Calling someone a fraud is pretty harsh. We can see that. Not everyone on this list deserves that title, but each of these people has been portrayed (or portrayed themselves) as something other than who they really were. Celebrities are loved and glorified everywhere they go, so being called a couple of ugly names here or there shouldn’t hurt. Besides, we typically look at celebrities as these unblemished saints that it’s grounding for us as fans to see that everything is not always as it seems. Celebrity and show business can be a tricky world to maneuver. When people are starting out, they don’t expect to become megastars, so they may stretch the truth a little or create a phony past to escape reality. These little lies may even help their careers get going. The trouble comes when these people become stars in the public eye. People like us start doing a little digging and the inconsistencies between fact and fiction come to light.
Celebrities have always lied about who they are. Sometimes, these lies are harmless. For the most part, changing names and fudging birthdates a smidge are white lies that won’t ever offend anyone. Others create entirely new identities, lying about where they come from and who they are. This can be troublesome, especially when these celebrities gain from those lies. Sometimes, these lies offend other people and cultures. So, we wanted to see which celebrities have been caught in a lie about their identity. Maybe you just never heard about it and you still have this celeb up on a pedestal for the wrong reasons. Here is a piece we call Famous Frauds: 15 Celebrities Who Are Not Who They Claim To Be.
15. Iron Eyes Cody
Remember the Native American who cried a single tear in the ad “Keep America Beautiful?” Of course, you do. It was a monumental piece of advertising. Well, that was Iron Eyes Cody. He was an actor famous for portraying Natives in films and on TV. In total, Cody acted in more than 200 roles, most of those as a stereotypical Native American. But he lived a lie for his entire life. Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti, a second-generation Italian. Although he denied this until he died in 1999, Cody was not Native American…at all. It’s possible, even probable, that he didn’t have a drop of Native blood in him at all. He was born in Louisiana. His father was not Cherokee, and his mother was not Cree. Yet, people still view him as one of the most famous Native American actors of all time.
14. Theresa Caputo
Theresa Caputo is the host of Long Island Medium. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, it is not about a delicious medium-sized drink. It’s about a woman who preys on the grieving, lonely, and desperate, pretending to speak to the dead. Caputo presents herself as a person with the ability to contact deceased loved ones. For a large fee, she might even speak to your dead loved ones. Well, no, not really. She’s a fraud. It’s just that not everyone knows it. Like all mediums, Caputo can take guesses and make general statements that grieving (or desperately hopeful) people will find a way to connect to their own lives. While some may suggest that even the lie is healing, it is nothing other than deception. Caputo has made millions off of her charlatan act, an act that is still on television.
13. Bill O’Reilly
Bill O’Reilly may be everyone’s favorite celebrity, but he has been known to fluff up his experiences a time or two. Although he would later defend his claims by saying that he never said he was “on the Falklands,” O’Reilly came under criticism after making it sound like he was in the midst of the fighting during the Falklands war. In truth, he was actually in Buenos Aires during the riots afterward. He described being in “an active war zone” and that he “survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war.” You decide what you think he wanted us to believe here. O’Reilly’s also made claims, such as having “seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador” and that he “saw nuns get shot in the back of the head.” Later, FOX News clarified the comments, saying O’Reilly had simply seen photographs of these events. So, that means we all “saw” the atrocities of WWII as well?
12. Ed And Lorraine Warren
Even though we’re big fans of the films that have been inspired by the lies told by Ed and Lorraine Warren, we are not fans of the manipulative tactics they used to get rich. We understand that many people still believe in ghosts, despite the fact that not a single camera in this always-filming world has ever captured proof of them. We accept that people who have not looked into it may still think that the “Amityville Horror” story is still considered to be legitimate or even possible supernatural phenomena. That’s why we’re here. We want to let you know that this case has long been closed. Two years after the book was written, the lawyer on the case admitted that the story was a hoax. He told everyone that the family, the Warrens, and a couple of others created the story over a few bottles of wine. It’s tough because while the stories are entertaining for fans, there are people on the other end of things that have been taken advantage of.
11. Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice was enormous in the mainstream world when he released his first album, but there was a backlash in the rap community in regards to his persona. This was a guy who represented a thug mentality but never lived it. He pretended to come from places that he had only seen on television, and this bothered people, especially the people that actually came from the places Vanilla Ice spoke about and lived the situations he rapped about. Now, Ice did perform in black clubs, so he’s not necessarily from white suburbia. In fact, that’s where the chant “go white boy” came from. The problem was, when he became a sensation, his crowds were primarily white. When that same chant rang out from a white crowd, it looked and sounded awful.
10. Peter Popoff
Peter Popoff is the poster child for televangelist scams. This was the guy who pretended to heal members of the audience of terrible illnesses simply by touching them or praying for them. He would amaze people with his inside knowledge about the audience member’s illness and would shock the world when they were magically cured. Well, in the late ’80s, James Randi exposed Popoff for the fraud that he was. The guy had an earpiece and was being fed information about his guests. Viewership dropped, and the con artist declared bankruptcy and that was that, right? Wrong. Popoff came back. Although his shenanigans were less flagrant, he still cons people into giving him vast sums of money. Though he’s not on TV fulltime anymore, he still abuses his position and he’s still rich, as are many other televangelists who perform similar rituals.
