Since the rise of the heinous concoction that is the smartphone camera and social media, pretty much every encounter a celebrity has with a fan is recorded and posted somewhere on the world wide web. While it has stripped even more privacy away from their already extremely public private lives, the constant presence of fan-wielded cameras has worked out quite well for some celebrities. Guys like Tom Hanks and Bill Murray have undoubtedly benefited from having their good guy antics caught on video and posted to Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, more than a few famous faces have been portrayed rather unflatteringly in fan made films. While you generally shouldn’t judge somebody based on 30 seconds of footage, it’s pretty difficult to view somebody like Justin Bieber in a positive light after watching a video of him telling an eager young fan that she should be ashamed of herself.
But what about the celebrities who passed away before social media took over every aspect of our lives? It may seem strange now, but there was a time when the only cameras fans had were ones that took still images. There was even a time when fans had no method of documenting their encounters with stars other than forgeable autographs. Of course, that didn’t stop rumors circulating of cranky celebrities and their poor treatment of fans. In fact, more than one face of old Hollywood developed a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon.
They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but perhaps the dead shouldn’t have spoken ill of others when they were alive. Here are 15 late celebrities who were jerks in real life.
15 Charlie Chaplin
The founding father of cinema and arguably the most famous man that ever lived. Charlie Chaplin is the single greatest star Hollywood has ever produced. Writing, directing, and starring in such classics as City Lights, The Kid, and The Great Dictator, the London native left behind more than enough evidence of his genius. However, there is also quite a bit of evidence to suggest Charlie Chaplin was a jerk in real life.
Chaplin was a perfectionist and was known to turn hostile towards his actors and crew if they didn’t give him the standard of work that he wanted. Those who worked with Chaplin recalled a string of unnecessary firings, incessant verbal abuse, and near daily tantrums.
In his personal life, Chaplin was just as difficult. Having married several women before finally settling down with the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, The Tramp had no shortage of ex-wives who were willing to share their horrid experiences of living with him. According to pretty much every woman who married and divorced Chaplin, the man was emotionally abusive, controlling, and had few scruples about sleeping with other women.
14 Mickey Rooney
On screen, Mickey Rooney seemed like a perfectly nice guy. In his younger years, he came off as a kid who was just trying to make his way in the world and was extremely humble despite his immense talent. As an elderly man, Rooney established himself as an eccentric old coot who wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself with roles in comedies such as The Simpsons. However, it seems as though Rooney’s nice guy image was just another example of his impeccable acting ability.
In his final years, Rooney released his autobiography – Life Is Too Short – which was met with great excitement by those who couldn’t wait to read about the many twists and turns of his career. But instead of an account of his various rises and falls, Rooney spent much of the book describing (and probably exaggerating) his many sexual exploits in acts of what we would now consider slut-shaming. The actor also shared personal details about the lives of other Hollywood stars, even contributing to the rumors of one actress – who we will not name – hiding a lesbian double life from the press and her family.
In keeping with our theme of holy heroes who weren’t that holy after all, up next we have Gandhi.
During his teenage years, Mahatma Gandhi exhibited a lot of unruly behavior. Among other outrageous acts, Gandhi was known to swear and steal. Some say he even ate meat when he was feeling particularly rebellious.
The official story goes that Gandhi eventually reconnected with his spiritual side and became one of the great holy men of the 20th century. While he did indeed perform countless good deeds during his life, it is believed by some that he did not entirely abandon the sleazy ways of his youth.
The Hindu holy man made a habit of beating his wife, oftentimes for tiny inconveniences (not that there is ever an excuse for domestic abuse). In his later years, Gandhi would force young girls to sleep in the same bed as him in order, he would say, to correct their posture. On such occasions, Gandhi would sleep in the nude and the girls were usually related to him in some way.
12 Dr. Seuss
The author of such juvenile classics as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved writers of all time. Surely somebody who created such wonderful characters most has an equally wonderful soul. One full of unicorns and rainbows and candy that turns your tongue all sorts of wacky colors. Right? Well, not exactly.
You see, while Dr. Seuss – real name Theodor Geisel – was indeed a marvellous writer, he was also a deeply flawed human being. His problems stemmed, as they do for many men, from his insatiable libido.
Seuss’ first wife, Helen, supported her husband in the early days of his career. However, Seuss did not return the favor when Helen was diagnosed with cancer. Seuss ran to the arms of another woman and left his wife to suffer for over a decade before she eventually took her own life. Dr. Seuss married his mistress almost immediately after Helen’s death and carried on his writing of children’s books without ever having children himself.
11 The Ultimate Warrior
As one of the biggest stars of WWE’s golden age, The Ultimate Warrior was a hero to wrestling fans the world over. With his face paint, colorful tassels, and unwavering dedication to doing the right thing, Warrior set the perfect example for the kids who made up the majority of WWE’s fanbase back in the day.
