Preacher Sues Ebony Magazine for $1 Million
CHICAGO (CN) - Ebony magazine "knowingly published a sensationalized lie" that an actor-turned-evangelist leaked a sex tape of his first wife during their 1981 divorce, the preacher claims in court.
Leon Isaac Kennedy sued Johnson Publishing Co. and John Does 1-5 in Cook County Court.
"Contrary to the false disparagement of him published by defendants, Kennedy is not a 'perv(ert)' (defined in American Heritage Dictionary as 'one who turns away from what is right, proper, or good; corrupt'; and in Webster's New World Dictionary as 'one practicing sexual perversion')," Kennedy says in the lawsuit. (Parentheses in complaint.)
Kennedy, of California, is the founder of Kennedy Healing Love Ministries, and evangelizes at churches around the world, he says in the complaint.
Before becoming an evangelist, he married and divorced Jayne Kennedy Overton, an actress, model and television host, who is not a party to the complaint.
The two starred together in the movie "Body and Soul," which Kennedy also wrote, according to the complaint.
Kennedy says their marriage dissolved amicably in 1981, and the couple granted John Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, exclusive access to report on their divorce.
"As a consequence of John Johnson's personal relationship with Kennedy, Johnson's reporters were granted virtually unrestricted access to the Kennedy's regarding the dissolution of their marriage, including in-person interviews at the Kennedy home and follow-up telephone interviews," the complaint states.
Johnson claims Ebony revisited the Kennedys' divorce in its March 2013 issue - with an ugly spin.
"In February, 2013, Johnson, historically a well-regarded publisher of information and articles concerning African-American culture, political issues, news and public figures, undertook a campaign to publish highly inflammatory, negative stories about certain well-known African American celebrities and public figures which, on information and belief, was motivated by a desire to boost revenues by publicizing false and sensational stories of claimed celebrity scandal," according to the 19-page lawsuit.
"In furtherance of its calculated decision to sell copies by promoting scandalous stories about well known African-American public figures, in February 2013, Johnson published its March 2013 'Real-Life Scandal' issue through Ebony Magazine. On the cover of the issue, Johnson stated that the issue was reporting on 'Court Cases, Secret Affairs, Shocking Divorces, Drug Addictions ...'. On the cover, Kerry Washington, star of the popular ABC television show 'Scandal' is depicted wearing a partially unzipped black leather top and black leather mini-skirt. The cover also boasted a sub-heading, 'Sex, Lies and the Pulpit.'"
In that issue, Ebony claimed that Jayne Kennedy's first husband - not named in the article - "viciously leaked" a sex tape during their divorce, copies of which "passed from perv to perv," according to the complaint.
Kennedy denies it: "Kennedy did not leak a sex tape at all, much less leak a sex tape 'viciously' during the Kennedy divorce. Rather, a tape was stolen by a third party approximately a decade after the Kennedy 1981 divorce and was subsequently distributed in the 1990s with no knowledge, consent or participation by Kennedy.
"Kennedy did not act viciously toward Jayne Kennedy during their divorce proceedings or act in a way to intentionally harm Jayne Kennedy Overton, or her career, in the course of their divorce or at any other time. To the contrary, the divorce was amicable as truthfully reported by Johnson in 1981 and 1982, and Kennedy and Jayne Kennedy Overton have remained friends over the years. For example, Kennedy has been present for the birth of Ms. Kennedy Overton's children and at important Kennedy Overton family events, including school graduations," according to the complaint.
Citing Ebony's investigative articles on the Kennedys at the time of their divorce, Kennedy accuses defendants of "knowingly publish[ing] a sensationalized lie for the purpose of selling copies notwithstanding their actual knowledge that the article was false and defamatory."
Kennedy seeks more than $1 million in punitive damages for defamation and false light.
He claims he has lost at least $35,000 in canceled ministry dates, and suffered a 40 percent decrease in invitations to minister at churches and conferences.
He is represented by Brian Saucier with Deutsch, Levy & Engel.