9. Steve Rannazzisi
Steve Rannazzisi is an actor who gained quite a bit of fame on the show The League. Although the comedian had done other work before this, it was this show that made him into a star. As more and more people became interested in Rannazzisi, a story he told about being in the World Trade Center during the attacks on September 11th got a lot of attention. Rannazzisi said that he went to State University of New York at Purchase, then got a job at Merrill Lynch and was stationed on the 54th floor of the WTC on that fateful day. When describing the day of the attacks, the actor said it was pandemonium and he barely escaped death. Then, someone noticed that Merrill Lynch didn’t even have offices in the WTC. It was then revealed that Rannazzisi never worked for Merrill Lynch, he never went to SUNY at Purchase, and he was never in the WTC. Awkward. He apologized, though.
8. Rebel Wilson
Rebel Wilson is not a fraud, but she has been accused of being deceptive. While the term fraud doesn’t fit the alleged crime here, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the actress a couple of years ago when articles were published disputing Wilson’s backstory. Wilson would then sue (and win) a defamation case against the media company behind the articles. The core issue was about whether Wilson lied about her past or not. The reality is, regardless of whether she lied or simply deflected questions about her past, Wilson’s birth name is not Rebel. It is Melanie. It was also believed that Wilson was 29 in 2015 when she was actually 35. Another story that got attention was that Wilson claimed to be a distant relative. That claim, too, is disputed as Wilson’s family’s last name is Bownds and Disney’s wife was a Bounds.
7. Brian Dennehy
Before he was outed in the book Stolen Valor, actor Brian Dennehy would often speak about his five-year tour in Vietnam and how he was injured in action while fighting there. In First Blood, Dennehy was a rather convincing soldier. We loved him in Tommy Boy too, but this man never saw action in Vietnam. He did serve though, so we don’t want to take that away from him. Dennehy enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1958 until 1963, but he was in Okinawa, a long way from all the fighting.
6. Rick Ross
Rick Ross first blew up on the rap scene in 2006. The rapper’s album, Port of Miami, focused a lot on being a criminal and drug dealer and people truly felt what he was putting down. They believed that he lived it. Then, in 2008, it came out that Rick Ross was a correctional officer in 1995. This instantly put into question his credibility as a hustler and a crook. In fact, it all seemed fabricated. But Ross denied the claims. He called the pictures fake. Then, more evidence came out and Ross was stuck, so he admitted to his past, but he called it “a job” and nothing more.
5. Brian Williams
Brian Williams gained a lot of fame covering stories as the anchor of NBC Nightly News. He was acclaimed and respected by many in the industry. In 2003, he told a harrowing tale about being in a helicopter during the Iraqi War that had been shot at and, in some versions, hit by an RPG. Even though the story was disputed by a few after that account, it wasn’t until 2015 that it became public knowledge that Williams’ story was greatly exaggerated. His helicopter was 30 minutes behind the helicopter that was attacked. That means that when Williams puffed out his chest and said heroically that he “looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us,” he was fibbing just a bit. This then brought into question many more of this man’s claims. It was an awkward time for him.
4. Jack Kerouac
Listen, we’re not trying to say that author Jack Kerouac’s work should be considered as anything but the amazing art it is. We do, however, want to help dispel the myth behind his greatest work, On the Road. There’s long been a story that follows this novel around, a story that Kerouac himself helped perpetuate and one that helped make the novel larger than life. It tells of Kerouac sitting down at his typewriter over the course of three weeks and writing this great tale in a continuous free-slowing state. There’s the scroll (which is true) that Kerouac made by taping pieces of paper together to ensure that he doesn’t waste time by changing paper every few minutes. There’s the alcohol and the stream of consciousness writing style. Well, it turns out that Kerouac had been working on the book for years. He didn’t create it on the spot. He simply typed it out in three weeks.
3. Milli Vanilli
Milli Vanilli is a name that nearly everyone knows, but the young people out there are unfamiliar with why they know it. This was an R&B duo that won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1990. They were a huge sensation, and everyone was in love with them. Before the Grammy, there were whispers that they were frauds. And now, looking back, it’s hard to see how anyone ever thought they were actually singing. Their live performances were not at all convincing. As they danced and jumped and spun around, there would be times when the microphones were nowhere near their mouths, but the sound was always clear. But it goes much deeper than that. People know they got busted on stage and ran off, but many forget that Milli Vanilli didn’t even sing on the records. These guys were German and spoke poor English, yet somehow their music was perfectly clear and fluent. It was only when the All or Nothing was released in the US and gave no credit to the real vocalists that they were exposed. One of the actual singers, Charles Shaw, came forward and told the truth in December of 1990.
2. Rita Hayworth
Poor Rita Hayworth. She is not a fraud, but people never really knew the real her. It’s not her fault that the film industry made it next to impossible for women to become stars unless they were white. Born Margarita Carmen Cansino, Hayworth came up as a Spanish dancer. When she turned to acting, she got a number of “exotic” roles, but the studios felt she could never go further with her real name and look. Therefore, the actress changed her name to Rita Hayworth, dyed her hair red, and got electrolysis to change her hairline. The rest is history.
1. River Phoenix
River Phoenix was one of Hollywood’s purist souls, or at least that’s what everyone thought. He was an activist and he was kind. He ate ethically and loved animals. But, behind closed doors, Phoenix was also said to be a rampant heroin user. On Gus Van Sant‘s film, My Own Private Idaho, Phoenix reportedly took the role research seriously, trying heroin for the first time. A production assistant on the film said, “It did not take him long to go from, you know, a casual user to having an intense drug problem.” While some family members suggest that Phoenix was clean, many of his friends say otherwise. Although the night of his overdose may have been accidental, the path to that night had been paved with a lot of trial runs.
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