The cult of celebrity is a cultural phenomenon that has taken role of the rich and famous to such lofty heights that their behavior can be justified or forgotten just as easily as it is condemned. Oftentimes, pop culture has a way of putting celebrities in an untouchable bubble, transforming them into icons incapable of fault or blame. And in some cases, they are ostensibly above the law, free to operate in destructive and irresponsible ways while essentially immune from repercussions.
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By Brad Iger
The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.
7. Phil Spector
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Spector is a world-famous record producer who helped create classic records like The Beatles’ Let it Be and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, as well as creating the “Wall of Sound” recording technique which would be replicated countless times afterward. Phil is also a world-famous eccentric nutjob who’s currently working the legal system to skip out on the rap for the 2003 death of Lana Clarkson, a 40-year-old actress who was found dead at Spector’s house. Spector initially told the police “I think I killed someone” and then had his lawyers fight to have those statements thrown out due to “withdrawal from prescription drugs.”
In 2007, after a convoluted fiasco of a trial, which included multiple lawyers being replaced and subsequently sued by Spector, the jury deadlocked (10 for "guilty" and 2 for "not guilty") and the judge declared a mistrial. Spector remains free on bail to this day, as retrial proceedings have been slowed to a crawl through various legal obstacles presented by his lawyers.
6. Laura Bush
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As a teenager, the former first lady was a bit of a wildcat. While cruising around town with her high school friends in her Chevy Impala, Bush (known as Laura Welch at the time) blew through a stop sign and broadsided classmate and ex-boyfriend(!) Michael Dutton Douglas’ Chevrolet Corvair, ejecting him from the car as his father watched the entire situation unfold from a car following behind Michael.
Douglas was declared D.O.A. at Midland Memorial Hospital. Laura and her friend were treated for bumps and bruises and released. Miss Welch was not charged with any crime and did not receive any sort of traffic ticket whatsoever. She refuses to discuss the matter to this day.
5. Robert Blake
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Born Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi, Blake was a child actor in late '30s/early '40s who managed to translate that success into a prolific adult career, most notably as the star of the Emmy Award-winning '70s cop drama Baretta.
In the late '90s, Blake met Bonnie Lee Bakley, a woman with a history as a career gold digger, exploiting older men for their wealth, especially celebrities. She had been dating Christian Brando, son of Marlon Brando, during her relationship with Blake, and became pregnant during that time, telling both men that they were the father. After DNA tests demanded by Blake proved that he was the real father, Blake and Bakley were married in 2000. It was Blake’s second marriage and Bakely’s tenth.
On May 4th, 2001, the couple went out for a dinner at an Italian restaurant in Studio City, California. After the dinner, Bakley was killed by a gunshot to the head while sitting in the couple’s car. Blake told police he’d gone back into the restaurant to retrieve a gun he’d left at the table (!) when the shooting occurred and missed the entire incident, though no witnesses to Blake’s return to the restaurant could be found.
The LAPD arrested Blake after retired stuntman Ronald Hambleton agreed to testify against Blake, stating Blake had attempted to hire him to murder his wife. Blake managed to get acquitted in the criminal trial in what many described as a horribly mishandled case by the district attorney, but he was later found liable for Bakley’s murder during a civil trial leveled against him by Bakley’s children. He was ordered to pay $15,000,000 (Blake filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter). He remains a free man to this day.
4. Vince Neil
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During the height of the hair metal excess of the 1980s, Motley Crüe was one of the most popular bands of the time, with multiple platinum records, and the kind of rock star fame that normal people can only read about in magazines.
In 1984, after a long session of binge drinking with Nicholas Dingley, known as “Razzle”, the drummer for the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks, the two decided to jump into Vince’s De Tomaso Pantera sports car to head out to the liquor store for some more booze. Along the way, Neil (whose blood-alcohol level was later revealed to more than twice the legal limit) lost control of the car, crashing head-on with another car, killing Dingley and seriously injuring the occupants of the other car.
Neil was later sentenced to 30 days in jail (shortened to 15 for good behavior), $2.6 million dollars in restitution to the victims of the crash, five years probation, and 200 hours of community service, but still manages to strangle prostitutes in his spare time.
3. Ted Kennedy
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Edward “Ted” Kennedy may be currently garnering some sympathy due to his ailing health, but this man certainly has a dodgy past worth noting.
Referred to as the "Chappaquiddick Incident,” in 1969, Ted and Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staff member of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, were driving in Kennedy’s 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 after a party when Kennedy apparently drove off the Dike Bridge into Poucha Pond in Massachusetts. Ted swam to safety, but Mary Jo wasn’t as fortunate, as she died in the car. Kennedy immediately left the scene and did not contact the authorities until after the car and Kopechne’s body were discovered the following day by fishermen.
He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to two months in jail, suspended (which basically means he served no jail time at all). In 1970, a further inquiry into the matter was conducted (in secret at the demand of Kennedy’s lawyers), and the judge determined that Kennedy’s "negligent driving appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne" and could have ordered Kennedy’s arrest, but chose not to do so for unspecified reasons.
The diver who extracted the lifeless remains of Kennedy's passenger from the water came to a similar conclusion:
Had I received a call within five to ten minutes of the accident occurring, and was able, as I was the following morning, to be at the victim's side within twenty-five minutes of receiving the call, in such event there is a strong possibility that she would have been alive on removal from the submerged car.
2. Don King
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Who knew boxing promoters were such shady characters? Don King, who managed boxing icons like Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman, has become engrained in the collective consciousness as a staple of the sport.
However, King’s more formative years a little more illicit than the squeaky-clean business of professional boxing promotion. In fact, King was charged with murders on two separate occasions.
The first killing was deemed “justifiable homicide” after the courts determined that King shot Hillary Brown in the back and killed him while Brown was attempting to rob one of King’s gambling houses.
The second killing occurred in 1966, when King stomped employee Sam Garrett to death. It was later revealed that Garrett owed King $600. King was convicted of second degree murder but managed to have that sentenced reduced to “nonnegligent manslaughter” during a private meeting with the presiding judge, and served less than four years in prison.
1. O.J. Simpson
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Without a doubt, the death of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman is the most notorious and controversial celebrity killing in the history of mankind.
From police chases to testimony from out-of-work “house guest” actor Kato Kaelin, the trial against O.J. Simpson for the stabbing murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman became a cultural phenomenon, exposing the strange and sordid tale of the relationship between Brown and Simpson, the lifestyles of Hollywood’s elite, and most importantly, how the legal system treats the rich and famous.
As we’re all aware, Simpson was eventually found not guilty in the criminal trial for the murders despite a truckload of damning evidence against him. The handing down of the verdict was watched on live television by more than half the population of the U.S., making it one of the most watched events in American history. Various discrepancies between the testimony of the police and the actual handling of the investigation were thought to have contributed to the verdict.
Simpson was later found guilty in the civil trial for the wrongful death of Brown and Goldman, and the Goldman family was awarded $33,500,000 in damages. However, California law prevents pensions from being used to satisfy legal judgments, so O.J. got to collect his NFL pension, to the tune of $22,000 a month, without any intervention.
However, in a strange twist of fate, Simpson was convicted last year of robbery and kidnapping in a bizarre case in which his football memorabilia was stolen and he retrieved it by storming a hotel room with a posse of armed thugs. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with the possibility of parole in nine years, which seems more like retroactive punishment than proper sentencing for strong-arming the return of stolen personal goods. See kids, the justice system works (eventually, sometimes)!
Well, unless you’re really rich and/or famous, of course. Then you can pretty much do whatever you want, at least once.