Many rockers shed their earthly vessels too soon. When the body of Rolling Stone founder Brian Jones was discovered in the bottom of a swimming pool in 1969, it kicked off a disturbing trend, with many prominent stars checking out for the great gig in the sky at the age of 27.
Following Jones’s mysterious death, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors’ Jim Morrison all died within two years of each other, all aged 27. Many wondered if the curse hadn’t been started by Robert Johnson, a legendary bluesman from the 1920s who had been poisoned when he was 27. Ironically, Johnson’s eerie records had inspired Jones to start the Rolling Stones.
In the 1990, rock stars began dropping again. Kurt Cobain was the most notable casualty, killing himself with a shotgun at age 27. Kristen Pfaff, the bassist in Cobain’s wife band Hole, overdosed on heroin at the same age. — Charles Bottomley
You know you’re in serious trouble when Reverend Al Sharpton rejects your apology and says you need to do more than just say “sorry.” That’s what happened after Michael Richards (aka “Kramer” from Seinfeld) spewed an n-word-filled tirade at some black hecklers at an LA comedy club in 2006.
Video of Richards’s bizarro meltdown, which opened with a reference to lynching, was captured on a cell phone camera and promptly beamed across the internet. Highlights include:
• “Fifty years ago, we’d have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass.”
• “Throw his ass out. He’s a nigger. He’s a nigger. He’s a nigger.”
• And: “That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man.”
Richards was probably lucky the club’s patrons were armed only with cell phones, although he might have preferred receiving a deadly beatdown to what followed: Richards instantly went from universally loved (as Kramer) to almost unanimously vilified (as a racist, washed-up, talentless comedian). The incident now permanently resides in the pop lexicon, having been lampooned on both South Park and Family Guy — twice. — Tony Carbone
Orlando music mogul Lou Pearlman made his money the old fashioned way: He got little old ladies to sink their life savings into nonexistent companies, then pocketed the money. As if that weren’t bad enough, Pearlman then used some of those millions to help manufacture boy-band juggernauts Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. The world would never be the same.
Pearlman, who was a first cousin to Art Garfunkel, set out to run airlines and travel agencies, although most of these companies existed only on paper. When New Kids on the Block chartered one of his planes, he launched his own personal star search that resulted in Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, LFO and Aaron Carter, all of whom later sued Pearlman for back earnings. In a Vanity Fair article, several anonymous band-members alleged his hands-on management style included naked hotel bed romps with his charges.
After *NSYNC sang “Bye Bye Bye” to Pearlman, feds took control of his one remaining company in 2007. The man the Orlando Weekly dubbed a “corpulent pusbag” fled to Bali, where he adopted the alias “A. Incognito Johnson.” In May 2008, the 53-year-old was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, but his debts to cheated investors, which total some $300 million, remain unpaid . — Charles Bottomley
Few black musicians have been as influential as Chuck Berry, whose guitar-slinging in the ’50s inspired countless rockers, and whose razor-sharp lyrics made him the Jay-Z of his day. With classics like “Johnny B. Goode” and “School Days,” Chuck didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll, but he did give it a brain to go with its balls. For his pains, the duck walker has endured near-constant hassle from The Man.
In 1990, Chuck was able to add “pervert” after “rock legend” and “tax evader” on his résumé. He was sued by several female customers of his St. Louis restaurant, who claimed there was a video-camera setup in the ladies’ bathrooms. Berry shut them up with a $1.2 mil payout. No idea what he did with the tapes. But we can presume that, like the guitar in his “Johnny B. Goode” hit, it involved ringing something like a bell. — Charles Bottomley
After the jump, watch Chuck in his prime performing “Johnny B. Goode.”
Everyone is familiar with the expression, but Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes brought new meaning to the concept of a woman scorned. After discovering that boyfriend and Atlanta Falcons star Andre Rison was cheating on her, the TLC frontwoman tried to burn up his sneakers on June 9, 1994. Instead, she burned down his $1.3 million dollar house.
“There was drinking involved …” she later explained. “He stormed off and I decided to barbecue his tennis shoes. I threw them in the bathtub because I thought the fire would contain itself that way …”
The 24-year-old singer was sentenced to five years probation, fined $10,000, and entered an alcohol rehab program five months before TLC released CrazySexyCool, which became the best-selling album by a girl group in America. The home torching hadn’t been the tempestuous twosome’s first domestic dispute (he was allegedly abusive), but they remarkably stayed together for several years, with Andre announcing their engagement in 2001 before later calling it off.
Any chance for reconciliation was destroyed in 2002, when the 30-year-old was killed in a car accident in Honduras.
Everyone wants to win. Yet most people wouldn’t go as far as clobbering the competition into submission with a “collapsible metal baton.” But then most people aren’t as desperate or vicious as figure-skating pariah Tonya Harding.
