Celebrities have the potential to make millions from TV and movie roles, lucrative endorsement deals and sometimes from a single Instagram post. At the same time, controversies ranging from legal troubles to unseemly remarks have the potential to derail a star’s career and cause a celebrity to go from riches to rags.
Last updated: May 15, 2020
In 2013, actor Alec Baldwin — one of the richest Hollywood ex-husbands — lost his MSNBC show after just four episodes when he was videotaped shouting a homophobic slur to a photographer, Page Six reported. Although he likely suffered monetary losses from the firing, it was hardly the end to his television career. In 2017, Baldwin won an Emmy for his portrayal of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
The return of “Roseanne” to prime-time TV in early 2018 was met with much fanfare — but that quickly died down after star Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist remark about Valerie Jarrett that swiftly led to her firing by ABC. Not only was Barr’s show canceled, but reruns of old episodes were also pulled from Paramount Network, TV Land, CMT and Laff, according to The Wrap, meaning the actress won’t be getting residuals from those episodes, either.
In 2007, Isaiah Washington lost his job on “Grey’s Anatomy” after using a homophobic slur. The scandal ended up causing the actor major financial losses, and it almost cost him his career. “I lost everything,” he told the Huffington Post. “I couldn’t afford to have an agent … I couldn’t afford to have a publicist … I couldn’t afford to continue.”
Despite his career rough patch, Washington returned to TV and even reprised his “Grey’s Anatomy” role for an episode in 2014.
After it was revealed in 2015 that Brian Williams’ account of being on a helicopter that was shot down during the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not true, the popular news anchor was suspended from “NBC Nightly News” for six months without pay, USA Today reported. Despite the hit to his reputation — and his wallet — Williams was able to bounce back from his losses. He currently hosts “The 11th Hour With Brian Williams” on MSNBC.
Kendall Jenner’s controversial Pepsi ad that showed the model handing a soda to a cop at a protest sparked the ire of the Twitterverse and might have ended up costing her big bucks in future endorsements. The 2017 ad was pulled after just one day on air, and although Jenner was still paid in full for the commercial, she likely missed out on other lucrative deals because of it, Radar reported.
Michael Phelps is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, he was arrested for driving under the influence, and in 2009, he faced another PR nightmare when photos surfaced of the Olympic swimmer smoking from a bong. As a result of the images, Phelps was suspended from competitive swimming for three months, and he lost an endorsement deal with Kellogg Co. However, Phelps was able to redeem himself during the 2016 Summer Olympics by winning five gold medals and a silver medal.
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Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman
Actresses Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and 33 other affluent parents were hit with charges of money laundering in an alleged massive college admissions scandal that broke in 2019. The parents were accused of bribing and working with college coaches and test administrators to rig standardized test scores and college acceptance practices.
Huffman pleaded guilty to her $15,000 involvement in the college admissions scandal, according to court documents released to the public on April 8, 2019. Loughlin, who pleaded not guilty on charges alongside her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, in April 2019, allegedly paid $500,000 to guarantee admissions for her two daughters through the University of Southern California crew team.
Due to the scandal, Loughlin lost work with Crown Media Family Networks, the parent company of Hallmark.
Robert Downey Jr.
Throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s, actor Robert Downey Jr. had several expensive breakdowns and run-ins with the law related to his drug use, and in 2001, a drug-related arrest led him to be fired from his role on the hit Fox show “Ally McBeal.” The movie star got sober in 2002 and has gone on to become one of the highest-paid actors of all time.
Singer Chris Brown was sentenced to serve five years probation and spend more than 1,400 hours in “labor-oriented service” for assaulting Rihanna in 2009, CNN reported. But, before he was officially sentenced, Brown received backlash after reports of the assault first surfaced. The R&B star lost endorsement deals from Got Milk and Wrigley’s, and his music was pulled from several radio stations, UPI reported. Despite his conviction, Brown continues to release new music and was nominated for a 2018 BET Award.
Johnny Depp has been the epitome of a PR nightmare in recent years. The actor has been accused of physically assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard — and he’s accused her of the same as well — and he’s been sued by a crew member on the film “City of Lies” for allegedly punching him twice, and he has admitted to compulsive overspending and settled a very public lawsuit with his management team. As a result of his controversies, the film “City of Lies” was pulled in August 2018, a month before its planned release, The Hollywood Reporter reported. That means Depp lost out on any potential box-office earnings.
In September 2018, comedian Bill Cosby was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison and was also ordered to pay a fine of $25,000 plus the costs of prosecution, CNN reported. Cosby was accused of sexual assault and misconduct by nearly 60 women.
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Actress Lindsay Lohan has been in and out of jail and rehab for much of her career, which has cost her several movie roles over the years. In 2010 alone, she was dropped from two movies that she was set to star in: “The Other Side” and “Inferno,” Vulture reported. Although she hasn’t quite been able to get her acting career back on track, Lohan did open up a club in Mykonos that ended up being the focus of an MTV reality show about her new business venture, CNN reported.
Former baseball pro Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season after he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez told USA Today that the cost of this scandal was more than just monetary.
“There’s so many frustrating things when you look back at that,” he told the newspaper. “No. 1, you have a guaranteed contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. Literally, you can sit on the couch and get fat. Right? How stupid can you be? … This thing cost me over $40 million. And it cost me my reputation, and it may have cost me the Hall of Fame and a number of other things.”
Despite the blow to his reputation and finances, Rodriguez has since recovered: He currently works as a commentator and analyst for Fox Sports and is a special adviser to the New York Yankees.
During the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Janet Jackson’s breast was revealed to millions of viewers, sparking the infamous “nipplegate” controversy. As a result of the “wardrobe malfunction,” Jackson was blacklisted from the Grammys that year, and her songs and music videos were banned from all of the radio and TV stations owned by Clear Channel Communications. The ban hurt record sales, and her album “Damita Jo” became her lowest-selling album since 1984, Billboard reported.
Although it took some time for Jackson to recover from the scandal, she’s been able to climb back up the charts since then, with her singles “Feedback” (2008), “No Sleeep” (2015) and “Made for Now” (2018) landing on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Actress Winona Ryder made headlines after being convicted of shoplifting from a Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, California, in 2001. In December 2002, Ryder was sentenced to three years probation and was ordered to undergo psychological and drug counseling, perform 480 hours of community service and pay $10,000 in fines and restitution, CNN reported. However, she has been able to turn her reputation around, most recently starring in the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.”
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