However, The Ultimate Warrior was very much a heel - wrestling talk for “bad guy” – when it came to his antics behind the scenes. He was infamously difficult to work with and showed little respect to the more experienced wrestlers in the locker room. He frequently refused to do what was asked of him by WWE management and on one occasion threatened to no show a heavily promoted event were he not paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for his time. After his retirement from in-ring competition, Warrior continued old feuds and made new enemies through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
The Ultimate Warrior passed away on April 8th, 2014, just days after making his return to WWE. Fortunately, it was reported that Warrior made amends with his former colleagues a couple of days before his death at the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.
10 Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was a saint. In fact, as of late last year, Mother Teresa literally is a saint. She was canonized by Pope Francis in September of 2016, despite the fact that there is plenty of evidence to support claims she was not the model of Christian charity everybody made her out to be.
Secular sources – and even a couple of religious ones – have criticized Mother Teresa for her treatment of the poor, of whom she was supposed to be a champion. While she founded numerous hospitals for the needy during her lifetime, they often failed to provide adequate medical aid for those who came seeking care. Furthermore, these hospitals rarely exceeded or even met basic health and safety standards.
While many people have defended Mother Teresa, claiming her hospitals suffered from a lack of funding, it is widely acknowledged that she raised literally hundreds of millions in donations. It is unknown where a great portion of that money ended up, but it certainly didn’t go to those who needed it.
9 Walt Disney
Any man capable of creating Mickey Mouse cannot possibly be capable of evil? Right? As you really should have learned from the Dr. Seuss entry a few hundred words back, even the most delightful minds can harbor disturbing thoughts.
Walt Disney, the mastermind behind the beloved children’s entertainment juggernaut which bears his name, was not the model citizen the mainstream media likes to portray him as. While he was indeed a great creator, he was also a terribly bigoted man.
Although he lived in an era that wasn’t exactly known for its forward thinking, Disney still managed to earn a reputation as a sexist. Of females in animation, he once said: “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.”
Walt Disney was a known anti-Semite and was strongly opposed to what he believed to be an attempt by the Jews to take over the motion picture industry. In 1938, right before the beginning of World War Two, Disney even hosted Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl in his Hollywood studio.
8 Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson is widely regarded as the number one talk show host of all time, which is pretty damn difficult to argue with. Carson spent three decades as the host of The Tonight Show before handing it off to Jay Leno, and in those 30 years, he became the most recognized face in America. What attracted the public to Johnny was the class with which he conducted his interviews and how comfortable he made his oftentimes starstruck guests.
While Carson came off as the perfect gentleman on screen, he was known to have an unpredictable temper. He would fly off the handle at the most random of times, reacting to minor inconveniences with a tirade of blue language while taking more serious issues on the chin. His feelings were notoriously easy to hurt, something which Joan Rivers recalled in 2009. Speaking after the death of Ed McMahon, Rivers had nothing but praise for Carson’s sidekick but had few good things to say about the host himself. Calling Carson a “bastard”, Rivers explained that she had a great relationship with the man for much of her early career, but he cut off all contact with her after she secured her own television deal. Seeing Rivers as a rival, the ultra-competitive Carson did everything in his power to destroy her show.
Carson’s rocky relationships with women were not just reserved for his professional life. The late night king married multiple women during his time at the top, with the majority of his marriages failing thanks to his emotional abuse and multiple extra-marital affairs.
7 John Lennon
Since being gunned down in the winter of 1980, John Lennon has been remembered as something of a martyr. He has been portrayed by the media and the majority of his fans as a hippy who wanted nothing more than peace and love, but whose message was lost in a world obsessed with fame, money, and, of course, war.
While Lennon was indeed one of the most talented men of the 20th century and certainly did a lot of good during his time among the living, he also caused a great deal of pain for those who loved him the most. During the height of his fame, Lennon ignored his duties as a husband and father. His son, Julian Lennon, faded into the background while he was away touring the world, getting caught up in drugs, and having sex with thousands of women, none of whom were his wife.
In the final years of his life, after the breakup of The Beatles, Lennon was able to settle down and live a quiet life alongside Yoko Ono, with whom he had a son. Lennon’s second attempt at being a father proved a great deal more successful than his first, which would suggest a lot of his failures were due to the pressures of being a principal member of the most famous band in the world. That being said, stress is not an acceptable excuse for poor behavior and bad parenting.
6 Robin Williams
Robin Williams’ death on August 11th, 2014 left the world in shock. His suicide was completely unexpected. After all, what did a guy like him have to be sad about? He was worth millions of dollars, he had a beautiful wife, and he was one of the greatest comedians of all time. Actually, that last one wasn’t exactly true. While Robin Williams was one of the most naturally funny people of his time, he was not the great comedian he was made out to be after his passing.
