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Family Says ‘Philadelphia’ Was Ripoff Of Lawyer’s Life Story

March 11, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Relatives of a lawyer who was fired after contracting AIDS will try to prove to a jury this week that his story was stolen by the creators of the movie ``Philadelphia.″

Trial is set to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court on a $10 million lawsuit filed by the family of Geoffrey Francis Bowers.

``Philadelphia″ won an Oscar in 1994 for actor Tom Hanks for his portrayal of lawyer Andrew Beckett, a fictional character fighting his dismissal from a law firm because of AIDS.

Like the movie character, Bowers worked for a major law firm and was fired in 1986 after workers noticed that he had disfiguring facial lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer.

Bowers died in 1987 at age 33, shortly after testifying against the New York law firm of Baker & McKenzie in his own lawsuit claiming that he was discriminated against because he had AIDS. The state human rights board later ordered Baker & McKenzie to pay $500,000 for discriminating against Bowers.

Lawyers for TriStar Pictures Inc., Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and individuals who played key roles in the movie’s development concede in court papers that two emotional movie scenes were inspired by Bowers’ case.

They were a courtroom scene in which Beckett opens his shirt to display his lesions, and one in which Beckett’s mother encourages his fight, saying ``I didn’t raise my kids to sit in the back of the bus.″

However, the lawyers maintain both moments were described in published stories that were in the public domain.

Bowers’ family, from Medford, Mass., said in their lawsuit that they had negotiated to have a movie made about his struggle but were left out after telling their story to Scott Rudin, a defendant and one of the producers of ``Philadelphia.″

Defendant Ron Nyswaner, who wrote the movie’s script, said in a court document that Rudin approached him in 1988 about writing a screenplay based on the Bowers story.

He said Rudin gave him a copy of an article about Bowers but never told him anything he had learned from his discussions with the Bowers family.

Nyswaner said he did extensive research, and talked to people diagnosed with AIDS. And he noted that at the time, one of his own nephews was dying of AIDS, as was a close friend of the movie’s director, Jonathan Demme.