Remember that thing with Kate Moss a few years ago? She got caught on videotape snorting coke (something she had long been known to indulge in from time to time — she’s a famous model, after all). When photos of this completely unsurprising piece of news hit the English press, she promptly lost most of her endorsement deals, H&M and Chanel among them, and for a few weeks the 24-hour news celebricycle busied itself with pronouncing her career completely dead once and for all.
Twelve months later, she signed 18 high-profile deals and became totally ubiquitous for the next few years, her visibility higher even than when she was dating Johnny Depp. For once, the dramatic high-profile fall from grace didn’t even have time to fade from memory before the triumphant comeback campaign was over and won.
The celebrity highway is littered with the corpses of personal scandals, misdeeds, and embarassments, nearly always reported by a breathless celebrity press as “career-killing.” Sometimes these things are legitimately terrible deeds, sometimes not. But let’s play a little game and look at some supposedly career-ending scandals and see if they have anything in common.
• NFL quarterback Michael Vick was convicted in 2007 of running an illegal dogfighting ring out of his home and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
• Sports announcer and celebrity news presenter Pat O’Brien was forced to take a leave of absence when a string of voicemails that can only be described as creepy, gross were made public by a woman who worked for him.
• Quarterback Brett Favre was fined $50,000 by the NFL for sending a photo of his penis to a TV host.
• NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was tried for rape in 2006. The case was dropped, but Bryant’s own account of what happened is only slightly less awful (and no less gross) than what he was accused of.
• NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was acquitted of murder charges in two stabbing deaths, got immunity in exchange for testifying against his two companions, and ultimately paid settlements to the victims’ families.
• Radio host Rush Limbaugh, who once told his audience “we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs… so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,” was charged in 2006 with doctor shopping to supply his addiction to oxycodone.
• Pop star Britney Spears left rehab after less than a day, shaved her own head in a strip-mall salon, lost custody of her two young children and kidnapped them, and was committed to a psychiatric facility, all in the space of a year.
• Chris Brown pled guilty in 2009 to felony assault of his girlfriend, Rihanna, and is still under a five-year restraining order to stay 50 yards away from her.
• NBA sportscaster Marv Albert pled guilty to assault and battery charges when two women accused him of biting them during sex. One of the women also claimed that he dressed in women’s underwear, and Albert himself claimed the biting was consensual, but the woman objected to Albert’s request to bring a second man into the bedroom.
• Rapper Snoop Dogg was tried for murder in 1993 when his bodyguard shot another man from the car that Snoop was driving.
• Filmmaker Woody Allen was sued for custody of his son with actress Mia Farrow when Farrow found nude photographs of her 20-year-old adopted daughter in his possession.
• Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry was filmed smoking crack in a hotel room in 1990, during his third term.
What do all of these people have in common? They returned to, and in most cases continue in the jobs they lost in the fallout over these incidents. Michael Vick is the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Rush Limbaugh is still on the air, as are Pat O’Brien and Marv Albert, Britney is having her biggest year ever, and Woody Allen just had the highest-grossing movie of his whole career nominated for Best Picture. I even heard Chris Brown and Rihanna are secretly back together (in violation of the restraining order).
I reeled that whole list right off the top of my head, but when I tried to make a list of people who had big scandals that they didn’t come back from, I found myself wracking my brains quite a bit harder. Here’s what I came up with:
• Actress Winona Ryder was arrested in 2001 for shoplifting $5,000 worth of designer clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. I don’t recall seeing her in a movie since then, except in a 10-second cameo as Spock’s mother in the new Star Trek.
• After having to give up the Kim Basinger role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman due to an injury, actress Sean Young lobbied hard for the role of the Catwoman in the sequel, going so far as to make her own costume and confront Burton and Michael Keaton, and has never been seen again, unless you count her run on Celebrity Rehab last year. (Her Blade Runner co-star, Daryl Hannah, has also not been seen in a long time, but I think that’s just because she’s weird-looking and a terrible actress.)
I think that’s it. Can you think of any more, other than O.J.? I can think of a few politicians, but the first one who comes to mind is currently polling second in the Republican primary race.
Fitzgerald was wrong: not only are there second acts in American life, there are third, fourth, and fifth acts in American life. (American public life, anyway.) Mel Gibson seems like he may not bounce back from his torrent of murderously angry phone calls to his estranged wife, but then again that happened after he had already come back from uncorking a stream of anti-Semitic and misogynist comments to the cops who pulled him over for (very) drunk driving, so I wouldn’t count him out just yet.
It’s curious: why weren’t Winona Ryder or Sean Young able to rehabilitate their images, particularly considering neither of their offenses were violent or drug related? Oliver North can run for Senate with a straight face after basically copping to treason, but an actress can’t have a bad weekend?
When my wife and I discussed this, her contention was that there’s a gender double-standard at work here, that if a male celebrity stood accused of the same things, they’d have bounced back, and I can’t deny that there’s a pattern, but there is an anomaly that tends to wreck that theory: Britney.
Winona Ryder and Sean Young’s offenses were not very severe crimes — in Young’s case, not crimes at all — but they were genuinely weird: why would a presumably wealthy actress steal a bunch of stuff she can easily afford? Why would an actress on a hot streak, having starred in a long string of big-budget movies as leading lady, humiliate herself on TV by groveling for a role? A weird, fetishy role to boot? In both cases, these women gave the impression that maybe they don’t just do crazy things, but that they might actually be crazy. And it’s true that men in the public eye don’t get a lot of that kind of scrutiny. But Britney’s wild ride in 2007 and 2008 was way, way crazier, and I’m still hearing her latest single every Friday night (I can’t take no, take no, take no more!)
If we have learned anything from the last 20 years or so of the 24-hour news celebricycle, it is that Shit Happens. All kinds of Shit Happens, from mildly amusing to totally horrifying, and being exposed to all of it, all the time, in intense focus for a news cycle or two before moving on to the next thing, may have desensitized us, raised our tolerance for pearl-clutching scandal, and raised the bar for what we truly won’t forgive. Nothing’s Shocking, as a once-great band once sang.
What used to be awful and horrifying is now just awesome entertainment, and after we go through the motions of acting shocked, shocked that Alec Baldwin left those messages on his daughter’s voicemail, we’re more than happy to let him back on the carousel because the only thing worse than him doing something like that again is him NOT doing something like that again. When people tarred by the brush of celebrity scandal start warming up for the comeback, the celebrity press doesn’t seem too interested in reminding us what they did to make a comeback necessary — they don’t want to get between the fallen star and another juicy headline.
As a matter of fact, it’s got to the point that something that would once have been a career-ending scandal — like say, an interracial sex tape — is now like submitting a scandal on spec, to prove you’ve got what it takes to run with the big dogs.
So if you hear anybody wringing their hands about whether Marky Mark will be able to recover from having claimed that he could have stopped 9/11, or whether Demi Moore can bounce back from her whip-it debacle, or if anyone will hire Daniel Radcliffe even though he played Harry Potter half in the bag, or if M.I.A. will ever be able to show her face in public after flashing the bird at the Super Bowl, don’t waste your time wondering if they’ll bounce back. There’s no mystery, no suspense: they’ll bounce back. They all bounce back. Let’s just skip the part where we all pretend to be offended, because it’s all ringing hollower and hollower. Mark my words: O.J. Simpson will do a “funny” cameo in a big-budget movie in the next five years — I’m thinking The Hangover 4 — or at the very least get into porn.