We all say and do stupid things from time to time, but when a celebrity opens their mouth and idiocy spews forth, it rarely stays confined to their closest friends or acquaintances. Thanks to 24-hour news, Twitter, and the public’s almost unhealthy interest in the day-to-day doings of the rich and famous, even the tiniest misstep or verbal gaffe gets placed under a lens and then magnified for all of us to analyze. Worse still, the social media masses have an uncanny ability to strip context from statements and focus on the negative. A star could give a 10-minute address that rivals “I Have A Dream” in its eloquence, but if the speech features one stupid remark, that’s the 10-second clip that gets uploaded to YouTube and passed around for public mockery. Celebrities, as a result, often garner reputations as imbeciles when they’re anything but.
And then there’s the public’s tendency to conflate actors and actresses with the roles they play. Movie stars who’ve mastered the art of playing IQ-challenged characters on the big screen get perceived as such when in reality, it takes talent and smarts to portray a lovable dolt and be convincing about it.
The phenomenon isn’t limited to those in the movies. Based on their chosen careers, athletes, rappers and adult stars have their intelligence underestimated on the regular. Luckily, we have the deep well of knowledge known as the internet to help us sort out who deserves their dumb reputation and whose intellect warrants a little more respect. Here are 15 seemingly stupid stars who are actually really smart.
15. Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson took the early 2000s by storm. Her stunning appearance helped make Newlyweds, the reality TV project she starred in with then-husband Nick Lachey, a huge hit. But when she opened her mouth, not much of substance came out. The most famous incident involved a can of tuna. The brand was Chicken of the Sea, and Simpson just couldn’t reconcile the dichotomy between the word “chicken” on the label, and what appeared to be fish in the can. “Is this chicken, what I have, or is it fish?” Simpson asked, drawing an incredulous glare from Lachey.
Simpson, as it turns out, may well have been playing up the ditzy angle for ratings. Her mother Tina, contends that the pop diva has an IQ of 160, a score that, if accurate, puts her in the company of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. While mom’s claim likely lacks veracity, Simpson has demonstrated her brainpower since moving on from Newlyweds – and Lachey. On top of her music and acting career, she’s a best-selling author and has launched several successful business ventures, including maternity clothing and bedroom décor lines.
14. Jerry Springer
Perhaps the biggest purveyor of trash on television, Jerry Springer isn’t known for highbrow entertainment. His guests regularly fight on stage and have vocabularies featuring few words and phrases that aren’t bleep-worthy. Even his “Final Thoughts” segment that closes each show, included to give an air of humanity to a program that regularly exploits the least-educated members of society for ratings, rarely strays beyond the trite and hackneyed.
What most people don’t know is that Springer’s resume lists a spate of accomplishments more impressive than hosting a lowest-common-denominator TV talk show; his current gig just happens to pay more. He holds a law degree from Northwestern University, served as mayor of Cincinnati, and even ran for governor of Ohio in 1982. Unfortunately, Springer’s intelligence briefly lapsed when he used a check to pay for a prostitute’s services, and the resulting paper trail proved detrimental to his campaign, which he eventually lost.
13. Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone doesn’t look or sound like an intellectual. His movie characters are good at one thing: kicking ass and taking names. His muscles are pumped to the max, and on his face is a perennial snarl, the result of birth trauma that causes one side of his mouth to droop. An oafish tone colors his deep voice. The actor’s aura is characterized much more by machismo than by erudition.
But Stallone can do more than flex his muscles – still ripped at 70 years old – and look intimidating. He’s also an accomplished writer and director. In fact, he wrote the screenplay for Rocky, a film nominated for 10 Academy Awards and winner of three, including Best Picture. An avid painter and prolific art collector, Stallone holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Miami.
12. Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel’s fans love him for his buff body, cool demeanor and deep, soothing, baritone voice. Whether he’s fighting terrorists or racing cars, he always seems in control on screen. His movie franchises, which include Fast and Furious, xXx and the Riddick chronicles, share one common trait – they’re heavy on brawn and light on brains.
A vast chasm separates Diesel’s tough-guy characters and the actor’s real-life persona. While he clearly finds time to hit the gym and keep his body buff, his true passions are intellectual and nerdy pursuits. Not only is Diesel a huge Dungeons & Dragons player, but he also helped author a hit book celebrating the game’s 30th anniversary. He’s written and directed a few of his own films, none of which involve butt-kicking, fast cars, or blowing things up. In his short film Multi-Facial, Diesel challenges the social construct of masculinity and takes on racial and homophobic stereotypes.
