Pop quiz (pun intended): Hollywood and scandal go together like which of the following?
If you answered all of the above, you're correct! And those are just three of the nigh-infinite number of scandals to have come out of Tinseltown. From DUIs to drug abuse and from infidelity to diagnosable insanity, celebrities provide the media with ample fodder for daily sensations.
But plenty of people cheat on their spouses and throw public fits, so why are we so interested when celebrities do it? One hypothesis is that our obsession with celebrity scandal comes from the halo effect. Research shows that when a person shows unusual talent in one area of life, we tend to believe that extends to all areas of life. This propensity to hold celebrities to a higher moral standard makes their flaws even more scandalous [source: Heflick].
But in a town where there's no such thing as bad press, flaws aren't necessarily a negative. In fact, scandals can actually boost a celebrity's popularity; controversy can sell tickets and bring in viewers as effectively as a rave review can. Let's take a look at 10 of the most jaw-dropping scandals to come out of Hollywood.
Rob Lowe's Sex Tape
It's hard to imagine now, but in the days before YouTube, video of a celebrity doing something untoward was big news -- especially when the tape showed a teen movie idol having sexual intercourse with an underage girl.
Rob Lowe, a member of what was known as the "brat pack" -- a group of young, attractive actors who dominated the cinematic scene in the 1980s -- found this out firsthand at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (of all places) [source: Blum]. Still riding a wave of notoriety from his 1985 film "St. Elmo's Fire," Lowe was at the convention supporting presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. He met two young women in a downtown Atlanta bar. He took them back to his hotel room, then videotaped himself and the pair having sexual relations. When Lowe went to the restroom, he found that the two girls had stolen some money and the videotape. Later, he learned that one of the girls was only 16 years old.
Public scorn and humiliation followed, but Hollywood never turned its back on the young star. Although his career stalled somewhat after the scandal broke, Lowe weathered the storm. It would be only two years before Lowe openly mocked the incident on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
Up next: A different (and deadly) kind of sexual escapade.
The Death of David Carradine
Hollywood is known for its liberalism, but even the no-holds-barred entertainment industry still considers some subjects taboo. David Carradine's death in 2009 brought untouched topics of extreme sexual practices into a grisly spotlight. While in Bangkok shooting a film, the 72-year-old star of the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu" and Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed "Kill Bill" saga was found dead, hanging from a rope in the closet of his hotel room.
Footage from hotel security cameras showed that Carradine was alone in his room, but despite his wife's assertions to the contrary, media and law enforcement originally speculated that Carradine had committed suicide. However, further information revealed that the rope around Carradine's neck was also connected to his genitals, suggesting that his death was the result of autoerotic asphyxiation, or the practice of constricting air supply in order to enhance a sexual experience.
Carradine's ex-wife Marina Anderson confirmed publicly that he had indeed engaged in "deviant" and "potentially deadly" sexual behavior, supporting the autoerotic asphyxiation hypothesis [source: Goldman]. Controversy erupted further when a Bangkok tabloid published graphic photos of Carradine's body hanging in the closet [source: Kamer].
Although the details of Carradine's death remain mysterious, the tragedy brought topics of sexual deviance, normally taboo in mainstream forums, to the forefront of the cultural consciousness.
The Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy Affair
Where there's power there's scandal, and the White House is no stranger to either. In the early 1960s, with the United States' most dashing President in the White House, it was only a matter of time before Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood's most glamorous starlet, found her way to Washington.
It began in February of 1962, when Monroe was invited to a dinner party held in Kennedy's honor. This wasn't the first time they'd met, and in their previous encounters, observers had noticed their flirtatiousness. But this time, Kennedy asked for her phone number. He called the next day to invite her to his home in Palm Springs, Calif.; conveniently, First Lady Jackie would be absent.
Though the Secret Service worked to conceal evidence of their meetings, rumors swirled following that California weekend. Kennedy was a ladies' man known for his extramarital dalliances, and other guests observed that "it was obvious that they were intimate and that they were staying there together for the night" [source: Taraborrelli].
But this meeting of Hollywood and political royalty had less than a fairy-tale ending. Monroe's troubled childhood had left her emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, and she reportedly fell for Kennedy far more deeply than he did for her. His waning interest in her coincided with a series of other disappointments, and she sank into alcohol and drug abuse. On Aug. 4, 1962, she died alone in her home of a drug overdose. Her death was ruled a probable suicide [source: Doll].
Mel Gibson's DUI and Drunken Rant
Getting a DUI and making a few apology-necessitating remarks isn't exactly scandalous by Hollywood's standards. But when arrest documents show that one of the biggest stars on the planet went on an angry, anti-Semitic rant, it qualifies.
