In 2007, Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick was busted for running a dog-fighting ring in Surry County, Virginia. It was alleged that Vick and his associates organized bouts at the Bad Newz Kennels, bet on the fights — and executed the dogs.
The nation was divided. Dog lovers were appalled to learn that canines had apparently been hanged, drowned, and even electrocuted. Sympathizers argued that Vick and his fellow defendants had grown up in a culture that condoned the blood sport. Like in most debates, there were no easy answers.
Angling for a light sentence, Vick pleaded guilty, swearing that he’d never a) gambled on the bouts, or b) killed any dogs. But during sentencing, he ran into trouble when a drug test turned up traces of marijuana in his blood. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison.
This didn’t sit well with the Falcons, who in 2004 had signed Vick to a 10-year contract worth $160 million. Vick has been suspended by the NFL, and ordered to pay back the Falcons a portion of his earnings. In July 2008, Vick filed for bankruptcy. — Charles Bottomley
In 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the biggest comic actor in America, the Jazz Age’s answer to Will Farrell. Paramount was paying him $1 million to make six laff riots a year (that’s more than 12 million in 2008 dollars). One fan described dancing with him as “like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut.” Then, 30-year-old aspiring actress Virginia Rappe died of a ruptured bladder after an epic party in Arbuckle’s San Francisco hotel room. Oops.
The cops concluded that the damage had been done by Arbuckle’s 300-pound girth during sexual intercourse. He was booked after a friend of the actress claimed Arbuckle had raped Rappe in the hotel room. Rumors quickly swirled around the case. It was whispered that Rappe had been abused by everything from an icicle to a champagne bottle.
After two mistrials, Arbuckle was acquitted, but the legal fees left him penniless. In 1922, he was banned from making movies and left with but a solitary friend — alcohol. Arbuckle died on June 30, 1933, aged 46, ironically the day after he had been signed by Warner Bros. to make his first feature film in 12 years. — Chuck Bottomley
On April 20, 1999, two Columbine High School students walked into their school in Littleton, Colorado, shot and killed thirteen people, and injured twenty-three others before turning the guns on themselves. The massacre shocked the country into a wave of introspection and accusation. Just who or what could have led these young men to commit such a gruesome act?
Fingers flailed and landed on a skinny man caked in face paint and dressed in gothic garb similar to that favored by the murderers. He also had a few hit albums under his black leather belt, but that didn’t stop critics from blaming Marilyn Manson for influencing the teens to kill. Pundits and politicians, including Senator Joe Lieberman, attacked Manson, labeling the artist a “shock rocker” whose band was the “sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company.” Manson fought back with a piece in Rolling Stone: “When it comes down to who’s to blame for the high school murders in Littleton, Colorado, throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who’s guilty. … when these tragedies happen, most people don’t really care any more than they would about the season finale of Friends or The Real World.”
In 2001, the band’s “Fight Song” video, featuring goth kids battling jocks, was alleged to be a commentary on the tragedy. Manson replied to the rumor: “People will put into it what they want if it helps them sell newspapers … Flak isn’t my job.” True. Now that he’s divorced from burlesque babe Dita Von Teese, his job consists mostly of feeding tabloids news of his romance with 19-year old actress Evan Rachel Wood. Even when it’s just about sex, Manson’s still scandalous.
Junkie-turned-Oprah-approved faith healer James Frey‘s story was too good to be true. His 2003 memoir A Million Little Pieces uncovered a layer of hell somewhere beneath rock-bottom, with our Hemingway-on-heroin hero relating his life of drug peddling, crack-whore sex, and oral surgery gone wrong. Truth was truly stranger than fiction–and Oprah hailed the Frey’s courageous attempt to tell it like it was.
Except it wasn’t. Mug-shot website The Smoking Gun smelled a rat. A rat with Frey’s trademark odor of snot, urine, vomit, and blood. Investigation revealed that Frey’s criminal record amounted to a few speeding tickets. His story was about as reliable as the Hitler diaries.
Hell hath no fury like Oprah scorned. In January 2007, she gave Frey an on-air dressing-down like we haven’t seen since Jon Stewart‘s Crossfire shit-fit. Frey’s work now occupies the fiction section of your local bookstore. — Charles Bottomley
After the jump, watch a clips of Oprah turning on James Frey.
“Crack,” the great Rick James once opined, “is a hell of a drug.” To which ex-Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry can only say, “Amen, bitch.” In 1990, the Democratic pol was videotaped by the FBI smoking rock with girlfriend Rasheeda Moore in a D.C. hotel room. The Feds busted Barry just as he tried to leave his hotel room-turned-crack den. As he’s read his rights, Barry shouts the now infamous line: “I’ll be goddamn … bitch set me up!”
After serving six months for possession, Barry successfully ran for City Council under the less-than-inspiring slogan, “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.” In 1995, he was re-elected mayor. But Barry still had an appetite for the sweet stuff. Coke and marijuana were found in his system during a 2005 drug test. We’ll be goddamned. — Charles Bottomley
Before Russell Crowe came along, Mel Gibson was the biggest Australian prick in Hollywood. Here’s Mel on homosexuality: “They take it up the ass … [That’s] only for taking a shit.” When gay-rights group GLAAD asked for an apology, he told Playboy magazine, “I’ll apologize when hell freezes over. They can fuck off.”
