by (@katespencer)

#47: Marilyn Manson Blamed For Columbine Shootings

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.


#40: Phil Spector Charged With Murder

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.

by (@katespencer)

#19: Sid Killed Nancy. Or Did He?

Sex Pistols member Sid Vicious was only 20 when he met Nancy Spungen in 1977. British punk god and veteran American groupie bonded instantly over their mutual passion for extreme drug use. Less than two years later, both were dead.

The story goes that the couple holed up in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel after the Pistols broke up to binge on smack while planning Sid’s solo career. On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found in the couple’s bathroom, dead from a knife wound in her abdomen. Ten days later Sid slit his own wrist. He survived, but only to be charged with Nancy’s murder (the knife was traced back to him) before overdosing on February 2, 1979, at the home of his new girlfriend.

Speculation still swirls about both deaths. Some say that Sid’s overprotective mom injected him with a lethal dose of heroin to spare him from prison. Others maintain that it was drug dealers that stabbed Nancy. In his book Vicious: Too Fast to Live, Alan Parker argues that both were murdered by Rockets Redglare, an East Village actor and alleged drug dealer. Tragic? Yes. Totally sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? Yeah, baby.


#16: Marvin Gaye Murdered By His Father

Although he was best known for his soulful odes to racial harmony and sexual bliss, singer Marvin Gaye‘s personal life was anything but laid back. At age 44, Gaye publicly admitted he was long-time “drug addict and sex freak”, a Safe-for-Work version of one ex-wife’s accusations that Gaye was a porn fiend and chronic masturbator prone to violence and coke binges.

Gaye’s double life mirrored that of his father, Marvin Pence Gay Sr., a fundamentalist preacher in Washington, DC. Despite vowing to wipe out vice in all its guises, Gay Sr. was also a cross-dresser who whipped his children. Unsurprisingly, tension and arguments were common under his roof. Marvin and his father had fierce brawls, the singer later changing his last name to “Gaye” to distance himself.

In 1984, in a house filled with guns, booze, and blow, the Grammy-winning singer and his father had their final skirmish, this time over misplaced business papers. After Gaye knocked his father to the floor, 70-year-old Marvin Sr. got up, retrieved the pistol his son had given him for Christmas, and shot him twice at point blank range, killing him instantly. In a jailhouse interview, Gay Sr. was asked if he loved his son. He responded, “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”


#15: JonBenet Ramsey Sexually Assaulted, Murdered

America reeled when, in 1996, six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was discovered strangled and sexually assaulted in the wine cellar of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado.

The former Little Miss Merry Christmas’s painted Kewpie-doll face became a nightly news fixture, and America was gripped by a necromantic furor. Armchair detectives pondered clues such as the undigested pineapple found in her stomach and the unidentified male DNA found in her underwear. As the case ground on, everyone from the police to supermarket tabloids to Colorado’s governor began to suspect the parents’ involvement. Allegations of a cover-up raged; grand juries were convened. But no one was ever charged.

In 2006, just as public interest had waned, ex-schoolteacher John Karr confessed to Ramsey’s murder. Karr fit the profile–if the profile is looking like someone you’d never leave your six-year-old alone with. But no positive DNA match was made, and Karr was found to be living in Alabama at the time of the murder.

In July 2008, the Colorado D.A. officially cleared the girl’s parents of any wrongdoing in her death. “JonBenét” can now be filed away in the bulging Cold Case album of American scandals. — Charles Bottomley


#11: John Lennon Murdered

Even in the unsettling world of rock star deaths, few were as shocking as the murder of Beatle John Lennon, shot outside his Manhattan apartment in 1980 by a fan who had asked for the singer’s autograph hours earlier.

Thanks to both the worldwide success of the Beatles and Lennon’s strident political activism (which almost got him extradited from his adopted country in the early ’70s), many presumed that his death was politically motivated, coming so soon after the release of his first album since 1975. But killer Mark David Chapman was driven only by psychological delusions and a hunger for fame. Despite protests from his lawyer, Chapman refused to plead insanity, and was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Lennon’s tragically shortened life has since been the subject of countless documentaries and books, and Chapman eventually got his own biopic, the flop Chapter 27, starring Jared Leto. Chapman, who was sentenced to 20 years to life, has been denied parole three times despite an “exemplary disciplinary record.” Because of the high profile of his crime, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be released from prison.


#6: Charles Manson Murders

The hippie dream received a rude awakening in 1969 when Charles Manson, a failed musician, used psychedelics and “free love” (orgies, rape, that kind of thing) to transform a group of troubled, vulnerable young adults into a violent, psychotic “family.” His efforts eventually led to a series of grotesque murders in August 1969 (slogans like “DEATH TO PIGS” and “RISE” were written on the walls in blood) that horrified residents of the hills outside LA and stumped police for months.

Manson, in and out of jail for assault and robbery since the age of nine, prophesized that an apocalyptic battle between the races would end with Manson ruling the black populace as the new Jesus Christ alongside his fellow angels, The Beatles (who had not been informed of these plans). Anxious to get things started, he ordered members of his cult to massacre rich white Californians, hoping police would blame African-Americans for the crimes. Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring (the inspiration for Warren Beatty’s Shampoo) were among those stabbed and shot by Manson’s clan. Thanks to a series of bureaucratic blunders (the gun was found and given to the police months before it was connected the murders), the LAPD did not arrest Manson and his followers until December.

