Celebrity scandals have been giving fodder to the tabloids for more than a century. Plenty of stars have had their careers rocked by a controversy only to bounce back and continue thriving — but others haven’t been so fortunate.
Some falls from grace have been so drastic that they’ve been impossible to overcome, ending celebrity careers that were soaring or forever tainting legacies that had been sterling. Here’s a list of celebrities that were riding high until they made a public mistake — or were exposed for awful deeds in their past — and saw it all come crashing down.
For a few decades, Harvey Weinstein was one of the most powerful and respected people in the movie business. His work bringing Oscar-winning films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chicago” to the screen made him a modern Hollywood mogul — a status that he routinely abused. In 2017, Weinstein quickly went from icon to pariah when a bombshell report on his predatory actions toward women was released and spurred dozens of his alleged victims to come forward and kick off the #MeToo movement. Weinstein was eventually arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting two women, landing him a sentence of 23 years in prison.
It’s hard to imagine any celebrity damaging a stellar reputation more drastically than Bill Cosby did his. He went from arguably the most beloved and revered father figure in television history to persona non grata after long-festering allegations of his own history as a sexual predator found the mainstream spotlight in the past decade. Cosby was accused of drugging and raping dozens of women across the span of his lengthy career. He was convicted in 2018 of doing that to one woman more than a decade earlier, landing him in prison for three to 10 years.
Music superstar R. Kelly courted controversy many times during his acclaimed career, but it finally became too much to withstand in the past few years. After being acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008, the singer got back to business and released several more albums. However, in 2019, he was arrested on more than 20 federal charges that include human trafficking and child pornography and he’s currently awaiting trial. No matter what happens in court, however, Kelly’s career is likely over because of the explosive documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly” and the infamous interview he did with CBS’s Gayle King in the wake of his arrest.
For more than a decade, Jared Fogle was one of the most recognizable faces on television. He represented Subway restaurants in a series of ubiquitous commercials where he gave the chain credit for his immense weight loss, becoming the public face of one of America’s biggest companies. That all ended suddenly in 2015, when a lengthy FBI investigation into Fogle became public, revealing that he was suspected of child sex tourism and trafficking in child pornography. Fogle was convicted of those crimes later that year and sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
In the 1980 and ’90s, Jeffrey Jones was one of the most in-demand character actors in Hollywood, having memorable roles in acclaimed films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Amadeus” and “Ed Wood.” His career stayed strong into the early 2000s, with a sizable role in HBO’s “Deadwood,” but came to a screeching halt in 2003, when he pleaded no contest to soliciting a 14-year-old boy to pose for nude photos and was ordered to register as a sex offender. Jones has had a couple roles in the years since then, but nowhere near the kind of regular work he was getting before he committed that crime.
Like Bill Cosby, Stephen Collins became a star because of his warm performance as a dad on a popular TV series. In Collins’ case, it was The WB’s “7th Heaven,” in which he played a pastor who has seven children. That hit show was his most notable role, but he also had parts in everything from “Scandal” to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” His steady acting work dried up in 2014, when an audio tape was released of him admitting to inappropriately touching an underage girl and exposing himself to two others decades earlier.
Due to an expired statute of limitations, Collins was never charged with any crimes but he confirmed that he was guilty of them in a statement to People magazine.
For more than 10 years, Louis C.K. was one of the hottest names in stand-up comedy and had started branching out into other forms of entertainment in the years before he torched his career. It all ended in 2017, when the world learned of the comic’s history of sexual harassment, which included masturbating in front of numerous female colleagues without their consent. In the wake of that stunning news breaking — which he confirmed by admitting to it — C.K. lost all of his major projects that were in the pipeline.
He’s since started mounting a small comeback, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever reach the type of mainstream success he had before his predatory behavior was revealed.
Speaking of major stars who saw their prospects dry up after a history of sexual misconduct became public, Bill O’Reilly is yet another example. He was one of the biggest names in cable TV news for 20 years as host of his top-rated Fox News show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” That all ended in 2017, when the conservative pundit lost his job after a bombshell report in The New York Times revealed the network had spent millions of dollars paying off five victims of O’Reilly’s who had filed lawsuits during his career. He hasn’t had another job in TV since and has instead been hosting a podcast.
Before his own career came crashing down in 2017, Kevin Spacey was one of the most respected actors in Hollywood history. He’d won two Oscars, a Tony Award and, despite being an American, was given the honor of a knighthood from England’s Queen Elizabeth II for his theater work in the United Kingdom.
None of those accolades could save him when several men came forward and accused Spacey of sexually harassing them, including actor Anthony Rapp, who claimed he was 14 when the veteran star tried to have sex with him. In light of the scandal, Hollywood cut ties with Spacey and he hasn’t appeared in a film since 2018.
