We’re all guilty of making split-second decisions that we later come to regret. When you’re in the business of show, those moments can be potentially career-ending. Scandal is nothing new in Hollywood, but if you’re an actor and your private transgressions happen to go public, you better be prepared to look for a new line of work. While some disgraced stars manage to claw their way back into the limelight from seemingly impossible positions, for most, retiring from the public eye with whatever dignity remains intact is the only option.
1.) Randy Quaid
Randy Quaid doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for being a solid comedic actor. Sure, not all his movies were prestigious (just try to watch Pluto Nash), but his work in the Vacation films, Kingpin, and even Independence Day is pretty great. Plus, the guy was nominated for an Oscar in 1974, so how did it all go so wrong? In September 2009, Quaid and his wife, Evi, were arrested for not paying a $10,000 hotel bill. They were arrested again for squatting in a home they used to own, so they skipped town and headed to Canada. Now, not paying bills and squatting is odd behavior for a well-known actor, but nothing too crazy. In Canada, things got weird.
Though people assumed the Quaids were on the run from the law, they claimed they’d fled to the North to avoid the “Hollywood Star Wackers,” a secret organization that took celebs out or manufactured scandals to discredit them. Why Quaid would be on the top of their list, no one knows. Quaid told the Vancouver press about the mysteries behind the Star Wackers and claimed that Heath Ledger, David Carradine, and Chris Penn were the cabal’s latest victims. Since those bizarre claims, the Quaids were arrested and released once more in 2015.
In February 2017, Quaid posted a video to Twitter of himself with a full mountain man beard pretending to get it on with his wife while she wears a Rupert Murdoch mask. Don’t expect to see him on the big screen anytime soon.
2.) Jennifer Grey
When a resume has starring roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dirty Dancing, you must be an ’80s darling with a fantastic career ahead of you. Matthew Broderick and Patrick Swayze did just fine, but whatever happened to Jennifer Grey? In case you haven’t brushed up on your ’80s starlets in a while, Grey was Bueller’s sister in the John Hughes film and the Baby of “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” fame. You’ve definitely seen her be snarky and get lifted in a lake. But if you saw her today, you’d have no idea.
Grey was known for her nose, but as her career slowed down a touch in the early ’90s, she got a nose job. She left the operating table with a smaller nose that looked completely different. The plastic surgery left her unrecognizable, which made casting all the more difficult — she probably had to whip out her ID and an old headshot at every audition. Grey once said, “It was the nose job from hell. I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody recognizes because of a nose job.”
Wesley Snipes was a big star with roles in White Men Can’t Jump, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, and the Blade trilogy. He was doing pretty great. Then Snipes decided to not pay his taxes.
Now, it’s obvious that not paying your taxes is bad, but what’s the worst that could happen? You pay it back plus some fines and maybe have to make Demolition Man 2 to get some cash? Nope. Snipes’ tax offenses were bad enough that he went to jail. Snipes was found guilty of willfully not filing taxes for three years and got a year in the slammer for each year he failed to make a trip to H&R Block. Plus, he had to pay back $17 million in taxes and penalties. Since it’s pretty hard to make a Blade sequel from jail, his tax evasion put a complete stop on his career. Let that be a lesson to all you movie stars out there: if you want a career, don’t try to get tricky with the tax man.
4.) Rip Torn
Rip Torn is one of those “oh, that guy” character actors who’s been acting since the ’50s. Best known for his role as Zed in Men in Black, his appearance in Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, and his great turn in The Larry Sanders Show, Torn has been around. But in 1967, one fateful dinner changed everything.
Torn went to dinner with Peter Fonda, writer Terry Southern, and Dennis Hopper to talk about Torn taking a role in their new film Easy Rider. He was very interested in the part, but Torn and Hopper got into a fight. According to Torn, Hopper pulled a knife on him. According to Hopper, Torn was the knife puller. Peter Fonda claimed they were both trying to fight each other with butter knives and forks. Whoever got the knife first didn’t really matter, since the altercation lost Torn the job. Later, the part went to Jack Nicholson, and it took him from struggling actor to superstar overnight.
Hopper told the story of a knife-happy Torn around town, and it definitely hurt his career. Then, years later, when Torn gained success with the Larry Sanders show, Hopper brought the story up one more time on a 1994 episode of The Tonight Show. Hopper again accused Torn of pulling a knife and getting fired from Easy Rider, but this time, Torn wasn’t having it. He sued Hopper for defamation and won. Torn got $475,000 from Hopper’s pocket 30 years after the fact, but he never got Jack Nicholson’s career.