Mad Mel became only more insufferable after replacing grog with God. Exhibit A: 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, which, in addition to grossing $604 million worldwide, depicts Jews in a way that would have made Adolf Eichmann proud.
Exhibit B: When Malibu policed pulled Gibson over for DUI in July 2006, Gibson told the arresting officer, “Fucking Jews … Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?” At the booking station, the What Women Want star barked at a female officer, “What are you looking at, Sugar Tits?” The mug shot curiously failed to capture his hair plugs in a flattering light.
Gibson booked a confessional with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, although his apology was tempered by ramblings about his preoccupation with the war in Lebanon — and the bottle of Tequila on the floor of his Lexus. — Charles Bottomley
It’s 1988, and Rob Lowe‘s star is in the ascendant. Movies like Class (Lowe nails an older woman), St. Elmo’s Fire (Lowe nails Demi Moore) and About Last Night … (Lowe nails Demi Moore — again) made him the Brat Packer you’d most want to use as a seat cushion.
What better time, then, to go to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and have sex with two women, one of whom was only 16 at the time and may (or may not) have been a Dukakis supporter? And since it’s the 1980s, why not film it with one of those cool new camcorders?
As a consequence, Lowe was summarily blacklisted by Hollywood execs, but he stuck around to have the last laugh. SNL comedies like Wayne’s World and Tommy Boy let him play the heel, and the TV hit The West Wing made him seem like normal guy material. Perhaps most importantly, Lowe proved that a sex-tape isn’t necessarily a career ender, but a career booster. — Charles Bottomley
If you asked anyone in 1998 where Robert Downey Jr. would be in ten years, you’d have heard “prison” or “dead” before “in one the biggest movies of the summer.” After all, that was the year that Downey, bleary-eyed and rocking orange prison threads, told a Los Angeles County judge his addictions were like “a loaded gun in my mouth … and I like the taste of gun-metal.”
Though Downey had been hooked on alcohol and drugs since the age of nine (thank his party-hearty director father), it wasn’t until 1996 that the Oscar-nominated actor hit the headlines with a series of bizarro arrests. One of the more notorious escapades involved Downey breaking into a neighbor’s empty house and passing out in a child’s bedroom. Another found him naked and speeding down Sunset Boulevard. Happy times!
Somehow Hollywood didn’t lose total faith in Downey, even when the actor, on parole and awaiting trial, was found confused and barefoot in Culver City, rather than learning his lines for a guest spot on Ally McBeal, whose producers promptly fired him. It wasn’t until two years later (with producer Mel Gibson paying his insurance bond) that he returned to action with The Singing Detective. After Downey appeared in a string of supporting roles, director Jon Favreau fought to have him play the titular hero in Iron Man, which grossed more than $300 million at the box office this year. Almost as surprising, button-downed Time magazine named the former junkie one of 2008’s most influential people.
Girl, you know it’s sad but true. Milli Vanilli were stripped of their Best New Artist Grammy in 1990 after producer Frank Farian revealed in a press conference that neither Fabrice Morvan nor Rob Pilatus actually performed on their multiplatinum debut, Girl You Know It’s True.
Though rumors had followed them for months (dancing to a skipping record on stage will get you those), it wasn’t until the duo demanded to sing on their next album that Farian admitted the hoax. Farian had hired the two aspiring models after deciding the actual singers didn’t have the same visual appeal as two dreadlocked dancers from Munich rocking shoulder pads and knee socks. B-b-b-b-baby!
Farian and his studio accomplices recorded a follow-up album as The Real Milli Vanilli, which — surprise! — really bombed. Rob and Fab, performing as Rob and Fab, also failed to regain even a fraction of their fan base. The duo eventually re-teamed with Farian with plans to make a new album, but Pilatus, who had recently gone through stints in jail and rehab, overdosed on pills and alcohol in 1998, only months after the group’s infamous “Behind The Music” episode aired.
As a record producer, pint-sized Phil Spector created the sound of the 1960s, using a multitude of instruments to re-create the feeling of a first kiss and the fracture of a broken heart. Through the 1970s and ’80s, the reclusive Spector earned a reputation as a borderline psycho and gun-nut. He has waved pistols at John Lennon and Leonard Cohen.
Bad craziness undid Spector when, in 2003, a dead B-movie starlet was found in his home. Lana Clarkson had died of a gunshot wound that Spector blamed on “accidental suicide.” In an interview given a week earlier, he had described himself as “relatively insane.” Phil didn’t help his sanity’s cause when he appeared at his second-degree murder trial in a variety of wigs that made him look like everything from a blond pageboy to a collision between TV’s Screech and a bottle of Rogaine.
In 2007, a deadlocked jury resulted in a mistrial. In public, the jury is still out on Phil Spector. Phil is just out to lunch. — Charles Bottomley
Watch Tina and Ike Turner perform Spector’s “River Deep, Mountain High” below.