Celeb careers ruined by leaked footage
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It can take years to build a reputation, but sadly, only a few seconds to ruin it. These may be wise words for anyone — but for celebrities caught being unruly on tape, they hold a special sting. From expletive-filled rants to sordid conversations, just one bad moment can live forever by totally taking down a star’s public image and costing them thousands in potential lost salary. Welcome to the YouTube era.
Yet thankfully, another saying is also true: It ain’t over till it’s over! Famous people who have messed up royally in front of a camera or live mic have often reversed their “blackballed” status in both Tinseltown and the court of public opinion by owning their flubs and not giving up. Here are some of the most cringe-worthy examples of celebs whose careers were once ruined by leaked footage (or audio). While they all brought it on themselves, it’s amazing how many of these stars managed to turn things around … no matter how ugly things seemed to get.
Mel Gibson used racial and anti-Semitic slurs
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No doubt, Hollywood heavyweight Mel Gibson has had a major uphill battle PR-wise ever since he was arrested for an alleged DUI in 2006. After being cuffed and put into the backseat of a Malibu, Calif. police squad car, Gibson was reportedly caught on tape launching into an anti-Semitic verbal attack, according to TMZ. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” he allegedly said, before asking one officer, “Are you a Jew?” Gibson later announced that he was going to rehab and apologized, saying he was “deeply ashamed” (via People). However, one entertainment exec reportedly said, “[Gibson’s] career is over. He’s going to become toxic.”
In 2010, the actor was again recorded, this time allegedly using racist language, by then-girlfriend and mother of his child, Oksana Grigorieva. After the audio leaked online, Gibson was vehemently denounced by civil rights and anti-domestic violence advocacy groups.
Still, word has it that he’s set for a comeback. In 2017, Gibson attended the Oscars as a best director nominee, despite his name being left off the first poster for his movie, Hacksaw Ridge. The following year, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Gibson would co-write and direct a remake of The Wild Bunch, as well as — yes, really — a sequel to Passion of the Christ in 2020.
David Hasselhoff ate a cheeseburger while drunk on camera
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In 2007, an infamous video surfaced showing ex-Baywatch star David Hasselhoff eating a cheeseburger while appearing drunk. He responded with a statement admitting that he was a “recovering alcoholic,” and further explained (via The Hollywood Reporter): “Because of my honest and positive relationship with my daughters, who were concerned for my well-being, there was a tape made that night to show me what I was like. I have seen the tape. I have learned from it and I am back on my game.”
Sadly, the incident followed Hasselhoff around for years. “I thought [the video] was like, really funny. I thought it would go away. It didn’t go away. It got bigger and bigger and bigger … but I never played into it,” he later told Inside Edition. “My daughters were the ones who basically laughed about it. They said, ‘Ah, let it go.'”
For his part, Hasselhoff eventually decided to make fun of his stained public image in his mockumentary show, Hoff the Record, in 2015. In one scene, he directly poked fun at the clip, saying, “I want to have beers, burgers, I’m gonna take off my shirt, and I’m gonna have a lie-down.” His follow-up projects have included 2016’s Baywatch movie alongside The Rock, and a web-based show called Being David Hasselhoff.
Billy Bush joined in on Donald Trump’s ‘locker room talk’
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During the 2016 presidential election, an old recording was released of then-candidate Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women to TV host Billy Bush on Access Hollywood — off-camera, of course. “When you’re a star … you can do anything,” Trump infamously said, to which Bush could be heard agreeing, saying, “Whatever you want.” Trump continued, “Grab ’em by the p***y — you can do anything.” After laughing in response, Bush commented, “Yeah, those legs. All I can see is the legs.”
While Trump obviously went on to become president (attempting to write the language in the video off as “locker room talk”), Bush was promptly fired from his gig on the Today show. In an op-ed written for The New York Times, Bush revealed that he never thought The Donald was serious, and assumed it was a “crass standup act.” Bush claimed: “He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real. We now know better.”
After staying out of the spotlight for three years, Bush told People: “I fell completely apart. I’ve been through resentment and anger and being inconsolable.” However, he later returned to TV in 2019 as the host of Extra on Fox and appeared ready to move on. “It was a bad moment,” he told the magazine. “And I was in it. But one moment doesn’t define your life.”
The NBA threw Donald Sterling out over a racist recording
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As the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling should know: You win some, you lose some. Unfortunately, he lost big in 2014, when his alleged mistress, V. Stiviano, recorded him allegedly telling her not to post photos on Instagram with black people. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast … that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” he asked. Later, he said: “You can sleep with [black men]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
After the tape leaked, his players non-verbally protested by wearing their warm-up shirts inside out to hide the team’s logo. Sponsors started dropping the Clippers, and Sterling was chastised by many African American public figures, including President Barack Obama. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here,” Obama said (via Sports Illustrated). “I have confidence that NBA commissioner Adam Silver — a good man -— will address this.”
Sterling was eventually forced to sell the team for $2 billion, was fined $2.5 million, and was banned for life from the NBA (via Forbes). As of 2017, he and his wife were trying to get the NBA to lift the ban.