In the wee hours of July 28, 2006, Gibson was pulled over on Malibu's famed Pacific Coast Highway after being clocked at nearly 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) per hour. There was an open bottle of tequila in the car, and Gibson was initially cooperative. But after he was handcuffed and placed in the squad car, he proceeded to spew anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting officer, who was Jewish.
The obligatory apology soon followed, but it was too late. The aftermath was a media circus, with actors, agents and the Anti-Defamation League all weighing in on Gibson's actions. Hollywood has longstanding ties to America's Jewish community, and there were even calls from some prominent Jews to blacklist Gibson. Mel's father was even looped into the conversation because he has publicly denied the severity of the Holocaust.
In the end, Gibson was sentenced to three years of probation, but the detriment to his career has lasted much longer. His last major film before his DUI, "The Passion of the Christ," grossed around $370 million domestically. His first major endeavor after the incident grossed not quite $51 million [source: Box Office Mojo]. As of early 2012, most of his post-DUI media attention has come not from creative projects but from a former girlfriend's allegations of serious physical and emotional abuse.
Charlie Sheen's Public Meltdown
Even when celebrities go truly off the rails, a publicist usually intervenes for heavy-duty damage control before they begin talking about, say, tiger blood. Not so with Charlie Sheen, who in 2011 offered up a series of vindictive, fantastical and allegedly drug-fueled rants to the media -- the beginning of a supernova of shocking tirades he would later refer to as his "violent torpedo of truth" [source: CNN].
Son of actor Martin Sheen, Charlie starred on the popular comedy series and CBS cash cow "Two and a Half Men." However, in early 2011, rumors began to swirl that Sheen was heavily abusing drugs, making him incoherent and incapable of working. Sheen ignored the rules of Hollywood tact and lashed out against the show's executive producer, Chuck Lorre, calling him a "piece of s---," a "troll" and a "stupid little man" [source: The Telegraph].
This spurred a media hurricane that followed Sheen's progressively erratic behavior. Sheen claimed that he was sober, but his seemingly crazed assertions that he was a "wizard" with veins of "tiger blood" called that claim into question [source: Yates]. After CBS fired Sheen in late February, he set out on a comedy and speaking tour. However, the tour garnered appalling critical reviews and boos from audiences. Within a few months, as Sheen's mania died down, so did the public's appetite for it. As of January 2012, Sheen seems to have taken his tiger blood into relative hibernation.
Christina Crawford Publishes "Mommie Dearest"
In the 21st century, the age of Internet gossip and reality television, you can find a celebrity tell-all anywhere. However, this wasn't always the case. In 1978, Christina Crawford's exposé of her mother, the actress Joan Crawford, rang in the era of the scandalous celebrity scoop.
Joan adopted the infant Christina in 1939, but what began as a loving relationship began to sour as Christina grew. Joan reportedly began to assert her dominance over Christina and was reluctant to accept the fact that her daughter was growing up [source: Goulding]. Christina's teen years were tumultuous for the pair, but the final straw came when she decided to pursue her dream of acting. When she was forced to leave the cast of the soap opera "The Secret Storm" for a surgery in 1968, Joan took her place. Christina never forgave her mother for that, and the two became estranged. Joan died in 1977; a year and a half later, Christina published "Mommie Dearest."
The book was the first of its kind, and its claims that Joan was a self-involved, callous and abusive mother caught the media's attention immediately. The book's film adaptation, starring Faye Dunaway, was renowned for its campiness but still fueled the public's altering opinion of Joan.
Despite the immense popularity of "Mommie Dearest," those who knew Joan personally contested its veracity. Actors Van Johnson and Myrna Loy both publicly came to Joan's defense, as did Christina's sisters Cathy and Cindy. What was indisputable, however, was that "Mommie Dearest" paved the way for an era of celebrity tell-alls [source: Chandler].
Woody Allen Marries Soon-Yi Previn
Many cinephiles know Woody Allen as the epitome of the self-deprecating neurotic, a role he has played many times in his award-winning films. However, Allen's real life erupted into controversy that would put any movie script to shame when it was discovered that Allen was having an affair with his then-girlfriend's adopted daughter -- who was 35 years his junior.
Allen, whose talent for writing cutting, intelligent one-liners catapulted him to fame as a writer director and actor, was romantically linked to actress Mia Farrow in the early 1980s. Farrow had a number of adopted children, among them a young daughter named Soon-Yi Previn [source: Biography Channel].
In 1991, Farrow discovered nude photos of the then-21-year-old Previn in Allen's home [source: CNN]. Predictably, scandal erupted. However, unlike many more conventional Hollywood partnerships, the relationship has been remarkably successful. Allen and Previn married in 1997 at age 62 and 27, respectively; as of 2012, the couple is still together.
