HomeEntertainment‘Matlock’: Was Ben Matlock Based on a Real-Life Lawyer?

‘Matlock’: Was Ben Matlock Based on a Real-Life Lawyer?

by Will Shepard
(Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

One of the most famous television lawyers of all time is Ben Matlock from Matlock. The well-known lawyer show is supposedly based on a once practicing lawyer.

Bobby Lee Cook was one of Georgia’s most famous lawyers during his practicing period. While Matlock has been off-air for a while, Cook passed away this past February. He was 94. So, let’s look back at the inspiration for the show’s most important character.

During the time that Cook was practicing law in Georgia, he was among the most impressive defense attorney the state offered. Even though he was reputed to be the inspiration for Matlock, his career is exceptionally interesting.

Bobby Lee Cook was a DA for over 65 years, practicing during segregation dealings. He is even quoted saying that the time period was “a most unusual, extraordinary time. It was a time when no women sat on juries, and certainly no blacks.”

His defense record speaks for itself. It is estimated that he won roughly 80% of his murder trials, as well as having a yearly income of $1 million.

‘Matlock’ Lawyer in Real Life Was an Exceptional Lawyer

Andy Griffith did a marvelous job of playing the Matlock lawyer. He represented Cook for nine seasons in the late 1980s and early 90s. Additionally, the real lawyer was one of the most famous lawyers in the state during his time.

Cook represented hundreds of accused murders over the years. There is one case that stands out above the rest though – Fred Tokars. The case was so impressive that it was the inspiration for a best-selling book. Tokars was convicted of arranging the death of his wife Sarah and antiques dealer Jim Williams. Even though Cook’s case was incredible, Tokars was convicted.

The Matlock inspiration was also part of a team of lawyers for Wayne Williams. Again, Cook was unsuccessful in his defense as Williams was convicted in the deaths of 29 child cases around Atlanta.

However, Cook was not only known for defending murderers. Like Andy Griffith’s character in Matlock, he would also give out free legal advice for anyone who needed it.