5.) Paz de la Huerta
With her role as Nucky’s girlfriend in Boardwalk Empire, Paz de la Huerta was about to become a sensation. The actress excelled at sexy, mysterious characters and was more than happy to take off her clothes for a role. When New York Magazine did an article about her before the launch of Boardwalk Empire, they claimed she had once entered a sauna naked (the only one unclothed), rubbed honey all over herself, and then berated other patrons in the sauna. This slightly nutty actress could either use her eccentricity to make great art or go full-blown Sean Young. She chose the Young path.
While she was on the show, she got a reputation as a party girl. TMZ got footage of her super drunk after the Golden Globes. She slipped and fell — not a big deal, but it left her breast hanging out, and she was far too wasted to notice. Next, she was arrested for assault. Allegedly, she threw a glass at a reality star then punched her in the face. The Hollywood Reporter stated that Lindsay Lohan, also attending the party, spent part of her night picking glass shards from the reality star’s leg. When Lohan is the most put-together person at a party in 2011, you know things have gone terribly wrong.
On set, things didn’t seem to be much better. There were many rumors of de la Huerta’s erratic behavior, including a predilection for publicly shaving her pubic hair between shoots and showing up to work drugged and crying. In 2013, Boardwalk Empire had enough and fired her from the show Turns out running an intoxicated sideshow isn’t the best way to sustain a career.
6.) Michael Richards
Actors that dabble in the minefield of stand-up comedy need to ensure that their routine isn’t going to negatively impact their career on-screen, though one thing you can never fully predict is the influence of hecklers. When Seinfeld’s Michael Richards found himself in a battle of wits with a member of his audience during a live show in 2006, he made a split-second decision that destroyed his career in an instant. Richards responded to the man’s criticism with a series of racial slurs, demanding that the African-American customer be thrown out of the club.
A video of the incident soon found its way online, showing Richards stopping his show mid-monologue and turning on the audience member, telling him that “Fifty years ago they’d have you hanging upside down with a f**king fork up your a**.” There were audible gasps in the room as the incensed actor then repeatedly used the N-word, despite the man shouting back that the language was uncalled for. The comedian left the stage without finishing his routine.
Richards appeared via satellite on the Late Show with David Letterman to apologize for his outburst, telling the nation that he was “deeply sorry” about what happened and insisting that he wasn’t actually a racist. It didn’t do him any good; his career since has been limited to the occasional token TV appearance.
7.) Mel Gibson
Like Michael Richards, Mel Gibson also committed professional suicide in ’06. The Australian was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after officers in Malibu caught him speeding with an open bottle of booze, though it wasn’t his DUI bust that made the headlines. After initially refusing arrest and unsuccessfully attempting to flee the scene, Gibson was cuffed and detained. What he said in the back of the police car en route to the station still haunts him to this day.
The Lethal Weapon star repeatedly threatened his arresting officer, telling him that he owned Malibu and would spend every cent he had left on getting even with him. According to a transcript of the police report obtained by the LA Times, Gibson then “blurted out a barrage of anti-Semitic remarks about ‘[expletive] Jews.’ Gibson yelled out, ‘The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.’ Gibson then asked, ‘Are you a Jew?'”
Unlike Michael Richards, however, Gibson has refused to throw in the towel and is looking to make a comeback a decade after retiring from the public eye in disgrace. His violent daddy-daughter thriller Blood Father has been positively received by critics, and his return to the director’s chair with so-called atonement piece Hacksaw Ridge has gone down equally well, getting a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
8.) Tila ‘Tequila’ Nguyen
Tila ‘Tequila’ Nguyen began her questionable path to fame by becoming one of the earliest recognized social media celebrities, graduating from the most popular person on MySpace to one of the most unpopular personalities in recent history. MTV saw fit to capitalize on her online fanbase by giving Tequila her own dating show, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila in 2007, and she made her first film appearance (as a Hooters Girl in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) that same year, though it all came crashing down after a bizarre post on her website.
The article, entitled Why I Sympathize with Hitler, caused widespread outrage. The Singapore-born celebrity wrote that she had “learned the truth about the war and what Hitler truly did,” insisting that “he was not a bad person as they have made him out to be.” On top of the inflammatory piece, Tequila posted photos of herself posing in front of a picture of Auschwitz dressed as a scantily clad Nazi.
