Ask any child about their favorite TV show or performer and their eyes will light up. Children’s entertainment is all about innocence, joy and laughter. Child entertainers are held up as examples of the most trustworthy, genuine people in the business.
They were some of the biggest names in entertainment in the 21st Century. Loved, trusted, adored by millions. Nobody would have or could have imagined the horrendous acts some of these stars would be accused of, and even convicted of. Those convicted had fans and admirers around the world shocked and in denial. Former fans related to the victims; these were stars who often prayed on their youngest and most naïve young admirers. Some of these child entertainers were accused of horrific crimes but were never convicted; some weren’t even charged, but in every case their reputations have been left in tatters.
What happens when the light that guides the career of a child entertainer darkens? The following are five very different, and variously disturbing, such cases. These are five children’s entertainers who were accused of heinous sex crimes.
*Trigger warning: Reports of child abuse*
5. Rolf Harris
The Rolf Harris case came as one of the biggest shocks of the decade, when child abuse claims started circulating about the star in 2013.
The Australian entertainer was known for his contribution to the international entertainment platform through music, comedy and a strong television presence across the UK, Australia and the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. With songs like ‘Jake the Peg’ and ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’- which became one of Australia’s most iconic children’s song and reached Top 10 charts across the UK, Australia and the United States – Rolf Harris (now 84) was looked up to around the world as an important contributor to the arts by both adults and children alike.
The royal family was also part of the community that trusted and approved of Rolf, so much so that Rolf was awarded many prestigious awards by the Queen herself, as well as awards from his birth country, Australia. Considering he also painted a portrait of the queen and sang at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2012, this fall from grace was one of the most shocking of the decade.
Just last year, Rolf Harris was convicted on 12 counts of indecent assault on four girls aged from seven or eight to 19, between 1968 and 1986. He was jailed last July for 5 years and 9 months, but is only expected to serve 3 years. He was stripped of many his prestigious awards including the MBE, OBE, CBE and Officer of the Order of Australia.
4. Bill Cosby
Although not charged with any crimes so far, Bill Cosby played one of America’s most lovable dads on the set of the hugely successful The Cosby Show during the 1960s. He has been accused of sexually assaulting almost 30 women throughout his career – some of them as young as 15. The steady string of accusations started over a decade ago, and included notable ex-model and TV personality, Janice Dickinson, coming out as a victim.
The accusations against the star, who played a major role in the development of a more positive portrayal of African-Americans on TV, all sound similar. Most claims accuse the star of drugging the victim, with the victim later finding out they had been sexually assaulted after regaining consciousness.
Although Cosby has denied all accusations, some settlements have been made out of court for undisclosed amounts of money.
Cosby, now 77, commented on the accusations in late 2014, telling Florida Today that “People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”
Despite an absence of charges, the accusations have eroded many of Bill Cosby’s professional endeavors – including a comeback tour scheduled for this year. Many stations have pulled reruns of the famed TV show.
3. Pee-wee Herman
The story of Pee-wee Herman’s fall from grace is an unusual one. It’s important to note that despite an almost irreparably besmirched reputation, he was never convicted of endangering children.
Paul Reubens was a noted comic with the legendary Groundlings comedy troupe in the 1970s. During the early years of his comic career he originated Pee-wee Herman, a children’s comic character. He headed a number of projects with the Pee-wee caricature in the 1980s, including a Tim Burton movie and three TV shows. These included a CBS Saturday morning kids’ show, Pee-wee’s playhouse.
The quirky, eccentric, androgynous character of Pee-wee Herman took on a sinister air when Paul Reubens was arrested in 1991 for public masturbation. His career bounced back from this arrest, and he received critical acclaim for an appearance in the edgy 2001 drama Blow, alongside Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp.
In 2002, however, Pee-wee Herman’s integrity was called into question again when Reubens was charged with possession of explicit material depicting subjects under 18 years of age. Misdemeanor charges were brought against Reubens, but he defended himself against any charges of inappropriate feelings towards children. It emerged that Reubens was a collector of vintage, sexually explicit art and the material found was of that ilk. The charges were dropped in 2004, and Reubens made this statement to NBC:
“One thing I want to make very, very clear, I don’t want anyone for one second to think that I am titillated by images of children”
2. Jimmy Savile
Former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was one of the biggest TV stars in the UK for decades. It was only a year after his death that he was revealed as one of Britain’s most dangerous child abusers.
Police in the UK launched a formal criminal investigation, known as Operation Yewtree, which investigated historic allegations of child sexual abuse in the entertainment industry by Savile and other high profile BBC professionals. It was only then that the enormity of the abuse became clear, with 450 alleging abuse solely by Savile. Some of the victims were as young as 8 at the time.
Savile, who died in 2011 aged 84, was a BBC Radio 1 DJ and the presenter of the Jim’ll Fix It show on BBC One. He used his prominent position in British society to prey on the young and unsuspecting.
The peak of the sexual assaults occurred in the 1970s, during his most successful years as a TV star. His popularity in Britain saw him knighted by the Queen. All the while, Savile preyed on children and was also found guilty of abusing roughly 60 patients at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, where he was an active fundraiser. The victims included an eight-year-old boy who had tonsil surgery, an 11-year-old girl being treated for cancer, a pregnant mother and a 19-year-old paralyzed woman. Since his death, the multitude of victims that came forward have exposed the once high and mighty presenter for what he really was – a dangerous, remorseless sexual predator.
1. Gary Glitter
Earlier this year, British glam rocker Gary Glitter was found guilty at a London court of sex abuse against children. Glitter, now 70, whose real name is Paul Gadd, was convicted of one count of attempted sexual assault, four counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13. He was sentenced to 16 years jail. Like Jimmy Savile, Gadd was arrested as part of Operation Yewtree.
Gadd, much like Savile, was at the height of his fame as a musician during the mid 1970s, when he attacked his victims. He took advantage of his fame and popularity in society by targeting young girls who were in awe of him. This was not the first time Gadd was convicted in relation to child sex offences. In 1999, he was convicted of possessing sexually explicit images of children – up to 4,000 such images to be exact, some of which involved children as young as two.
The disgraced rocker was also deported from Cambodia in 2002 over unspecified claims and convicted, yet again, in Vietnam in 2006 of sexually abusing two girls, for which he was sentenced to 3 years in jail.
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