Emmy Award winner Roseanne Barr was back atop the world of entertainment in 2018, when her groundbreaking sitcom, “Roseanne,” was revived by ABC. That all evaporated after a single season when Barr penned a racist tweet that compared former President Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape. The controversy-courting comedian was swiftly canned by ABC, though the reborn show was allowed to continue without her in the cast or crew. Barr hasn’t had a role on TV or in movies since.
Before his career came to an unceremonious end in the 2000s, Phil Spector had achieved godlike status in the music industry. He was widely viewed as one of the best record producers in pop history and had crafted a massive list of classic hit singles. The shine came off of that great career in 2003, when he was accused of murdering actor Lana Clarkson at his mansion. Spector was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 and sentenced to 19 years in prison. He died behind bars in January 2021.
Another powerful star who saw his career end in the wake of 2017’s #MeToo movement was NBC icon Matt Lauer. The longtime co-host of “Today” became an overnight leper when reports emerged that he had a history of sexually harassing women co-workers while working at the network. Lauer, who was synonymous with American broadcasting until the news came out, was quickly fired by NBC and hasn’t had a job in television since.
At the same time Matt Lauer’s career was disintegrating, the storied track record of fellow broadcasting icon Charlie Rose was going up in smoke. For nearly 30 years, Rose hosted his self-titled PBS talk show and became renowned as a master of the sit-down interview.
All the class and dignity that Rose presented himself with for so long was shown to be a sham in 2017, when The Washington Post published a stunning story that revealed at least eight women had accused the TV personality of sexual harassment going back decades, with dozens more eventually coming forward. Rose was fired from his high-profile gigs at PBS and CBS and hasn’t been seen on the air since.
The year 2017 was a watershed one for celebrity scandals and Jeffrey Tambor was another major star whose name became mud in the wake of #MeToo. The TV legend was quickly fired from his Emmy-winning lead role in Amazon Prime Video’s “Transparent” after two women, including his former assistant, accused him of sexual misconduct. Despite him apologizing for those incidents, things only got worse for Tambor in 2018, when his “Arrested Development” co-star Jessica Walter revealed he had screamed at her on set and harassed her in non-sexual ways.
After decades of steady work, he hasn’t had a TV role since then, and held only one small part in a movie that wasn’t released in theaters.
After a decade with a lead role in TV’s biggest show, Michael Richards found out the hard way what using racial slurs will do to a hot career in Hollywood. The breakout star from “Seinfeld” was performing stand-up comedy in 2006 when he launched into an angry tirade against members of the audience. His unhinged rant included repeatedly calling one man the N-word. Richards’ career vanished overnight and he’s had only two roles on TV since it happened.
Anyone who’s watched “Full House” over the years has warm memories of Lori Loughlin as the affable Aunt Becky. The actor turned that breakout role into a career full of charming performances in family dramas and Hallmark TV movies … until her everywoman image suffered a fatal blow in 2019, when she was implicated in a scandal that involved bribes being paid for college admissions. For their roles in it, the actor and her husband pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and both were sentenced to a few months in prison.
A comeback is possible, but it’s tough to imagine audiences immediately welcoming Loughlin back to the kinds of roles she enjoyed for so long without thinking of the scandal.
Singer CeeLo Green was on top of the entertainment world in 2014, thanks to his hit songs, recent collaboration with Madonna at the Super Bowl halftime show and lucrative role as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice.” He decimated all of that with a series of tweets that year, however, that have since relegated him to virtual anonymity. His posts, which revealed his ridiculous thoughts on what constituted rape after a woman accused him of drugging her, got him fired from that show as well as the popular Hotel Transylvania movie series, and cost him a TBS reality series about his life.
Green has released a pair of albums since then and continues to make sporadic appearances on TV, but has nowhere near the kind of cultural cachet he did before those posts.
One of the most famous instances of a celebrity ruining his own legacy is NFL legend O.J. Simpson. After a Hall-of-Fame football career, the likable athlete enjoyed a successful career as a TV analyst and actor until he was charged with murdering his ex-wife and her friend in 1994.
Simpson famously was found not guilty in the trial that followed but his career as a mainstream star was officially over because of lingering doubts over his role in their deaths. His 2008 conviction on felony kidnapping and robbery charges sent him to prison for nearly a decade and drove the final nail into his reputation.
Grammy-nominated rocker Marilyn Manson has courted controversy from day one of his lengthy career, but it may have all finally come to an end in 2021. In February, actor Evan Rachel Wood, who dated Manson for several years, accused him of assaulting her both physically and sexually during their relationship. The allegations caused the musician to be dropped by his record label, booking agent and his manager, the latter of whom had stuck with Manson throughout his entire career. Time will tell if he can come back, but these aren’t the kinds of accusations that slip into the background.