Tequila attempted to get her career back on track in 2015 when she appeared as a housemate on the UK ‘s Celebrity Big Brother, though once showrunners learned of her Nazi sympathizing, she was booted out of the house. The premature eviction didn’t teach her a lesson, however. She was at it once again in 2016, launching a scathing attack on Jewish conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro, whom she said “should be gassed and sent back to Israel.”
9.) Lindsay Lohan
Being under the spotlight is nothing new for Lindsay Lohan, who began working as a child model when she was just 3 years old. She soon made inroads into the acting business, with her regular spot on soap opera Another World getting her noticed by Disney, which cast her in their surprisingly successful 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. The redheaded actress became a teen sensation in the years that followed, finding more success in 2003’s Freaky Friday, 2004’s Mean Girls, and 2005’s Herbie: Fully Loaded. Her hot streak came to an abrupt halt early in 2007.
On May 26, Lohan was taken to the hospital in Beverly Hills after getting into a car faccident. The actress had recently been discharged from the Wonderland Center rehab facility in Los Angeles for undisclosed problems, though the nature of these issues became all too clear when Lohan was charged with DUI, possession of cocaine, and misdemeanor hit-and-run following the incident. If her career wasn’t compromised on this occasion, it certainly was when she was arrested on the same charges just two months later, days after another unsuccessful stint in rehab.
The severity of her downfall was highlighted by the critical response to her next film, the “incoherent and semi-vile” I Know Who Killed Me. Lohan plays opposite herself in the two main roles, and her double performance won her the worst screen couple at the the 2008 Golden Raspberry Awards as well as worst actress. The film took home a record eight Razzies in total.
Bow-tied man-child Pee-wee Herman was huge during the 1980s, the subject of two feature films as well as an Emmy-winning children’s TV series. But the public perception of both the character and the man behind him changed drastically in 1991. During a visit with his parents in Sarasota, Florida, Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater, with sheriff’s deputies claiming that they spotted him masturbating during the movie. The actor, 38 at the time, pleaded no contest and agreed to take part in a new anti-drug campaign to avoid a trial on the misdemeanor charge. Pee-wee toys were pulled from shelves across the nation, and Reubens retreated from the public eye entirely, disappearing for the remainder of the ’90s.
His attempted comeback at the turn of the century was quickly thwarted when more charges of a sexual nature were brought against him, this time relating to child pornography. Acting on a tip, officers seized thousands of items from a collection of vintage gay erotica, and while Reubens has always denied he owned any sexual images of children, the tatters of his reputation went up in flames.
It took another decade before Reubens dared return to the character, which he did successfully in 2016, starring in critically acclaimed Netflix film Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. The positive response to his comeback is scant consolation for a man who spent most of his career in hiding because of a few very bad decisions.
11.) Brendan Fraser
Brendan Fraser is one of those names that is almost always followed by a question, like “Why doesn’t Hollywood cast him anymore?” The American-Canadian graduated from a character actor to a bona fide movie star when he appeared as the swashbuckling Rick O’Connell in The Mummy, the first film in a trilogy that has come to define him. That franchise came to an unspectacular end in 2008, though Fraser struck gold when another of his films released that year became an unexpected hit.
The 3-D fantasy adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth returned a worldwide box office total of $242 million from a budget of $60 million, reaffirming Fraser’s position as a genuine leading man and presenting him with a chance to establish the character’s longevity in further films. This is the point at which Fraser took a wrong turn that would eventually derail his career completely, a decision that he likely regrets to this day. In a monumental error of judgment, Fraser turned down the chance to reprise his role in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
Content with the work he had done in Extraordinary Measures and Furry Vengeance, Fraser felt comfortable letting the role go to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, though when those two films became two of the biggest box office bombs of 2010, it became clear that he had made a huge mistake. Journey 2 went on to surpass the original, raking in an eye-watering $335 million from a budget of $79 million.
12.) Jeffrey Jones
Jeffrey Jones rose to fame in the ’80s as the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a guy who had a job to do and rules to enforce and somehow became the villain for it. Turns out, he’s quite the villain in real life, as he not only has child pornography on his record, but a knack for repeatedly trying to hide that fact from the world.
