For celebrities, nothing is sacred. Privacy is a luxury that is generally lost for the rich and famous and every dirty detail of their lives eventually goes on display for public consumption. This can either be a social media tool that inadvertently helps in building and maintaining a career, or a distraction for those celebrities, particularly those who’ve played the paparazzi game long enough to have a desire to move away from their pasts and focus on the good, trouble free lives they presently live.
Sadly, especially due to the hyper-real world the internet has fostered in collecting and managing gossip, present misdeeds get reported and scrutinized in real time. From whom a celebrity is dating, to what rehab center they are currently enrolled into, to the cost of their highly publicized divorce, the rich and famous cannot escape the misdeeds of their long forgotten past.
Due to the glare of the media, some of these lovable celebrities, who the world sees as comedians, Oscar winners, TV stars and even role models, and who have long since moved on from their more sordid pasts, still have some explaining to do decades after their criminal activities went through the legal system, and were forgotten by everyone. Here are some celebrities that, if not for the media, today’s generation of gossipmongers would never know had a criminal past.
(Note: the author is fully aware of his contribution to the exact sensationalism he claims not to support; after all, bad press is better than no press at all).
10 Bill Gates: Driving Without a License, Speeding
It’s kind of funny to think of one of the richest men in the world as a rebellious teenager driving around without a licence, speeding and failing to obey stop signs. Thankfully, no one got hurt, or the mild amusement of Bill Gates’ joyriding would have had consequences that would have been more serious for not only him and his potential victims but, heaven forbid, technology as well. Gates was arrested first in 1975 for driving without a license and speeding. Having not learned his lesson, two years later he was again arrested for driving without a license and speeding as well as failing to stop at a stop sign. This from a guy who at the time had already started building his astronomical success at Microsoft.
9 Bruno Mars: Drug Possession
While he was a highly sought after songwriter and music producer at the time of his arrest in 2010 for cocaine possession, Bruno Mars had not yet taken over the pop charts as a solo artist with his mix of modern pop sensibilities and that classic Motown sound. After his charges, Mars avoided trial by pleading guilty, and was ordered to pay a monetary fine of $2000 and complete 200 hours of community service. After completing his community service, Mars’ felony conviction was dismissed by the courts in 2012. Let’s hope this bad rap doesn’t keep Bruno locked out of heaven for too lonnnngggg.
8 Stephen Fry: Credit Card Fruad
7 Christian Slater: Drunk Driving, Assault, Possession of a Firearm, Sexual Assault
6 Woody Harrelson: Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest
It may not come as a total shock that Woody Harrelson has a ‘criminal’ past, and it certainly wouldn’t come as a shock to discover that Harrelson’s big crime was what we would expect from the hard partying marijuana advocate. Way back in 1982, Harrelson was arrested for dancing in the street and running from police way back in the party mecca of Columbus, Ohio. He paid a fine and that was that, hardly a big deal. He’s had a few more legal troubles while challenging state marijuana laws, but nothing he’s been convicted for, nor should have been in legal trouble for to begin with. In fact, what’s most shocking about Woody Harrelson’s past concerning the law was that his father was a hitman who was convicted of killing a Federal Judge.
5 Matthew McConaughey: Drug Possession
Much like his buddy and True Detective co-star, Matthew McConaughey likes to dance, and, at least in 1999, he liked to smoke pot. After a noise complaint made by neighbours police found Matthew “Rust Cohle” McConaughey dancing naked and playing bongo drums at his house. Of course, such an act warrants an entire search of the house where marijuana and drug paraphernalia were discovered. Ironically enough, all of the drug charges against him were eventually dropped, but McConaughey still had to pay that pesky $50 fine for the noise complaint. The most amazing thing about this ‘criminal’ past however, is that since, McConaughey has gone from, by and large, resting on his fame in Hollywood by playing really lame characters in really awful movies, to becoming an Oscar winning tour-de-force, stringing one memorable role after another together, True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club being the most recent.
4 Kiefer Sutherland: Drunk Driving
Not condoning drinking and driving; the ‘punishment’, such as it is, for the offence is actually one of this author's biggest problems with the legal system, but even still, due to the laissez faire attitude most people have concerning drunk driving, it’s hard to see why Kiefer Sutherland is so high on this list. Well, in case you didn’t know, Sutherland has had an ongoing battle with alcohol which he openly and bravely admits. It earns him respect to comment on, and want to defeat his demons. Then he goes and loses it all by getting arrested not once, not twice but FOUR times for DUI. And not just when he was younger, nope, over a span of almost 20 years. Sutherland was arrested in 1989, 1993, 2004 and 2007. Total penalty? 48 days in jail. No wonder no one remembers Jack Bauer has a criminal record, even the courts pretend it never happened.
3 Tim Allen: Drug Possession, Drunk Driving
Maybe not quite the shocking revelation that some of the others have been, but we still tend to forget the Tool Man has a criminal record from his distant past. The man who became known for roles like Tim Taylor, and Santa Claus, among many other iconic characters, was actually arrested, charged and convicted of drug trafficking charges in 1978, ten years before his first role in Hollywood. Allen actually faced life in prison due to his charges, but he gave evidence against his cohorts in exchange for a sentence of seven years, for which he served two and a half. Although Tim Allen clearly learned his lesson in hard crime following his drug bust, he nevertheless ran afoul of the law during the height of his fame when he was arrested in 1997 for drunk driving.
2 Matthew Broderick: Careless Driving
In what the families of the victims of Matthew Broderick’s crime called a ‘travesty of justice’ Broderick was ultimately charged with careless driving and fined $175. His crime? While Broderick was vacationing in Northern Ireland with then girlfriend Jennifer Grey (of Dirty Dancing fame) the car he was driving crossed the center lane of the road and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle. Both the driver and the passenger of the other vehicle were killed immediately. While Jennifer Grey maintains the accident scarred her for life, and was the reason she left Hollywood, Broderick has gone on to have a relatively successful career over the past 25 years since the accident. Justice served? You be the judge.
1 Will Smith: Aggravated Assault, Criminal Conspiracy, Simple Assault
While megastar Will Smith was still only known as Philadelphia rapper the Fresh Prince (decidedly NOT from Bel Air) he was involved in a seriously vicious beating. Back in 1989, mere days after he won a Grammy Award, Smith’s bodyguard allegedly beat up a record producer so badly that it left the man nearly blind and disabled. While Smith maintains that he had nothing to do with the actual assault, but was merely there. It sounds about as familiar as any other young rapper claiming innocence to a crime while passing off responsibility to a member of their entourage, which is exactly what happened for Will Smith, just in time for NBC to bail him out of his IRS debts and create the now iconic Fresh Prince of Bel Air sitcom. The charges against Smith were eventually dropped, with police believing his possibly true details of events.