The ‘Real’ Cookie Lyons Sues ‘Empire’ For $300 Million, Claiming Fox Series Is Based on Her Life
She was a drug kingpin. She has a gay relative. And she loves fur coats. In a $300 million lawsuit, a woman claims that she’s the inspiration for Empire breakout Cookie Lyons.
No TV series this past year has been a bigger hit than Empire. Now, Detroit resident Sophia Eggleston is looking for her piece of the “Cookie,” so to speak.
As reported by Page Six, Eggleston has filed a 50-page lawsuit against Fox and Empire co-creator for $300 million alleging that they stole her life story. In other words, she says, she’s the real Cookie Lyons, the fabulous tornado of a character played by Taraji P. Henson, who just received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal.
In her filing, Eggleston lays out evidence that she claims supports her accusation that she’s the original Cookie, and provides a timeline of her attempts to sell her own life story to Hollywood as further proof. Plus, they both love fur coats!
In 2010, Eggleston, now 53, published a memoir titled The Hidden Hand, which chronicled her life as a former drug kingpin. She goes on to list other similarities between her story and Cookie’s that proves, as the lawsuit states, the “folly of maintaining that the two works were independently created.”
From the lawsuit:
-Both Cookie and Eggleston were jailed for working as a drug kingpin.
-Cookie places a “hit” on someone after being released from jail. Eggleston did as well, and was actually put back behind bars for doing so.
-Cookie has a gay son. Eggleston has a gay brother.
-Cookie’s lavish wardrobe is a defining part of her character, and Eggleston also likes to wear mink coats. (Ed. Note: This is my favorite part of the lawsuit.)
These are just the most striking similarities, the lawsuit states, and “by no means a comprehensive list.”
How this all loops back to a viable—or arguably viable—copyright lawsuit is that Eggleston claims Daniels was among those who was shopped her memoir. In 2011, Eggleston alleges she met and then teamed up with screenwriter Rita Miller, who told Eggleston that she would be meeting with Daniels about working on the project together.
While in New Jersey for the meeting, Eggleston claims Miller fell ill and returned to Los Angeles, but told Eggleston that she left a copy of her book with Daniels. Soon after that, Eggleston and Miller cut ties altogether. Fast-forward to 2014, and advertisements for Empire begin popping up. When it finally aired and become a hit, Eggleston, according to the suit, was “stunned and dismayed” to see how similar the character of Cookie and her plot development was to Eggleston’s own life, as depicted in The Hidden Hand.
Because of those similarities and the “ample access” Daniels was given to Eggleston’s book, “there is no possibility the similarities are the product of mere coincidence,” she alleges.
Danny Strong, who co-created Empire with Daniels, has gone on record several times claiming that he came up with the idea of the show after listening to a radio interview with rapper Sean Combs. “I was driving in a car in Los Angeles ... and there was a story on the radio about Puffy and some deal that he closed,” he said at the ATX Television Festival in June. “I don't remember what the news story was, but hearing the news story, I thought, ‘Hip-hop is so cool! I wanna do something with hip-hop!’ That was literally my mind set."
He pitched the idea to Daniels as “King Lear in a hip-hop Empire.”
Fox, Daniels, and Strong have all declined comment. In an interview with Page Six, Eggleston said, “The whole city’s been telling me Cookie is basically me. Any jury would rule for me—$300 million is a very small price for taking my whole life and stealing it.”
There are some convincing arguments that Eggleston is making. Then there is the reality, which is that these kinds of lawsuits are filed against networks, studios, and successful Hollywood creatives all the damn time.
Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon was recently named in one over his 2012 horror movie The Cabin in the Woods. Semi-related, Marvel Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company, among others, were named in a suit claiming the design of the armor in the Iron Man movies was lifted from comic book artists Ben and Ray Lai.
Seth MacFarlane was just sued for copyright infringement for Ted, Angelina Jolie was for her film In the Land of Blood and Honey, and there were famous cases against Captain Phillips, Drive, Black Swan, and Borat, all for various reasons. And that’s not even getting into the complicated cases involving music, the most famous of which was the recent “Blurred Lines” brouhaha.
Pointing out the frequency of these cases is not to say that Eggleston has any more or less of a case. It’s just acknowledging that these lawsuits are a thing that happens very often in Hollywood, a land where no—or at least very few—idea is a new idea, everybody talks, and everyone wants credit for the latest big thing.
It’s just the way the Cookie crumbles.