Michael Richards used the N-word in a shocking tirade
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When comedian Michael Richards (a.k.a. Kramer from Seinfeld) took the stage at the Laugh Factory in 2006, he got heckled by an African American audience member. While the moment was surprising, nobody expected what happened next. TMZ reports that Richards apparently lost it, repeatedly screaming the N-word at the man in a three-minute rant, in which he yelled, “Throw his a** out … A n****r, look, there’s a n****r!”
Richards apologized on the Late Show with David Letterman: “I’m really busted up over this. And I’m very, very sorry to those people in the audience — the blacks, the Hispanics, the whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger, and hate, and rage, and how it came through … I work in a very uncontrolled manner onstage. I do a lot of free association, I’m spontaneous, I go into character. I don’t know … I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this.”
Since then, he’s largely stayed out of the public eye, but later referred to the incident on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars with Coffee. Saying he should’ve stayed focused on entertaining the audience instead of lashing out, Richards explained, “I think I worked selfishly, and not selflessly. It’s not about me. It’s about [the audience] … Now, that’s a lesson I learned seven years ago, when I blew it in the comedy club and lost my temper.”
Shia LaBeouf yelled expletives at a police officer
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Transformers star Shia LaBeouf has been no stranger to police run-ins, but one of them came with an especially high price. When LaBeouf was arrested in Savannah, Ga. in 2017 for disorderly conduct and public intoxication, he was recorded yelling expletives at a police officer in a video that was leaked on the Internet.
He was later sentenced to a 10-week stint in rehab, but told Esquire the following year that his long string of arrests, unpredictable public moments, and personal issues stemming from PTSD had marginalized him in Hollywood: “I’m run out. No one’s giving me a shot right now.” Despite his challenges with getting work, LaBeouf refused to give up on his career, and credits his co-star from The Peanut Butter Falcon, Zachary Gottsagen, for setting him straight.
LaBeouf recalled Gottsagen, who has down syndrome, telling him, “You’re already famous. This is my chance. And you’re ruining it.” Looking back on this conversation, LaBeouf said, “To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life … He keeps it one thousand with you, and that s**t doesn’t even make sense to him. Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it, ’cause in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.”
Tiger Woods’ leaked audio ruined both his marriage and golf game
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Golf superstar Tiger Woods made headlines in 2009 when his then-wife, Elin Nordegren, reportedly chased him out of the house with a golf club after finding out he’d cheated on her. Soon after, audio leaked of a voicemail in which Woods reportedly begged one woman (via the New York Post): “Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and … may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that … Just have it as a number on the voicemail. OK? You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. All right, bye.”
Since the incident, Woods admitted he’d had affairs with as many as 120 women. Not only did Nordegren divorce him, but his golf game plummeted and he lost major endorsements, including Nike. The athlete later entered rehab for sex addiction. While he didn’t win a major championship for another 10 years, he came back and won the Masters in 2019.
“It’s overwhelming,” Woods told Golfweek. “I think just because of what has transpired. And last year, I [was] just lucky to be playing again … Now, being the champion … It’s just unreal for me to experience this … I just couldn’t be more happy and more excited. I’m kinda at a loss for words.”
Monica Lewinsky’s Clinton affair phone calls still affect her today
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In 1998, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky became the center of a nationwide scandal when her former friend, Linda Tripp, secretly recorded their phone conversations and turned them over to the FBI. The tapes contained claims that Lewinsky had an affair with then-President Bill Clinton, and the revelation led to a years-long media frenzy that obviously altered Lewinsky’s own career prospects instead of his (via Time).
Afterward, she launched a line of handbags, repped for Jenny Craig, hosted a reality dating show, got a master’s degree, and faded from the spotlight. However, in an essay written for Vanity Fair years later, she wrote that, at age 40, she was finally ready to “take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.” Lewinsky also pointed out that the reason the scandal affected her for so long was partly because it occurred when she was so young. “I didn’t ‘let this define’ me,” she wrote. “I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others.”
After resurfacing in the public eye, Lewinsky became an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement.
Christian Bale freaked out on the set of Terminator Salvation
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Actor Christian Bale instantly cast a shadow on the release of Terminator Salvation after a recording was released of him screaming at the film’s director of photography on set. After the DP accidentally walked into a scene, the actor reportedly went on an expletive-filled rant, and at one point called for the DP to be fired: “I want you off the f**king set, you pr**k! … What the f**k are you doing?”
After the audio leaked, Bale apologized on the Los Angeles radio station KROQ, saying: “I acted like a punk … I make no excuses for it.” He later explained the reason why he was so upset was because he was still deeply in character: “I completely mixed up fact and fiction. I’m half John Connor and half Christian there” (via The Guardian). In the wake of the incident, however, his sister told The Telegraph, “I think he might need help,” citing a past incident in which Bale allegedly lost his temper in front of her family. “He verbally attacked us,” she claimed. “He spoke in the same aggressive way he did to that lighting engineer.”
While Bale still stars in critically acclaimed films, these reported rants certainly aren’t a good look for the actor … and even led some to speculate about his future in Hollywood.