The Trials of Fatty Arbuckle
Obese actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the highest-paid movie stars in Hollywood when he went to trial for rape and murder in 1921. The story goes like this: Arbuckle booked a suite of rooms at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for a weekend of partying after he signed one of the most lucrative studio deals in history. At one point, a young, unknown actress named Virginia Rappe ran screaming from one of the bedrooms, ill and in distress. The partygoers saw that she was sick, but nobody checked her into a hospital because they thought she was simply drunk.
Days later, when Rappe died, Arbuckle was charged with rape and murder; allegedly, his sexual assault (possibly with a champagne bottle) had ruptured her bladder, which led to the peritonitis that ultimately killed her. The first two trials ended with a hung jury. In the third trial, Arbuckle was acquitted of the charges because of a complete lack of any evidence against him.
The scandal proved to be Arbuckle's undoing, however. He was blacklisted for a period, and when the ban was lifted, he found it nearly impossible to find work. Arbuckle managed to rebuild some degree of his former fan base -- first under a pseudonym, then as his true self -- but never regained his original popularity. When he passed away at the age of 46, his friend and fellow actor Buster Keaton claimed that it was of a broken heart [source: Noe].
The Death of Thomas Ince
In 1924, director, actor and producer Thomas Ince died while aboard the yacht of famed media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Ince was known as the "Father of the Western" and had a hand in more than 100 films before his premature death at 42 years of age. His official cause of death is listed as heart failure, but Hollywood lore says something different.
Rumors abounded after his death that he was shot and killed by Hearst aboard his yacht. The rumors were so strong that the front page of the morning edition of the L.A. Times had a headline that read "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht!" The story was that Hearst suspected his mistress, Marion Davies, was having an affair with actor Charlie Chaplin, who was also allegedly on the yacht at the time. When Hearst caught Chaplin and Davies in a compromising position, he got a gun and attempted to shoot Chaplin, but instead mortally wounded Ince.
Hearst was a powerful man, and the local District Attorney was reluctant to pursue the matter to the fullest. Only one person was interviewed about the alleged murder, an employee of Hearst's. Chaplin would later deny even being aboard the yacht. But no further investigations were held and Ince's body was cremated, sealing the matter against further inquiry [source: Mikkelson].
The Death of Natalie Wood
At the young age of 17, Natalie Wood was nominated for an Academy Award for her role opposite James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause." She was already a veteran of the movie industry, having come to fame at the age of nine for her performance in "Miracle on 34th Street," and would go on to star in classic films like "West Side Story" and "Splendor in the Grass," for which she received an Oscar. Wood slowed her career after having two children with actor Robert Wagner.
On Thanksgiving weekend in 1981, Wood and Wagner invited actor Christopher Walken, Wood's then-costar in the film "Brainstorm," for a yachting trip to Catalina Island. In the early hours of the morning, Wood's body was found face down in the water, the victim of an apparent drowning.
The coroner's report indicates that she indeed drowned, but rumors that Wood and Wagner fought over her alleged flirtations with Walken engendered suggestions of foul play. For many years, both Walken and Wagner were silent, which did nothing to quell speculation. But in Wagner's autobiography, "Pieces of my Heart," he admits that he was jealous of Walken, and says that he became angry that night [source: Harlow].
The case of Wood's death was reopened in November of 2011, when the yacht's captain reported having new information about the night of Wood's death. As of early 2012, however, no new conclusions had been reached, and neither Wagner nor Walken were considered suspects [source: Philips].
The HowStuffWorks podcast The Soundtrack Show looks at the movie life of the 13th century Latin hymn 'Dies Irae.'
More Great Links
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- Blum, David. "Hollywood's Brat Pack." New York Magazine. June 10, 1985. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://nymag.com/movies/features/49902/
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- Celizic, Mike. "Rob Lowe's ex-nanny claims abuse, harassment." MSNBC. April 15, 2008. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/24123531/ns/today-today_entertainment/
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- Chua-Eoan, Howard. "Top 25 Crimes of the Century." Time.com.http://www.time.com/time/2007/crimes/4.html
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- Kamer, Foster. "David Carradine Death Photo Rules Out Suicide." Gawker. (Jan. 17, 2012) http://gawker.com/5282182/david-carradine-death-photo-rules-out-suicide
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- Philips, Darsha, Miriam Hernandez, and Elex Michaelson. "Natalie Wood Case Reopened After New Details Surface." ABC News. Nov. 18, 2011. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/entertainment&id=8437262
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- USA Today. "Gibson's father: Holocaust was mostly 'fiction'." Feb. 20, 2004. http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2004-02-20-gibson-dad-anti-semite_x.htm
- Yates, Missy. "Charlie Sheen 20/20 Interview Bi-Willing Quites & Video." Long Island Press. March 2, 2011. (Jan. 19, 2012) http://www.longislandpress.com/2011/03/02/charlie-sheen-interview-bi-winning-quotes-video/