Do we look at the past through rose-colored glasses? We remember that everything was “so much nicer” just a few decades ago, but Hollywood has always had its fair share of controversies and scandals. Here are 13 celebrity stories from the ’80s that made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
1. Milli Vanilli’s lip-syncing
This band had become such a punchline that it’s hard to remember how huge they once were. Their debut album Girl You Know It’s True went Platinum six times, and featured five top ten hits. The pop duo, made up of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, also earned a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But the band’s runaway success finally ended in 1989.
At a concert in Connecticut on July 21, 1989, Milli Vanilli were performing when the music stopped suddenly. Morvan and Pilatus kept dancing and singing, revealing that they had been lip-syncing their songs. While it took months for America to learn the truth, eventually the band became a laughingstock, and were forced to return their Grammy.
2. Todd Bridges charged with murder
While we still remember him as Willis from Diff’rent Strokes, the young actor’s life after the popular sitcom ended was anything but glamorous. Like his young costars, Bridges battled drug addiction throughout his 20s. In 1989, he was charged with shooting a crack cocaine dealer named Kenneth “Tex” Clay.
Bridges recruited O.J. Simpson‘s future lawyer Johnny Cochrane to defend him in court, and their case painted Bridges as a victim of Hollywood exploitation. Thanks to witness testimony, Bridges was acquitted of all charges by a jury.
3. Vanessa Williams’s nude photos scandal
Williams originally made headlines for becoming the first African-American to win the Miss America pageant in 1983. But her story took an upsetting turn when Penthouse magazine revealed they had obtained nude photos of Williams, and planned to publish them without her permission.
In a sign of the times, Penthouse barely faced any backlash while Williams was forced to return her Miss America crown. Almost 32 years later the competition’s organizers apologized to Williams for her treatment, and she’s had a long and successful career as a model, actress and singer ever since.
4. Lionel Richie’s explosive love triangle
The “Hello” singer and his first wife had already adopted their daughter Nicole Richie when news broke about a love affair and violent confrontation that lead to their divorce. Brenda Harvey, Richie’s high school sweetheart, caught the singer kissing fashion designer Diane Alexander outside her apartment.
Harvey reportedly kicked Richie in the groin before chasing Alexander into her home, where a brawl began. She was later charged with a number of offences, including corporal injury to a spouse. Soon after, Harvey divorced Richie and the singer married Alexander.
5. Matthew Broderick’s fatal car accident
After playing brother and sister in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Broderick and actress Jennifer Grey started a real life romance. The Dirty Dancing star was on holiday with Broderick in Northern Ireland in 1987 when he crossed into the wrong lane and struck an Volvo. The car’s 30-year-old driver and her 63-year-old mother were both killed instantly.
Broderick – who was badly injured during the crash – says he has no memory of the accident. He was charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but the charge was eventually reduced. Broderick wound up only paying a $175 fine, which the victims’s family called “a travesty of justice.”
6. Gary Hart’s presidential Monkey Business
In the tight race for the Democratic nomination in the 1988, Senator Gary Hart was the front-runner. It’s possible to imagine that he might have become won the presidency, but his campaign was plagued by rumors that Hart was cheating on his wife.
Investigators and journalists managed to track actress Donna Rice on trips to the senator’s home, and even uncovered a photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap on a boat named Monkey Business. The scoop was too good to ignore, and Hart’s chances in the race went up in smoke.
There are lots more forgotten celebrity controversies, so keep reading…
7. The murder of Marvin Gaye
The music world was shocked on April Fools’ Day 1984 when news broke that legendary soul singer Marvin Gaye had been murdered by his father. Gaye had been breaking up a fight between his parents over a misplaced insurance letter when his father, Marvin Gay Sr. shot him in the heart and the shoulder. Gay died the day before his 45th birthday, and his father was charged with murder.
Once police discovered that Gaye had drugs in his system in the time of his death, and that his father had a brain tumor, the charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter and Gay Sr. was only given a suspended sentence.
8. Madonna’s controversial music video
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Almost three decades before Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial landed her in hot water, Madonna was facing protests over her own Pepsi ad. The cause of the controversy was the song “Like A Prayer” and its music video.
The song featured imagery that was called blasphemous by parents groups and even the Vatican. Planned protest against Pepsi and fast food chains like Pizza Hut led the soft drink to can their ad with Madonna and the singer’s $5 million deal. Can you imagine this video causing so much controversy today?
9. Rob Lowe’s sex tape
It may seem like Lowe has been a staple on movies and TV shows forever, but the star’s career was almost sunk in the 1980s by a sex tape scandal. The then-24-year-old actor was filmed having sex with a pair of women – one was 16, the other was 22 – and portions of the tape were leaked to the press.
To make matters worse, Lowe was campaigning for Democratic politician Michael Dukakis when the scandal broke. He faced a lawsuit from the teenager’s mother, and his career was sidelined until his TV comeback on The West Wing. Today, younger audiences who know Lowe from sitcoms like Parks and Recreation have no idea this scandal ever happened.
10. Jack Nicholson’s love-children
As early as 1970, actresses were insisting that the married Jack Nicholson was the father of their children, and rumors followed the actor into his on-again, off-again relationship with Angelica Houston. Gossip columns and tabloid papers reported his cheating scandals, including affairs with Danish model Winnie Hollman and actress Rebecca Broussard.
Nicholson had children with both women, which led to his high-profile split with Houston. Today, Nicholson has five children (though he only admits to being the father of four). “Children give your life a resonance that it can’t have without them,” he once said. “As a father I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love.”
11. Brooke Shields’s controversial Calvins ad
After making her debut as a teenager in sleazy movies that played up her young age, the 14-year-old model and actress appeared in a series of ads for Calvin Klein. The now-infamous tagline was “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
The fallout over the ads helped make Shields and Calvin Klein household names, but people still debate whether or not they were inappropriate. “Jeans are sex” was Klein’s excuse for the commercials.
12. Chuck Berry’s video scandal
While he was a rock-and-roll legend in the 1950s, revelations about Berry’s restaurant Southern Air horrified his fans in the late ’80s. Berry purchased the Missouri restaurant and installed a video camera in the washroom – he claimed he was trying to catch a worker stealing from the business.
When women realized they had been filmed in the bathroom without their consent, a class action lawsuit was started against the singer. It’s estimated he paid more than $1.2 million to a group of 59 plaintiffs.
13. Jim Bakker
America was a more religious society in the 1980s, and televangelists like Billy Graham and Jim Bakker became national celebrities with huge followings. Bakker managed to turn his successful ministry into an empire that included a huge water-park and campground.
But a sex scandal involving one of his church’s secretaries, Jessica Hahn, spiraled out of control and eventually destroyed Bakker’s career. Hahn accused the pastor of rape, it was revealed he paid more than $270,000 for her silence, and the public interest led to an FBI investigation that uncovered massive fraud.
Bakker spent five years in jail.
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