Here She Is ...
For Vanessa Williams, it seemed to end just as it was beginning. Crowned Miss America 1984, the first African-American to hold that title was pressured into giving it up when unauthorized nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine. Yet she went on to become a successful singer and actress—and, more recently, a judge in the Miss America pageant. Here, for Williams' birthday, are a dozen more celebrity scandals and the stars who survived them.
The first African-American to be crowned Miss America in 1983 was forced to relinquish her title when Penthouse magazine published unauthorized nude photos taken when the beauty queen was a 19-year-old photographer's assistant. "I felt betrayed and violated, like I had been raped," Williams said. In 2016, the Grammy Award-nominated singer ("Save the Best for Last"), actress and fashion designer received a formal apology from the Miss America Pageant and was asked to serve as head judge for that year's contest.
Before Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Hulk Hogan, there was Rob Lowe … on tape, having sex. The "Brat Pack" member's teen idol status was tarnished in 1988 when he was caught on camera in an Atlanta hotel room with two women, one of whom was 16. Lowe escaped statutory rape charges, getting off with 20 hours of community service. But he couldn't shake his starring role in one of the first commercially available sex tapes. With time, however, his career rebounded, thanks to self-lampooning appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and an Emmy-nominated turn on "The West Wing." He later told Oprah Winfrey that the infamous sex tape was "the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
After a highly publicized trial, TV personality and publishing giant Martha Stewart was found guilty in March 2004 of felony charges of insider stock trading, obstruction of a federal securities investigation and making false statements to federal investigators—and was sentenced to five months in prison. Though some relished the takedown of this seemingly too-perfect celebrity, Stewart served her time with grace, earning sympathy from her fans and the public at large. Upon her release in 2005, Stewart staged a successful comeback, her new-found street-cred only adding to her appeal. Wrote People magazine: "Some expected America's goddess of domestic perfection to fall into terminal despair. Instead, with the drive that would make her a billionaire, Steward took her lemon of a sentence and made lemonade. Heck, she made a lemon soufflé."
Charlie Chaplin was the most beloved public figure in the world in 1925—until the 36-year-old silent film star impregnated Lita Grey, 16, his co-star in "The Gold Rush." When Grey's parents threatened to charge the Little Tramp with statutory rape, the couple married. "Marriage," Chaplin told friends, "was a better option than prison." The couple's secret blew up when Grey filed for divorce in 1927, claiming that Chaplin had cheated on her, falsified her son's birth date and forced her to perform oral sex. Chaplin ended up paying $1 million in legal fees, and Grey was awarded $825,000. But Chaplin, who owned his own studio, escaped career disaster and was able to go on to even greater success in classic films like "City Lights" and "Modern Times." In 1943, Chaplin was 54 when he wed 18-year-old Oona O'Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. The couple had eight children and remained married until his death, at 88, on Christmas Day 1977.
The British actor was 34, dating actress Elizabeth Hurley and riding high on his breakout performance in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" when Los Angeles police arrested him on June 27, 1995, for receiving oral sex in his car from prostitute Divine Brown. The contrite actor immediately expressed remorse—"Last night I did something completely insane," he said in a statement—and, to his credit, faced the music on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." "What the hell were you thinking?" the host asked. "I did a bad thing," Grant responded, with just the right touch of self-deprecating charm. "And there you have it." Like Hurley, who remained with Grant until 2000, audiences proved willing to forgive and forget, flocking to hit movies like "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Love Actually."
Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman)
Comedian Paul Reubens transformed his alter ego Pee-wee Herman into a movie star with his breakout 1985 hit "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," directed by Tim Burton. He followed that with the critically acclaimed Saturday morning children's TV show "Pee-wee's Playhouse," which aired from 1986 to 1990. A year later, however, the 38-year-old star was busted for indecent exposure while masturbating in a Sarasota, Florida, adult theater. It took time, but Reubens clawed his way back to respectability, appearing as a character actor on "Murphy Brown," hosting game shows and landing roles in films like 1999's "Mystery Men" and 2001's "Blow." Finally, in 2010, Reubens resurrected Pee-wee on Broadway; six years later, the rehabilitation of Reubens and Pee-Wee seemed complete when he starred in Netflix's well-received comedy "Pee-wee's Big Holiday."
The world was shocked—shocked!—in 1950 when the married "Casablanca" star had an affair and a son with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Subjected to scandalous headlines and a denouncement on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the 35-year-old actress bided her time in Italy, where she gave birth in 1952 to twin girls, including future model/actress Isabella Rossellini. It would be four years before she made a triumphant return to Hollywood, winning the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in the 1956 drama "Anastasia." "People saw me in 'Joan of Arc' and declared me a saint," Bergman once said. "I'm not. I'm just a woman, another human being."
Robert Downey Jr.
The "Iron Man" megastar once revealed that he was 6 years old when his father, filmmaker Robert Downey, let him puff on a joint. That first drug experience would eventually lead to years of life-threatening binges and career-damaging arrests in the 1990s for the young man once hailed as the best actor of his generation. "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger," Downey once told a judge, "and I like the taste of gun metal." Downey completed a one-year prison sentence in 2000 and, at 35, began to clean up his act and rehabilitate his career, earning his second Oscar nomination for the 2009 spoof "Tropic Thunder." He received an even bigger award in 2015 when he was pardoned by California governor Jerry Brown. "Pardons are not granted unless they are earned," Brown said, adding that Downey Jr. "has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen."
The "Heathers" ingénue was arrested in 2001, accused of stealing $5,500 worth of designer clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. After a much-publicized trial, the 30-year-old actress was found guilty of grand theft, shoplifting and vandalism, and sentenced to three years probation and 480 hours of community service. Following a hiatus of several years, Ryder staged a comeback, most recently receiving acclaim for her starring role in the Netflix series "Stranger Things." "In a weird way, it was almost like the best thing that could have happened," she said of her conviction and leave of absence. "I'd never asked myself … 'Is it OK if I'm not going to act? Is there anything else?' Because that was all that I really knew."
John Lennon ignited an international firestorm in 1966 when he claimed at a press conference that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." The response to the offhand remark, made just before the band's U.S. tour, was swift and heated. Radio stations stopped playing Beatles songs, communities burned records, death threats were made, and the Ku Klux Klan picketed tour stops. Lennon subsequently apologized, quipping, "If I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it." The controversy, however, did have one profound consequence: The Beatles never toured again.
The pop star was arrested on April 7, 1998, for "lewd conduct" with another man in a public restroom in Beverly Hills and was eventually sentenced to 80 hours of community service. Michael, 34 at the time, later described the encounter as "a subconsciously deliberate act" that allowed him to finally come out as a gay man. He kept recording and performing, holding on to his worldwide fan base despite several subsequent arrests on public sex and drug charges. Michael was 53 when he died of natural causes on Christmas Day 2016.
Jonathan Winters was already a popular stand-up comedian in 1959 when he walked off the stage of a San Francisco nightclub and took a cab to Fisherman's Wharf, where he boarded a ship and climbed naked into the rigging. When police arrived, Winters refused to come down. "I'm John Q from outer space," said the 34-year-old comic. Committed to a mental hospital, Winters was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He soon turned his breakdown and hospital stay into laughs. "I left the mother ship, and they caught me," he said. "That was a terrible thing. But I had fun, playing checkers all day and making rope-soled shoes and everything. Crazy!"
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