When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos found out that the National Enquirer had published private, intimate text messages sent between him and former Good Day L.A. host Lauren Sanchez, he went to security specialist Gavin de Becker.
The episode has highlighted the practices of a media company already under intense scrutiny for legally dubious maneuvers, but it’s also put the spotlight on de Becker and his four-decade career advising law enforcement departments and the United States government, and overseeing the safety of a laundry list of A-listers.
“I’ve known Mr. de Becker for 20 years, his expertise in this arena is excellent, and he’s one of the smartest and most capable leaders I know,” Bezos wrote in a now-well-known Medium post regarding the Enquirer situation last week.
De Becker has built a career out of shielding people from threats and violence, a path that might be attributable to the trauma of growing up in the shadow of a violent, temperamental mother. In accounts of his childhood, he has written about his mother’s heroin addiction and the regular beatings she doled out to him and his sister—using, as he told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, “everything in the house.” When his mother was 33, she leveled a gun at de Becker’s stepfather in plain view of her son.
“His hands were held out stiffly in front of him as if they could stop bullets. I remember wondering for a moment if it would hurt to be shot,” he writes in his best-selling first book, The Gift of Fear.
She fired multiple rounds. His stepfather survived, but years later, when de Becker was 16, his mother committed suicide.
Another trauma that influenced the course of de Becker’s life was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “[It] was the first world event that had any impact on me personally,” he told the Times in 1989. The memory of watching JFK’s body suddenly and unnaturally recoil in the backseat of a Lincoln would carry through to de Becker’s work protecting public figures.
By chance, he found himself surrounded by many public figures after his mother’s suicide. He moved in with the family of a Beverly Hills High School classmate, Miguel Ferrer, the son of actor José Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney. In a way, his career began at that moment. Clooney hired de Becker as her road manager and this helped him secure other work, including jobs with Dean Martin’s ex-wife Jeanne; Elizabeth Taylor; and Shaun Cassidy.
He made it official in 1978, opening his firm, Gavin de Becker and Associates.
Just two years later, John Lennon was shot four times in the back while leaving his New York City apartment, marking a new era of dangerous, obsessive fandom. De Becker was perfectly positioned to capitalize, going on to work for clients such as Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Joan Rivers, Olivia Newton-John, and Cher.
He developed a system to determine the seriousness of threats received by his clients. This soon evolved into a fully articulated methodology: the MOSAIC threat assessment system. MOSAIC would eventually be adopted by police departments to protect potential targets like politicians and judges, but even then, the fundamentals of the system traced their lineage back to de Becker’s experiences growing up.
“The way I broke down the individual elements of violence as a child became the way the most sophisticated artificial intuition systems predict violence today,” he wrote in The Gift of Fear. “My ghosts had become my teachers.”
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