With fame comes scandal. Time and again, celebrities have found themselves in some of the most controversial year-defining situations—getting caught in secret affairs, being arrested for shoplifting or drunk driving, and tragically, being accused of sexual assault. Click through to learn about the biggest celebrity scandals over the years.
Tim Allen arrested for dealing cocaine, 1978
Before he became everyone’s favorite Santa Clause (or the handy tool man, or Buzz Lightyear), Tim Allen was caught dealing drugs—specifically cocaine. He was arrested for possession of nearly a pound-and-a-half of cocaine at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International airport in Michigan in 1978. He spent 28 months in a federal prison, as opposed to a life sentence, for giving up the names of other drug offenders.
Marvin Gaye murdered by his father, 1984
The soul singer of the 80s, known as the Prince of Motown, was shot and killed by his father, Rev. Marvin Gay Sr. after an altercation. (Note: The "e" was added to the singer's stage name.) Gaye's brother Frankie, reportedly held him in his final moments. In his memoir, Frankie wrote that his brother's last words were, "I got what I wanted...I couldn’t do it myself, so I made him do it."
Rob Lowe made a sex tape with a 16-year-old, 1988
A video of the then-24-year-old Parks and Rec star having sex with two women was reportedly recorded the night before the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. (Side note: Lowe was largely into politics before his acting career took off.) When it surfaced, it was discovered that one of the girls was only 16 years old. Her mother slapped him with a civil lawsuit, and he ended up settling, paying her a large sum of money and doing 20 hours of community service.
Pee-Wee Herman arrest for masturbating in public, 2001
In 2001, Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-Wee Herman, was caught masturbating inside an adult theater. As the story goes, Reubens was at XXX South Trail Cinema to watch three different films: Catalina Five-O Tiger Shark, Nurse Nancy, and Turn Up the Heat. Several detectives spotted him in the act and arrested the kid's show host. He reportedly offered to perform a children's benefit if the charges were dropped.
Princess Diana's phone calls with her lover, James Gilbey, released, 1992
In 1992 The Sun leaked a transcript of Princess Diana's secret phone calls with her lover, James Gilbey. Diana was still married to Prince Charles at the time, who was also reportedly having an affair of his own with now-wife Camila Parker-Bowles.
Michael Jackson accused of sexual assault, 1993
In 1993, Michael Jackson was accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy named Jordan Chandler. After the accusations went public, Jackson cancelled his tour due to health issues from the scandal. He later settled the case, paying the Chandlers $23,000.
O.J. Simpson arrested for the murder of his wife, 1994
Football star O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, following a now-iconic car chase through Los Angeles. After 15 months in jail, Simpson was famously acquitted of both counts, thanks in part to his lawyer's "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit" line. In 2008, 13 years later, Simpson was convicted of robbery and kidnapping for a separate incident.
Hugh Grant caught with a prostitute, 1995
In 1995, Hugh Grant paid a sex worker to give him a blow job on the Sunset Strip but the two were found by police and the Four Weddings and a Funeral actor was arrested for "lewd conduct" in a public place. At the time of his arrest, he was with his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley, who tried to work through the incident. She ended up leaving Grant five years later.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorce, 1996
After years of marital strain and four years of separation, Prince Charles and Princess Diana formally divorced in August of 1996. Their marriage was tainted by controversy, especially at the end, with both sides cheating—Charles most famously with long-time love and now-wife, Camilla Parker Bowels. As the future King of England, Charles' status as a divorcee is particularly scandalous.
Princess Diana killed in a car accident, 1997
Less than a year after she and Prince Charles got divorced, Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris after being chased by paparazzi—and it was rumored that the future king planned her death. Later a letter from the princess to her former butler was discovered. In it she wrote that she felt Charles was setting up an incident so he could marry Tiggy, the former nanny of Princes William and Harry, but many believe the note was forged and an inquest concluded in 2008 found no wrongdoing on the part of the royal family.
Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky made public, 1998
In 1995, former President Bill Clinton began having an affair with a then-21-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who was an unpaid White House intern. The huge scandal was made public in 1998, and Clinton denied that he had "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. He later admitted that he did have an affair with her, which contributed to his impeachment in 1999.