Remember when Jesse James was one of the most recognizable celebrities in America? The entrepreneur and reality TV personality rose to fame in the early 2000s as the star of Discovery’s “Monster Garage,” but he became a household name after his marriage to Hollywood icon Sandra Bullock in 2005. The relationship came to a messy end in 2010 after numerous women came forward and revealed that James had cheated on Bullock with them. Given that Bullock was one of the most popular women in the world at the time, the scandal made James a pariah and the revelation of old pictures that showed him wearing Nazi gear ended any chance at mainstream redemption.
No star athlete since O.J. Simpson has had so dramatic a fall from grace as Lance Armstrong. His offenses were far different from Simpson’s, but the stain on his legacy was nearly equal. After becoming an American icon because of his seven Tour De France victories and his battle with testicular cancer, the cyclist became persona non grata in 2012 when an investigation found that he’d been using performance-enhancing drugs throughout the peak of his career. In 2013, he admitted his role in a far-reaching doping scandal that plagued his sport, and he has since had all of his Tour De France victories taken off the books.
Paula Deen still has a group of loyal fans, but her time atop the TV cooking world came to a swift end in 2013. The Georgia native with a personality big enough to match her accent lost her job with Food Network, as well as her cookbook publishing deal and lucrative deals with retailers and other companies after admitting to problematic behavior in the past. During a deposition for a lawsuit, Deen admitted to using the N-word throughout her life, and she tolerated racist behavior in her restaurants. In 2015, she made news again when she posted a picture of her son wearing brownface for a Halloween costume.
Swimmer Ryan Lochte is one of the most decorated Olympians in American history, but his esteemed athletic career ended on a low note. During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, he became a sympathetic figure after he and three of his teammates were allegedly robbed at gunpoint. However, the story unraveled in a matter of days as it turned out Lochte and his pals had gotten drunk and vandalized a gas station before being detained by a security guard. Experts said Lochte “destroyed” his earnings potential with the scandal and it only got worse in 2018, when he was suspended for receiving an intravenous infusion that violated the sport’s rules.
There could still be a chance for Kathy Griffin to make a comeback, but it’s difficult to see her getting back to the kind of mainstream fame she had before her own scandal. The Grammy Award-winning comedian lost her job as co-host of CNN’s wild New Year’s Eve broadcasts in 2017 after she posed with a model of then-President Donald Trump’s severed head during a photo shoot. Every outlet she had worked with soon distanced themselves from the firebrand comic and she was even put on the federal no-fly list as she was investigated for trying to assassinate the president. Griffin has been hard to find since that incident.
As the 1980s came to a close, the European pop duo Milli Vanilli — which consisted of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus — were on top of the music world. Their debut album had gone seven times platinum and they were awarded with the coveted trophy for best new artist at the Grammys in 1990. But they had to give that award back later that year after it was discovered that neither Morvan nor Pilatus had actually performed the vocals on the record, and they had been lip-synching their live performances.
Oscar nominee Randy Quaid is best known for his performance as Cousin Eddie from the Vacation movies, but his real-life behavior hasn’t been far removed from that off-kilter character. After decades of consistent acting work, Quaid has hardly had a single part since 2009, when he was involved in a series of bizarre incidents with his wife that resulted in multiple arrests after they defrauded an innkeeper. He’s most recently made headlines not for an attempted comeback to acting, but for his support of unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 presidential election.
If you were around in the later part of the early 2000s, you probably remember Tila Tequila being a fixture of reality TV and red carpets. The model and TV personality became a mainstream star with her work at MTV, including as host of her own dating show, “A Shot at Love.” Her time in the spotlight came to an unceremonious end in 2015 when she revealed herself to be anti-Semitic in a series of incidents. She was kicked out of “Celebrity Big Brother” after a photo surfaced of her wearing a Nazi armband and hat and she expressed her admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Before his story ended tragically, Mark Salling was known as a star on the hit show “Glee,” where he appeared as the popular jock, Puck. In 2017, his career came to an end when he pleaded guilty to possessing thousands of images of child pornography. He was expected to spend at least four years in prison as part of a plea deal but killed himself before he was sentenced. It would’ve likely been impossible for Salling’s career to bounce back after a crime like that, but the way his journey ended was staggering to those who enjoyed his work as an actor.
The year 2020 was rough for all of us, but it hammered sports broadcaster Thom Brennaman in a different way than most. The play-by-play man had built a major career in his field, working as the lead TV broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds and calling national NFL games for Fox. That all was wiped away when he got caught making a horrible remark during a Reds broadcast. Thinking he was off the air, Brennaman used an anti-gay slur and was yanked from the broadcast in the middle of the game by Fox Sports Ohio. He lost that job and his coveted gig with Fox’s NFL team after the incident.
After winning a college football national championship in Florida, Aaron Hernandez looked poised to be a Super Bowl-winning star with the NFL’s New England Patriots. His meteoric rise in the league shockingly ended in 2013, when he was charged with murdering a man who was dating his fiancee’s sister. Hernandez was convicted of the crime in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison but would end up killing himself in jail in 2017, bringing an awful end to his story.