In November 2002, Jones was arrested on suspicion that he had hired a 14-year-old boy to pose for inappropriate pictures. He pleaded no contest and received no jail time, though he did receive five years’ probation and was ordered to register as a sex offender. And just like that, his career skidded to a halt. He’s appeared in a whopping two movies since, though he did wrangle some decent screen time on a couple seasons of HBO’s Deadwood. But in 2010, some years after leaving that show, he sunk the knife just a little deeper into his career, getting himself arrested for failing to update his California sex offender status, something all offenders are required to do each year. He received three more years’ probation plus 250 hours of community service, which is the most work he’s done in years.
13.) Mark Salling
Mark Salling became a big deal thanks to his turn as Glee’s Noah Puckerman, but he’s going to have a hell of a time getting any work at all going forward. That’s because in December 2015, Salling was arrested in Los Angeles on charges that he had possessed and distributed child pornography. According to an official statement from investigators, they found a laptop, USB drive, and hard drive, filled with thousands of pictures and videos of child porn, and the ages of the children are believed to range from five to 12. You can see why his planned post-Glee project, the miniseries Adi Shankar’s Gods and Secrets, dropped him without a second thought. As the show said in a statement, “The innocence of our planet’s children is something that must be protected at all costs.” Even if it means moving on without the jock from Glee.
It’s a safe bet to take that, his career will be set to restart never.
14.) Amanda Bynes
Once upon a time, Amanda Bynes was a rising star. But that was a long time ago. The star of The Amanda Show and She’s The Man ran afoul of drugs and alcohol like many child stars before her, but what truly killed her career was her complete and total Twitter meltdown in the weeks after her arrest. It was like a teenager getting fired from McDonald’s for tweeting how much they hated working there, only so much worse.
Her 2012 tweetstorm, as compiled by E! Online, included such claims as how much she wanted rapper Drake to “murder [her] vagina,” a suggestion Drake wisely passed on. She also tweeted Rihanna, taunting that “Chris Brown beat you because you’re not pretty enough.” She called Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z “ugly” and berated herself for being the same. Away from Twitter, she apparently set a driveway (and her own pants) on fire. All this resulted in her being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and twice placed in a psychiatric facility, and her career being placed on ice. Years later, a seemingly reformed Bynes is still trying to regroup and regain her life. She went to Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising to learn about clothing lines and claimed she had no real interest in acting. Considering what acting had already done to her, that was probably a wise choice. In June 2017, that wisdom went out the window when she stated she was ready to come back. Let’s hope she can keep it together this time.
15.) Stephen Collins
Stephen Collins got famous for playing a moralistic pastor on 7th Heaven, but if you needed more proof that playing someone on TV doesn’t make you that person, observe how Collins flushed away his career thanks to one of the least moral acts imaginable.
According to People, Collins confessed during a 2012 therapy session that he had molested underage girls. Unfortunately for him, his then-wife Faye Grant was secretly recording the sessions, which leaked to TMZ in late 2014. Once that happened, the NYPD, LAPD, and Manhattan Special Victims Squad launched investigations into Collins’s purported crimes. In December 2014, Collins confessed to People that he had indeed molested underage girls three times. The incidents, according to him, occurred between 1973 and 1994, and he insisted he hadn’t had any urges to be with underage girls since. Regardless of that, and regardless of whether police investigations ever lead anywhere, Collins’ career is all but done. He hasn’t worked since the tape leaked and, according to Entertainment Weekly, Seth MacFarlane fired him from Ted 2 shortly after. When even the “rude, perverted teddy bear” movie wants nothing to do with you, you know you’re finished.
16.) Paula Deen
Paula Deen was once everyone’s favorite cooking show mom, a pleasant Southern lady who loved good food and wanted you to love it, too. This led to stints on shows like Top Chef, MasterChef, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and a role in an actual movie, Elizabethtown. But by 2012, the Deen empire had all but crumbled, thanks to its empress being pretty racist.
In 2012, Deen was sued by a former general manager of one of her restaurants, claiming she regularly used racial slurs like the N-word around workers and wanted to stage a Southern-themed wedding with black men playing slaves. In testimony during the trial, the manager’s lawyer asked Deen if she had ever used the n-word before. Deen replied, “Yes, of course.” As for the slave wedding, she admitted to that, too, claiming she got the idea from another restaurant and found the concept “beautiful” and “really impressive.”
Once her statements were verified in district court, the Food Network reacted swiftly, refusing to renew her contract despite her multiple video apologies. She appeared on Dancing With The Stars a couple years later, which is probably the opposite of a comeback. It doesn’t help that, in 2015, she tweeted a (now-deleted) picture of her son in blackface. Either she really doesn’t get it, or she really doesn’t care.