11. Seann William Scott
There are typecast actors, and then there’s Seann William Scott. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. Despite having acted in over 30 films, Scott is inextricably linked with one role: Steve Stifler, the sex-crazed loudmouth he portrayed in the American Pie series. Subsequent films, such as Road Trip and Role Models, cast Scott as a Stifler-like character — the crude, skirt-chasing jock.
Unfortunately for Scott, Stifler, while big on laughs, hung around on the left tail of the IQ bell curve. But the actor’s American Pie co-stars claim Scott is the opposite of his neanderthal screen persona. He is a cat owner – a trait linked in studies to higher-than-average intelligence. He insists he has the range to act in more than goofball comedy roles, and in fact, he’s not even particularly keen on characters like Stifler. He prefers darker characters with more depth, perhaps reflecting his own divergence from the teen movie icon that provided so many laughs in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
10. Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler has a long list of movie credits to his name, but true fanboys know and love him for two roles: Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. In a nod to the movies that put him on the map, Sandler named his production company, founded in 1996, as an amalgam of the two beloved characters: Happy Madison Productions.
In Billy Madison, the title character struggles to make it through elementary school in his late 20s. Happy Gilmore, meanwhile, is about a failed hockey player and neophyte golfer with a nasty temper, given to profane rants. Sandler has forayed into deeper roles and occasionally even received critical acclaim, such as for Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. But much of the movie-going public still sees him as a doofus, thanks to the impression seared on their brains by his early roles.
The real Adam Sandler not only breezed through elementary school with flying colors but also earned a degree from NYU, a school not known for handing diplomas to dummies. He has proven a savvy businessman: Happy Madison Productions, as of 2017, has had 17 of its movies gross over $100 million at the box office.
9. Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson has some large talents that she’s famous for, but her brains don’t typically spring to mind when people recall her glory days from the ’90s. The Baywatch babe made a name for herself by prancing around on the beach in little more than a piece of string, and she donned even less in a widely circulated honeymoon video filmed with her then-husband, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. Her movie credits include the box office bomb Barb Wire, a film that did nothing to elevate her intellectual standing.
But Anderson comes from a stock of smart genes – her entire family, including her dad and older brother, claim membership to Mensa, a club that only accepts those in the top 2 percent of the IQ bell curve. And Pam herself has proven she can do more than flaunt her figure. She is a noted animal rights activist, and in 2015, she wrote and published her autobiography, Raw.
8. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed himself The Big Aristotle. But his public philosophizing has never revealed a deep intellect, to say the least. After a trip to Greece, Shaq was asked if he visited the Parthenon. He answered that he couldn’t remember the names of the clubs he went to. Once he compared his game to the Pythagorean theorem, claiming no one has an answer to it (the Pythagorean theorem has a simple and straightforward answer, A squared plus B squared equals C squared).
His penchant for making stupid statements aside, Shaq is highly educated. In 2012 he received his doctorate, a level of education held by less than 2 percent of Americans, from Barry University in Miami. He also holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix. He’s a successful stock investor, and during the housing crisis, he built a lucrative real estate investing business that also helped save Orlando-area homeowners from foreclosure.
Shakira’s song lyrics will never be confused with Bob Dylan’s. With hits like “Underneath Your Clothes,” “Whenever Wherever” and “Hips Don’t Lie,” the pop star is more known for addictive beats and sexy dance moves than for waxing poetic. Even though casual fans may not realize it, Shakira possesses a vast intellect and notable list of achievements outside of music. For starters, the Colombian native speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. A savvy businesswoman, Shakira has her own beauty and fragrance line, S by Shakira. In 1997 she founded The Barefoot Foundation, a Colombian charity that has provided meals and education for thousands of impoverished children. She’s a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has been honored by the UN for her charity work. If that’s not enough to convince you that Shakira is more than a pair of shaking hips, Forbes magazine listed her as the 58th most powerful woman in the world in 2014.
6. Lil Wayne
With lines in his songs like, “You know I’m on that grass, don’t cut on the sprinklers,” it’s easy to understand how Lil Wayne has acquired a reputation as a dullard. Weezy’s lyrics are so mind-bogglingly dumb that they inspired Virgil Griffith, a Caltech grad and software whiz, to fashion a study comparing SAT scores with musical tastes. While kids who prefer Beethoven turned in top scores, Lil Wayne devotees were mostly gathered at the other end of the spectrum.