The court case (highlighted by frequent disruptions, shaved heads and self-inflicted forehead scars) was prosecuted by Vincent Bugliosi, whose account, Helter Skelter, was an instant best seller and the basis of two TV movies. Imprisoned for life and still awaiting the apocalypse, Manson remains a ’60s anti-hero for young transgressives. Not that he’s happy about it: “Being crazy meant something [in the ’60s], he said. “Nowadays, everybody’s crazy.”


#4: O.J. Simpson Murder Trial

The circus never ends when O.J. Simpson is around. After a much-televised “trial of the century” full of racist cops, bloody gloves and a leech called Kato Kaelin, the football star/actor/Hertz spokesperson was found “not guilty” of the murder of estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, infuriating well over half of the country. Despite the verdict, O.J. Simpson was found financially culpable for the murders in a civil suit, owing the victims’ survivors more than $30 million.

While Simpson claimed he would tirelessly search for the real killer, he seemed to spend most of his time playing golf and trying to find ways to make money without having to give it to the Goldman family. Take the tastefully-titled book, If I Did It. This highly publicized tome was to provide a first-person account of how Simpson would have murdered his wife that fateful night…had he actually done it. The Goldmans, still waiting for those tens of millions, filed suit and eventually claimed ownership of his “fictional” account. Simpson is now awaiting trial in Las Vegas for allegedly holding up a sports memorabilia collector in 2007. Unsurprisingly, Clark County is having a hard time finding an impartial jury.


#1: The Murders Of Notorious B.I.G. And Tupac

Sex, murder, conspiracy, police corruption, bi-coastal gang warfare, Diddy – this scandal has it all. The rivalry between the east and west coast rap scenes may have begun with minor east coast rapper Tim Dog‘s amusing 1991 hit “Fuck Compton,” but thanks to big money and short fuses, the battle soon grew as epic and violent as the gangster movies rappers referenced, climaxing with the unsolved shooting deaths of Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace in 1996 and 1997. Their murders turned the rap superstars into tragic icons, and a battle of words into The Greatest Celebrity Scandal Of All Time.

Shakur was already a successful recording artist (Dan Quayle had even blamed his music for the death of a cop) when he met and befriended Wallace before the release of the aspiring NY rapper’s debut album, Ready To Die. Their mutual admiration soon turned sour after Shakur accused Wallace and his producer, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, of instigating a 1994 robbery and assault that left him with five bullet wounds. Wallace and Combs swore they were coincidentally recording in the studio where Shakur was attacked outside, but for whatever reason, Shakur refused to believe the pair was not involved.

While Shakur recuperated and went to prison for sex crimes, Wallace’s career thrived as Combs’ label Bad Boy drew attention away from the LA gangsta rap scene, led by Dr. Dre and Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight. Nine months into Shakur’s sentence, Knight, a former football player previously accused of threatening NWA’s Eazy-E with a baseball bat and holding Vanilla Ice out of a window, signed the embattled rapper to Death Row in exchange for paying his $1.2 million bail while he awaited appeal. Soon after, Knight mocked Combs from the stage of the 1995 Source Awards, with the NY audience responding by booing several Death Row artists, inspiring Snoop Dogg to yell “the east coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg?”

Tensions continued to escalate. Knight was accused of making a friend of Combs’ drink urine from a cup when he wouldn’t give the address of the east coast mogul’s mother. Knight also blamed Combs’ for the shooting of a Death Row employee during a fight in Atlanta. Shakur publicly claimed to have slept with Wallace’s wife, and the label’s entourages had an armed standoff following the MTV Music Awards in March 1996. Combs repeatedly attempted to make peace with Knight, even inviting Louis Farrakhan’s son to mediate. Knight declined, claiming he would deal with the drama “his way.”

Before Knight could clarify, Shakur was mortally wounded in Las Vegas on September 7, following the public beating of gang member Orlando Anderson by Death Row employees after a boxing match. Despite multiple suspects, including Anderson and Knight himself (he owed back royalties to Shakur, who allegedly considered leaving Death Row), charges were never filed either due to a lack of evidence or police indifference. Shakur’s mother Afeni sued Knight for the unpaid royalties soon after, inspiring the label’s other artists to leave, claiming similar financial issues (as well as fears of violence).

Bad Boy, which had made a point never to respond to Death Row’s insults on record, released a public statement mourning the loss of Shakur. But when Wallace was shot and killed following a Soul Train Awards after-party in LA on March 9, 1997 (15 days before the release of his second album, Life After Death), many assumed it was a retaliatory gesture. No criminal charges have been filed, but recent civil suits from Wallace’s family argue that crooked police officers on Knight’s payroll were responsible for orchestrating his death, and that the LAPD, suffering from widespread corruption in their anti-gang units, refused to investigate the possibility.

More than a decade later, all the major figures are still in the news. After countless lawsuits, arrests and failed restarts Suge Knight was finally forced to sell Death Row and declare bankruptcy. In March, LA Times writer Chuck Phillips claimed to have proof that Combs (best known as Diddy today) was involved in the 1994 assault on Shakur, but retracted the story when his source was revealed to be a con artist. Notorious, a biopic based on Wallace’s life, is scheduled for a 2009 release, and Tupac’s eighth posthumous album is planned for release by the end of the year. With both murders re-opened and the Wallace family’s civil suit still in motion, it would seem this scandal is far from over.