hart, and John Edwards; and sports figures Muhammad Ali, Emmitt Smith, Don King, and Roy Jones Jr.

But, Levin is most known and most proud of his role in writing the statute that brought down Big Tobacco in the largest legal settlement ever – almost $300 Billion dollars. “That clearly was the shining point in my life as far as the practice of law,” said Levin, noting that the legislation has been credited with saving the lives of thousands people each year by reducing smoking.

Click here to hear the entire 2014 interview with Fred Levin and book author, Josh Young.