At least one prominent person has recognized that Weezy is packing some serious brainpower behind his mindless lyrics: Bill Clinton. The former president told NPR in 2010 that Lil Wayne, incarcerated at the time, was “smart, and he’s got ability.” Clinton elaborated that it’s difficult to achieve Weezy’s level of success by being dumb. No word yet on whether new President Donald Trump acknowledges the genius that is Lil Wayne.
5. Kanye West
Kanye West’s litany of transgressions against intelligent life is extensive. He made a fool of himself at the VMAs when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. He claimed his biggest pain in life was never getting to see himself perform. And during an already volatile 2016 election season, Kanye stirred the pot by pulling papers to run for president in 2020.
Having said that, the rapper also has compiled a nice little list of evidence that his brain is capable of functioning at a high level. He started writing poetry at five years old and began making money off his music in seventh grade. An A and B student in high school, Kanye headed off to college on an academic scholarship but later dropped out to pursue a music career. His mother, a college professor herself and big on education, was none too pleased, but we’ll speculate that the decision worked out for the best. His triple-platinum 2003 album, The College Dropout, celebrates his serendipitous decision in its title.
4. Pauly Shore
Nothing lowers your IQ like sitting through an entire Pauly Shore movie. His 1990s unholy trinity of Encino Man, Bio-Dome and Son-In-Law went down in shame as some of the most critically reviled movies of the 20th century. But Shore himself, shockingly, is a far cry from the brain-dead slackers he dedicated an entire decade to portraying. Though most of his movies were sharply panned by critics, Shore earned some respect as a video host on MTV during the early 1990s, and his stand-up comedy showed flashes of incisive wit and self-deprecating humor.
In 2003, the fading actor released Pauly Shore Is Dead, a documentary film that he wrote, directed, and starred in. The movie chronicles Shore’s rise to fame, his short-lived stardom, and his precipitous fall from Hollywood’s A-list. Although the film tanked at the box office, it was by far the most critically acclaimed project Shore ever did, and it still holds a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Jenna Jameson
Jenna Jameson is famous for one thing, and it isn’t curing cancer or solving the global warming crisis. As a result of her career, she racked up plenty of public judgment over the years. Her 2012 DUI arrest didn’t do any favors to Jameson’s reputation. When she wasn’t starring in cinematic masterpieces with titles such as Up and Cummers and Where the Boys Aren’t, Jameson was proving she had more to offer the world than a complete lack of shame and inhibition. She participated in an Oxford University debate in 2001 to argue on behalf of the merits of p*rn. Her side obliterated the opposition. Two years later, following comments from host Bill O’Reilly that adult stars are poor role models, Jameson made the pundit look like a fool in her written response, stating O’Reilly himself once asked her for copies of her videos. She also wrote a book that spent six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. How many of her haters can say the same?
2. Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus sure takes a lot of photos with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, a look that isn’t often associated with high mental capacity. Moreover, past comments she’s made, such as her claim that a “70-year-old Jewish man” is a poor judge of the music people want to hear in clubs, and wanting an album sound that “just feels black,” indicate at best a lack of cultural intelligence and at worst a lack of intelligence period.
We’ll give Cyrus the benefit of the doubt and say she knows what she’s doing. Many of her statements and public actions, such as taking a photo with squinty eyes that many felt mocked Asians, while fraught with controversy, have ensured that the singer’s name and personal brand stay in the spotlight. When you’re in the spotlight, dollar signs tend to follow. And, for what it’s worth, Justin Timberlake, no dummy himself and always the coolest guy in the room, has hailed Cyrus as both smart and talented.
1. Kim Kardashian
Whether you love to hate her or hate to love her, Kim Kardashian engenders more love and hate than just about any celebrity in America. The diva shot to fame with a sex tape and then managed to stay famous just for being famous. Kardashian, who once declared stretch marks her biggest fear in life and mused that her pregnancy weight gain was God’s way of telling her he can make her less hot, has been fodder for countless low-IQ jokes over the years.
Before her romp with Ray-J launched her to stardom, however, Kardashian was an established entrepreneur. She bought and sold designer clothing on eBay for profit and ran a successful closet organizing business that catered to the high-end Hollywood crowd. More recently, the reality star has banked millions from her mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.