Marilyn Manson's music blamed for the Columbine shooting, 1999
After one of the deadliest schools shootings—in which two seniors murdered 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School—people pointed the finger at musician Marilyn Manson. It was thought that the two students loved Manson and his music, and it was said that the singer's songs inspired them to carry out the tragic act. The rumor was proven false, but Manson's reputation was hurt badly from the reports.
Winona Ryder arrested for shoplifting, 2001
In 2001, the Stranger Things actress was caught stealing over $5,560 worth of merchandise from a Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, California. She reportedly ripped tags off of clothing items and stashed them in her bag.
Ryder later spun the incident positively, telling Daily Mail, "In a weird way, it was almost like the best thing that could have happened, because I’d never asked myself the question before of, Is it okay if I’m not going to act? Is there anything else? because that was all that I really knew."
R. Kelly arrested for child pornography, 2002
R. Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography after a tape showing him having sex with and urinating on an underage woman was sent to the Chicago Sun Times. He plead not guilty to all charges. Since, dozens of women have claimed to have been held in a sex cult by the singer. The hashtag #MuteRKelly started spreading recently, and Spotify was the first company to actually take action.
Madonna and Britney Spears kissed on stage, 2003
During a 2003 MTV Video Music Award performance, Britney Spears and Madonna shocked everyone when they kissed on stage. Christina Aguilera was performing with them, too, and got a smooch from Madonna, but the cameras switched shots and their kiss wasn't televised. Videographers instead cut to a shot of Justin Timberlake's shocked face.
Justin Timberlake revealed Janet Jackson's nipple on live TV, 2004
If there is any one wardrobe malfunction you remember, it's #NippleGate from the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show. Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson were performing together when he ripped a part of her bustier off, exposing her bare breast on live TV. Though her nipple was covered with a pastie, the moment sparked a huge conversation about American morality.
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston announced their divorce, 2005
In January 2005, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston made a shocking joint statement that revealed they were breaking up. "We would like to announce that after seven years together we have decided to formally separate. For those who follow these sorts of things, we would like to explain that our separation is not the result of any of the speculation reported by the tabloid media," they said in the statement.
"This decision is the result of much thoughtful consideration," the statement continued. "We happily remain committed and caring friends with great love and admiration for one another. We ask in advance for your kindness and sensitivity in the coming months." It was thought that their divorce was the result of the scandalous affair Pitt had with Angelina Jolie while filming the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Mel Gibson arrested for drunk driving, 2006
Not only was Mel Gibson arrested for drunk driving, but he made matters worse when he said, ”Fucking Jews…The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” during the incident. Gibson also reportedly called the female office who pulled him over, "sugar tits." Yikes! He pleaded no contest to the DUI charges, and got three years probation and was required to attended AA meetings for a year.
Britney Spears shaved her head, 2007
Also in 2007: Britney Spears shaved off all her hair. The "Oops I Did It Again" singer hit rock bottom, beating up a photographer's car with an umbrella just days after going at her head with a buzz cutter. That year was a rough year for Spears, and it started the famous meme: "If Britney Spears can make it through 2007, then I can make it through today."
Kim Kardashian's sex tape made public, 2007
Before she was married to Kanye West, Kim Kardashian was in a serious relationship with another singer: Willie "Ray J" Norwood. The couple reportedly filmed a sex tape back in 2002 during a trip to Cabo, Mexico, and it was released to the public five years later when Kim began getting more media attention for being friends with Paris Hilton (who also has a sex tape). Kim sued in an attempt to prevent the 41-minute film from being accessible, but it still found its way to the internet.
Heath Ledger found dead, 2008
In 2008, the 10 Things I Hate About You actor was found dead in his bed in New York city. The NYC Medical Examiner's Office later determined that the cause of death was an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers, including anti-anxiety meds and sleeping pills. The Dark Knight, starring Ledger as the Joker, was released that summer in theaters, and his performance won him a posthumous Oscar.
Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, 2009
Back in 2009, Chris Brown beat up then-girlfriend Rihanna after she discovered a text message from one of Brown's former flames. The "Forever" singer reportedly punched her in the face, repeatedly bit her, and choked her, but not to the point of unconsciousness.