Robin’s written material was less than stellar and he was often forced to rely on his impressions and improvisation skills. While he proved extremely popular with the paying public and, therefore, club owners, the material which he performed in his youth was not his own. Not confident in his own joke writing ability, Williams freely stole the jokes of his contemporaries. While it was not uncommon for comedians to purchases jokes from other comics at this time, Williams offered no compensation to those he stole from. Due to his ever-growing success, few comics were willing to call Williams out when he stole their material. It was not until David Brenner confronted the Mork and Mindy star and threatened him with physical violence that Williams finally changed his ways.
5 Lou Reed
Lou Reed experienced a great deal of success throughout his lifetime, making a name for himself both as part of The velvet Underground and as a solo recording artist. Through songs such as "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Perfect Day", Reed cemented his place among music royalty. Today, almost four years after his death, he is remembered as a visionary and one of the greatest songwriters to ever walk the earth.
While Lou Reed was undoubtedly both of those things, he was also a massive douchebag. Like many rock stars of his era, Reed was known to abuse drugs and alcohol, with the growth of his addictions coinciding with the growth of his fame. As his substance abuse and profile increased, so did Reed’s unruly behavior and it wasn’t long before his friends began to dwindle.
Reed made an enemy of many of music’s most famous faces. He once slapped David Bowie in the face after the Space Oddity artist expressed concern over his incessant drug use. Reed also ended up in Bob Dylan’s bad books after embarking on a series of anti-semitic slurs against him.
4 Jade Goody
Similar to our last entry, you can be forgiven for not knowing who Jade Goody is. Unlike Warren Zevon, however, Goody was no great artist. For the majority of people who recognize her name, Jade Goody is somebody who was famous for being sick. An international reality television star, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 and passed away from the disease in 2009.
While Goody was indeed a sympathetic character in her final few months, she was not always the picture of courage which the British media saw such dollar (or pound) signs in. In January of 2007, Goody made headlines for all the wrong reasons after verbally abusing another contestant on Celebrity Big Brother. She directed a number of racist remarks towards Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, even referring to her as “ShilpaPoppadom”. Goody was eventually voted out of the show by the outraged viewers who saw her behavior as totally unacceptable. She was treated like a leper by the British media until her diagnosis the following year.
3 Henry Ford
Henry Ford was extremely diligent in his work and more than dedicated to achieving his goals as an engineer and entrepreneur. He hated three things: overpriced automobiles, shabby workmanship, and Jews. Especially that last one.
That’s right. For all the good he created throughout the world, Henry Ford really didn’t like Jewish people. And he wasn’t exactly shy about letting people know.
The creator of the Model T used his immense wealth to finance a number of anti-semitic dealings, including a publication called The Dearborn Independent, which was vocal in its hatred of Jewish people.
Ford’s disdain for the Jews did not go unnoticed by either side. While he was heavily criticized for his opinions by most Americans, he was held in rather high regard by Heinrich Himmler, who described him as “One of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters.”
2 ZsaZsa Gabor
Although she was in failing health for what seemed like an eternity, ZsaZsa Gabor only passed away in December of 2016, living to the ripe old age of 99. In the aftermath of her death, the Hungarian-born actress was praised as one of the most talent and glamorous celebrities of her time. She was, some media outlets said, a Kardashian before the Kardashians. What they didn’t say, however, was that Gabor had a reputation of being rather unpleasant to be around. Her advanced age simply meant she had more time than most of the people on this list to execute her misdeeds.
Gabor’s greatest sin was her shabby treatment of her daughter, Francesca Hilton, who she was almost ashamed to acknowledge. Although ZsaZsa proudly displayed her daughter on red carpets and at social gatherings when she was still a cute little girl, the actress began to lose interest in her child when the younger Gabor expressed no interest in wearing makeup.
When Francesca’s father, billionaire hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, passed away, he left his daughter only $100,000, for which she fought relentlessly in court. Not only did Francesca lose her case, she depleted her entire fortune in the process. With her mother offering only minimal financial aid, Francesca lived the rest of her days penniless, spending her final hours beginning in Beverly Hills.
1 Warren Zevon
If you have never heard of Warren Zevon or are only familiar with Werewolves of London, you can be easily forgiven. Zevon was one of the finest singer-songwriters of his time but experienced a great deal of difficulty getting his stuff out there. Record companies were reluctant to invest in him as he was a known alcoholic and his dependency on beer, whiskey, and vodka often had a negative impact on his work.
Zevon alienated many of his friends during his years drinking and spent long periods of time away from his children. In a fair and balanced book written after his death, Zevon’s ex-wife recounted his various extra-marital affairs, his frequent misuse of firearms, and occasional instances of domestic abuse. Although Warren eventually conquered his troubles with alcohol, he would struggle to repair the relationships he damaged during the height of his addiction.