At first, it felt slightly hypocritical writing this piece, which is basically a reminder of the good deeds and great art that people, ranging from over-played tabloid headlines to guilty and incarcerated criminals, have done and created. But then it hit me that many of the people on this list can’t fully be blamed for their more shameful behavior; most are athletes or musicians, professionals making ends meet by pushing their bodies and minds to the edge of human experience and possibility, not only for their own personal expression but for our personal amusement. Public figures are also held up against unrealistically high standards then criticized even more than civilians who fail to meet these standards.
Celebrities are expected to be many things to many people, none of which are necessarily a person’s true form, and these public faces can take on lives of their own, gaining more attention than for the accomplishments that earned them fame and fortune in the first place, and being distorted by the game of telephone that is public relations. Some celebs are more modest than their overblown media presence suggests; then again some are equally heinous behind closed doors (or behind bars) as they are in the public eye. Either way, here are: 10 Celebs Whose Controversies Overshadowed Their Achievements.
10. Michael Jackson
Upon his death, media outlets suddenly snapped out of their collective amnesia to remember that Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Since the made-for-TV movie The Jacksons: The American Dream (1992) was aired, Jackson patriarch Joe, was revealed for the shameless opportunist he was, alongside superstar Michael’s skeletons, and it was off to the races with speculation: Questions about M.J.’s sexual orientation, his ever-changing facial structure and pigmentation, and then accusations of sexual abuse, which stuck given the pop-star’s house was a Peter-Pan-themed amusement park. Despite all this, the world tour he was set to embark on before he passed might still have sold out, putting Michael at the top of this list.
Being fashion conscious and a pop-culture icon that she is, fans and foes of Rihanna alike may forget or be distracted from the fact that she came from the humblest beginnings and traveled a rough and winding road to become the 8-time Grammy winning musician, philanthropist, and voice actor, with beauty product endorsement deals for days. Only at 14 years old did her mother and abusive father finally divorced, and only after serving as a military cadet in Barbados, did the future pop-star audition for a spot on Jay-Z’s Def Jam Records roster. This inspiring story seems to have been lost under the singer’s bad girl persona, edgy fashion sense, and abusive relationship with felonious singer/rapper Chris Brown.
8. Dennis Rodman
Between 1989 and 1998, Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman racked up five NBA Championship rings, two in Detroit with the Pistons, three with the Bulls, and two All-Star wins, to name just a fraction of his accolades as a basketball player. Rodman is still the reigning rebound king in the books, holding the records for most 30-, 25-, 20-, 15- and 10-rebound games in a season, and for most 30-rebound games in an entire career. Still, his public struggle with alcoholism, documented on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, bizarre visits and tributes to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and his circus geek fashion sense, overshadow his achievements as an athlete.
7. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner
Before Bruce became Caitlyn, the oldest member of the Jenner family was a highly decorated track and field star who, at the peak of his career, won gold and broke the world record for points scored in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. As Caitlyn, the former Wheaties-endorsed athlete is now mostly known for being an attractive post-op transgender woman and for her association with the Kardashians on reality TV, but as Bruce, he and his first wife were held up as heroes in Gerald Ford’s Cold War America, which had lost Olympic gold to the Soviets in ’72.
6. Kanye West
Kanye West is another celeb on the list whose true accomplishments have almost literally been overshadowed by (wife) Kim Kardhashian’s famous backside and buried under the constant social media chatter around (sister-in-law) Kendall’s activities and whereabouts. The multi-platinum, internationally acclaimed rapper and beatsmith is an active philanthropist and family man, successful entrepreneur and legitimate business owner, with a soft spot for his mom–who apparently instilled in her son a strong code of ethics and sense of justice, and gave him the space and encouragement growing up to hone his self-proclaimed creative genius, but forgot to teach award show etiquette.
5. O.J. Simpson
Orenthal J. “O.J./the Juice” Simpson is half of the title-cast of the recent first installment of FX’s new mini-series, American Crime Story, titled The People v. O.J. Simpson and since the early-90s has been known only as the alleged killer of wife Nicole Brown (Simpson) and actor Ron Goldman. Before the trial ruined the man financially and left him more at home among criminals than actors or athletes, he was a decent comedic and dramatic actor, most notably acting in the classic ante-bellum historical fiction TV min-series Roots and alongside comedian Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun movies, and is still a Hall-of-Fame and Heisman Trophy-winning NFL athlete.
4. Mel Gibson
Mad Max: Fury Road swept the technical awards at this year’s 88th Annual Oscar’s ceremony, and Aussie-born actor and star of the original Mad Max, Mel Gibson was nowhere to be seen and is in no way, shape or form, associated with the modern incarnation of the post-apocalyptic film that introduced the world to this now widely known racist/chauvinist drunk. There must be something about acting in cop-duo action/comedy franchise installments because this former star of the Lethal Weapon movies, because Gibson, like O.J. Simpson, is now more a known deadbeat than acclaimed for any of his roles or films.
3. Britney Spears
Britney Spears donated over half of a million dollars to various non-profits providing aid and funding to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2011, and in 2001, through her Britney Spears Foundation, a charitable organization directed at helping underprivileged and impoverished children, gifted a full $1 million to the Twin Towers Fund for children of the negatively affected first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With nine Billboard Music Awards, five MTV Video Music awards, and a Grammy, the so-called (in the 90s) Princess of Pop’s talent has been proven as well. But before anybody remembers her talent or her charity work, they’ll remember the singer shaving her head, publicly exposing herself, or her unfortunate choice in husband(s).
2. Charlie Sheen
Charlie Sheen has acted in over 80 filmed productions including Oliver Stone-directed classics Platoon and Wall Street, and 8 seasons of CBS’ Two and a Half Men. Sheen Jr. was born Carlos Estévez to Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez a.k.a. Martin Sheen, was raised by the legendary actor alongside three siblings, all of whom are now also writers and actors. The prodigal son won a Golden Globe in 2002 for his work on Michael J. Fox vehicle, Spin City but left the sitcom world on shameful terms with a web cam-filmed, cocaine-fueled rant against studio execs. This, in combination with publicly admitting to being infected with HIV, explains how Charlie can continue to do quality work unbeknownst to anybody in entertainment.
1. Bill Cosby
No comedian is conflicted over whether the crimes Cosby is most likely guilty of are excusable, but how to reconcile his crimes with the fact that he was brilliant at his craft, to inspirational levels. Seven-time Grammy winner, three-time Emmy winner (and not even for The Cosby Show, which is one of three television shows in US history to be ranked #1 in ratings for 5 consecutive seasons), the man recorded around 20 comedy albums and was a regular guest Tonight Show host. He is a figurehead in the history of comedy, who brought children Fat Albert cartoons and adults Children Say The Darndest Things, but Bill Cosby’s crimes against woman-ity might be the first and last thing we remember of him.