In 1994, the 23-year-old World silver-medalist played a key role in the crude attack on Nancy Kerrigan, a gorgeous goody-goody who was the figure skating equivalent of Snow White, and who Harding believed was her biggest obstacle to Olympic gold. A thug, hired on behalf of the high-school dropout, pounded a club into Kerrigan’s knee as she exited the ice after an Olympic trials run-through in Detroit. After Harding’s bodyguard squealed that she and her creepy husband masterminded the attack, the press went ballistic, milking the good girl/bad girl stereotype for all it was worth.
Nothing good came of Harding’s malicious envy. Although she later dodged jail-time by pleading guilty, she was stripped of her title and banished from the sport. When we last saw Harding, she had traded in her skates for boxing gloves and was trading blows with the equally sleazy Paula Jones.
Heath Ledger was one of those special Hollywood types which rarely surface in that land of vapidity and vanity — a freakish combination of rugged good looks, startling talent, and a desire to live a grounded life out of the public eye. So it was no surprise that the world reacted with straight-up shock to his sudden death from an accidental overdose of prescription pills one January afternoon in 2008 — and continued staring with mouths agape as the sordid details came tumbling out.
Prior to his death, the actor had recently split from fiancée and Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams, and had spent the fall partying at NYC’s most exclusive hot spots, wrapped in the arms of various supermodels. But when his masseuse, who also worked for Mary-Kate Olsen, phoned the tiny starlet upon discovering Heath’s body, a secret relationship between the actor and the twin was revealed.
Heath had admitted to struggling seriously with a sleeping problem while filming The Dark Knight, and posthumous medical tests revealed six different drugs in his system. Yet while his performance as the Joker has led to whispers of an Oscar nod, some have theorized that his devotion to the dark role may also have contributed to his battle with insomnia, and ultimately his tragic demise.
Payback, as Jesus Christ once said, is a bitch. Nobody knows that like Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart, cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and the onetime head of a televangelical media empire that took in $150 million a year. In the mid-1980s, more than 2 million saps tuned into the gospel according to Swaggart — who preached against devils like Ozzy Osbourne. Another object of his divine wrath was minister Marvin Gorman, whom Swaggart accused of coveting a fellow pastor’s wife. In turn, Gorman in sicced a P.I. on Swaggart, and in 1988 the holy hypocrite was caught in a Louisiana love-nest with prostitute Debra Murphree.
After apologizing in an apocalyptic on-air meltdown, Swaggart was allowed to keep his TV ministry. But three years later, the California Highway Patrol caught him in a car with a whore of Indio, CA. This time Swaggart refused to say “sorry,” and his family promptly exiled him. Amazingly, the 73-year-old with a hard-on for Armageddon and loose women continues to preach and record gospel albums. — Charles Bottomley
A funny thing happened to Barry Bonds on his way to the all-time MLB HR record. His head ballooned to the size of three bowling balls, his arms swelled to the size of tree trunks, and fans and the media alike began to speculate that Bonds, one of baseball’s greatest players, was jacked up on the juice. Gee, you think?
When not kicking his pregnant wife or refusing to license his likeness, the San Francisco Giant outfielder was supposedly smearing “flaxseed oil” and “rubbing balm” on his chest and neck, according to grand jury testimony he gave in 2003. Bonds denied ever using steroids to prosecutors, which was mighty suspicious, considering that his former trainer, Greg Anderson, was later charged with supplying anabolic steroids to athletes, including baseball players. The U.S. government evidently doubted Bonds’s testimony as well, and, in 2007, indicted him on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Now Bonds is the first home-run king to have an asterisk by his record. Even the 756th ball he knocked out of Candlestick Park has an asterisk drawn on it, placed there by designer Marc Ecko before he handed it over to the Hall of Fame. — Charles Bottomley
[Photos: Barry Bonds speaks at a news conference after hitting his 756th home run on Aug. 7, 2007. At left: Bond’s historic home run ball.]
During his brief 26-year lifespan, Gram Parsons transformed himself from the heir to a citrus fortune to L.A.’s country rock outlaw. He played with the Byrds, saw his song “Honky Tonk Women” allegedly stolen by Keith Richards, and banged Emmylou Harris before the rest of Nashville did. Parsons had long been obsessed by California’s Joshua Tree monument, which he often visited to search for UFOs while tripping on acid. In Sept. 19, 1973, the cosmic cowboy accidentally mixed his interest in close encounters with his addiction to booze and morphine, and OD’d at the The Joshua Tree Inn.
Parsons’s millionaire stepfather wanted the body brought back to Louisiana. Instead, manager Phil Kaufman and an unidentified friend hijacked the body from a loading dock at LAX, and, in a borrowed hearse, sped to Joshua Tree, believing that was where Parsons would have wanted to have been cremated. Kaufman’s clumsy attempts at cremating the corpse instead produced a giant fireball that alerted park rangers. A police chase ensued, ending with Kaufman and his pal in custody. Parsons’s charred body was eventually interred in New Orleans. — Charles Bottomley