In a 20/20 interview, Rihanna opened up about the incident. "It was ugly," she said. "I fended him off with my feet...but it was not like, it was not like a fight with each other. I just...I really just wanted it to stop."
Michael Jackson killed, 2009
Michael Jackson was found dead on June 25, 2009. The cause? Surgical anesthetic Propofol, which was given to him by his personal doctor, Conrad Murray. Murray claimed to be injecting the King of Pop with the drug as a treatment for his insomnia. Jackson's death was ruled a homicide, and Murray blamed for negligent monitoring. He spent two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.
Whitney Houston found dead in a bathtub, 2012
The world was shocked when Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2012. An autopsy revealed that the singer died from accidental drowning. Her body was found with numerous drugs in it, including cocaine, marijuana, Xanax, and Benadryl. Houston had heart disease, so it is thought that the disease mixed with cocaine contributed to her death.
Solange Knowles gets into elevator fight with Jay Z, 2014
Following the 2014 Met Gala, leaked surveillance video captured Solange Knowles physically fighting her brother-in-law Jay Z in an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York City. Although there was no shortage of speculation on the internet, the Carter-Knowles family gave little information as to what actually went down. “They both acknowledge their role in this private matter that has played out in the public. They both have apologized to each other and we have moved forward as a united family,” they said in a statement given to the Associated Press.
Although the family has remained incredibly mum’s the word on the situation, Jay Z broke his silence in 2017 to share that he and Solange truly have moved on. "We had one disagreement ever. Before and after, we've been cool. She's like my sister. I will protect her. That's my sister, not my sister-in-law. My sister. Period,” he said during an appearance on Rap Radar.
Tom Brady allegedly rigged the Patriots' Super Bowl win, 2015
NFL quarterback Tom Brady is the star of one of the biggest NFL Super Bowl controversies to date: Deflategate. One day after he led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win in 2015, news broke that the team's personnel had deflated footballs before the game—and that Brady knew about it. Brady, and the entire Patriots team, suffered the consequences. He was suspended for four games, and the team was slapped with a $1 million fine and forced to give up to draft picks. Ouch.
Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift feud over "Famous" lyrics, 2016
Kanye’s infamous “I’mma let you finish” at the 2008 Video Music Awards turned out to only be the beginning of his beef with Taylor Swift. In 2016, Kanye released the song “Famous” on his The Life of Pablo album, which explicitly mentions Swift in the opening: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous/Goddamn, I made that bitch famous.” Although Swift claimed she didn’t know about the song, Kim Kardashian decided to interject on her husband’s behalf. In a series of Snapchats, Kardashian leaked a recorded phone call between Kanye and Swift—Kanye shares a clip of the song for Swift’s approval, and the singer is heard saying, “Yeah, I mean, what's dope about the line is it's very tongue in cheek either way. And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that's really nice.”
Swift’s response to the Snapchats? The singer claimed Kanye never shared the most offensive part of the lyrics with her. “Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me ‘that bitch’ in his song? It doesn’t exist because it never happened. You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world,” she wrote on Instagram. To this day, the feud still remains a case of he-said-she-said.
Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual assault, 2017
On October 5, 2017, Ashley Judd accused longtime movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment—a bombshell accusation that led to the historical Time's Up and #MeToo movements. Since the first allegations, a number of other actresses have come forward with their stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein. After eight months, he finally turned himself in to police in New York City.
20-year-old Kylie Jenner quietly gives birth to first child, 2018
After months of speculation, an uncharacteristically quiet Kylie Jenner took to Instagram to share that she had given birth to a baby girl on February 1. Although news of her reported pregnancy with boyfriend Travis Scott leaked in September 2017, the reality star chose to stay quiet through all nine months, never confirming the news. “I’m sorry for keeping you in the dark through all the assumptions. I understand you’re used to me bringing you along on all my journeys. My pregnancy was one I chose not to do in front of the world,” she wrote in an Instagram post announcing the news. The 20-year-old also released a home video, “To Our Daughter,” that gave fans a peek at her hidden pregnancy.
Ruby was the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covered beauty across print and digital. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, Fashionista, and StyleCaster. Follow her on Instagram.
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