LAST SUMMER, everything changed. That was when Stan Lee lost his wife of seven decades — and, subsequently, so much else.
Without her, the factions within Stan Lee’s circle have fought and fractured, right up to this week’s allegations of elder abuse of Lee, who turned 95 in December.
Joan Lee — Stan always calls her his beloved “Joanie” — was a former British model and showgirl, but he forever credited her with the advice that would launch the multibillion-dollar creative enterprise that became Marvel Comics and Marvel Entertainment.
At midcentury, Stan Lee was mired in a depressed-sales life as editor of Timely Comics, Marvel’s precursor. But in 1960, his life took a sudden positive turn: Lee’s boss told him to create a superhero team that could compete with DC’s popular Justice League of America.
“I told my wife, Joanie, ‘ I’m going to quit.’ ” Lee told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs in 2011, at his Beverly Hills office. But she said: “ ‘Why not write it the way you want to write it? If it doesn’t work, the worst that’s going to happen is that they’ll fire you. And you want to quit anyway.’ ”
With those words, Joanie Lee altered everything. Lee soon co-created and edited many of the superheroes that now dominate the multiplex, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men and the Black Panther. Stan Lee long dreamed of heading to Hollywood and, finally, after decades of his efforts, Marvel’s superheroes helped Lee build a personal wealth that some media reports say is between $50 million and $70 million.
Before Joanie Lee died last July 6, she was also credited by many close to the family with keeping most of the financial predators, would-be scam artists and other sketchy interlopers at bay. From their Hollywood Hills home, she protected Stan’s interests and checked the barbarians at the gate.
But since her death of a stroke at 95, reports out of the Lee camp have become increasingly bizarre and alarming.
In January, the Daily Mail reported that Lee was accused of groping nurses who were working at his home; Lee’s camp denied the “false and despicable” allegations.
Then, in April, the Hollywood Reporter’s Gary Baum took an extensive look at the fighting figures close to Lee. They reportedly included his lone child and heir, J.C. Lee, who some insiders said has spent family money too freely, leading to an ongoing point of conflict; longtime road and convention manager Max Anderson; excommunicated caregiver/consigliere Jerry Olivarez; and memorabilia dealer turned Lee business manager/adviser Keya Morgan, who had befriended J.C. Lee.
“He’s in need of a superhero himself,” one Stan Lee friend told THR.
Now, perhaps the Los Angeles legal system will serve as that superhero.
The Associated Press reported Monday that Morgan was arrested and charged with recently “filing a false police report by calling 911 and saying burglars were in his house, when in fact two detectives and a social worker were conducting a welfare check on Lee.”
Then on Wednesday, a restraining-order application was filed against Morgan, 42, that accuses him of “taking advantage of Lee’s impaired hearing, vision and judgment, moving Lee from his longtime family home and preventing family and associates from contacting him,” the AP reported. A judge granted the order pending a July 6 hearing.
Also on Wednesday, as multiple outlets reported, court documents showed that the LAPD is investigating claims of elder abuse against Lee — an investigation that began in February.
Morgan was “taking advantage of Lee’s age to influence and isolate him,” attorney Tom Lallas said in the restraining-order request, according to the AP. Lallas served as Lee’s financial planner until he was fired in February.
Meanwhile, Lee has appeared in online videos — some published with a Morgan copyright line — that only complicate the picture. In a video published by TMZ in April, Lee denied accusations of elder abuse. And in a video posted to his verified Twitter account on June 10, Lee says: “If you can’t get me, call Keya Morgan. The two of us work together and are conquering the world side by side.”
As Deadline reported, Lee has said he made the video statements under duress.
Many of Lee’s friends, including in the comics and film community, have worried about him for months, especially as he has become more isolated.
Now, Lee’s case is gaining more open public scrutiny.