We watch them act on the big screen, dash across the field, and perform on stage—and we never imagine them committing crimes. Many celebrities, some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people, have dark sides and pasts beyond our wildest imaginations. It can be hard to picture the seemingly untouchable superstars perched behind the defendant’s table in a courtroom, but then again, not even the most famous person is above the law.
From charges of drug possession to attempted murder, an abundance of our most beloved household names have once taken a dip in the misdemeanor and felony pools alike, and only a fraction of these cases have withstood the test of time. The following list highlights the most scandalous and forgotten occurrences in which celebrities were charged with committing crimes.
10 Tim Allen
Tim Allen, ironically known for several iconic child-friendly roles in the film industry, committed felony drug trafficking. Arrested at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in 1978 for possessing an unbelievable 0.6 kilograms (1.4 lb) of cocaine, the actor pleaded guilty and was subsequently sentenced to three to seven years in prison. Allen provided the names of other drug dealers to avoid a life sentence, which illustrates the severity of the crime. Interestingly, the Santa Clause actor ended up serving only two years and four months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota, and was granted parole on June 12, 1981.
In a 2017 interview, Allen finally opened up about his experience. Beforehand, he had remained relatively quiet about his time in prison and had tried to conceal it. He said, “I’m not the same guy I was the first time [I was married], when I was hiding and doing what people who drink too much do.” Allen has been sober for nearly 20 years and claims to be “much more present,” although his mistakes made and time served will weigh on him indefinitely.
9 Mel Gibson
Famous on-screen warrior Mel Gibson has unfortunately carried his violence offscreen, as he faced misdemeanor spousal battery charges in 2011. Gibson appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom within days of the charges and reportedly said very little, aside from acknowledging the charged crimes and accepting a plea deal. The no contest plea involved no jail time but rather 36 months of probation and a mandatory 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling.
Gibson’s partner, Oksana Grigorieva, accused him of striking her during a dispute in early 2010. She did not attend the hearing, preferring to concentrate on “moving forward with her life,” according to her lawyers. The next time Braveheart makes its way to your television, consider the fact that Gibson was officially charged with mimicking this ferocious behavior in real life.
8 Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson, one of the most famous athletes in the world at the time, was found guilty of rape on February 10, 1992. The Indianapolis jury reached this verdict after careful consideration of overwhelming evidence that suggested the sexual abuse of Miss Black America contestant Desiree Washington. The case served as a catalyst by consequently igniting discussions of race and sexual relations.
Perhaps Tyson’s inexcusable crimes were a result of the culmination of the boxer’s receding glory, which included his wife, Robin Givens, reporting spousal abuse and filing for divorce as well as losing the heavyweight title to James “Buster” Douglas in an enormous upset. The trial, despite Tyson’s hotshot legal defense, resulted in a unanimous guilty decision. Mike Tyson served only three years in the Indiana Department of Correction. Whether admired for his physical prowess or agility, few know this man is also a convicted rapist.
7 Chris Brown
Increasingly popular pop singer Chris Brown nearly forfeited his potential stardom when he pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend, well-known singer Rihanna. In a seemingly fairy-tale romance, both Brown and Rihanna were nominated for two Grammys in the year 2009. The night before the award show, things went south when the dynamic duo got into a public altercation which resulted in Rihanna’s hospitalization. She had numerous visible bruises as a result of Brown’s violence.
The singer was sentenced to five years of probation and over 1,400 hours of labor-focused service. This, unfortunately, wasn’t the last time that Brown was charged with such crimes. Despite his catchy radio hits, the singer was most recently arrested in August 2016 for similar accusations.
6 Mark Wahlberg
Not many know that action star Mark Wahlberg served 45 days in prison after being charged with racially motivated attempted murder and was ultimately convicted of assault. On April 8, 1988, Wahlberg attacked two Vietnamese-American men and even rendered one victim unconscious by means of blunt force. Reports state that the actor used several racial slurs during the attack. Whalberg claimed he was not motivated by race and blamed his actions on his admitted intoxication. However, he’d been charged with chasing and launching both rocks and racist insults at African American children two years prior, so the court believed race did play a role in his 1988 attacks.
Wahlberg has since filed an application to remove the conviction from his record, mentioning his recent philanthropy. In response, many Asian Americans have revolted against his requested pardon, even starting a petition that received thousands of signatures. Their rationale is that fame and donation of wealth cannot erase Wahlberg’s racially threatening actions or undo the pain inflicted upon the victims.
Before rapper Jay-Z became one of the most prominent artists of the current generation and built a billion-dollar net worth with his wife Beyonce, he pleaded guilty to second-degree felony assault with a deadly weapon. Jay-Z reportedly stabbed Lance “Un” Riviera, a record producer, at an album release party. Although little information about the 1999 incident is available, it was reported that the stabbing was a result of the alleged illegal distribution of Jay-Z’s album, Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter, prior to its official release.
Despite the limited insight into the rapper’s motives and exact details of the fracas, it is indisputable that the now-father served three years of probation as a result.
4 Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars was found in the bathroom of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, gripping a bag of cocaine. After he’d been in the restroom for a prolonged period of time, the attendant alerted a security guard, to whom Mars handed the drugs when asked if he had any narcotics on his person. After being detained by hotel security, the singer-songwriter was booked into county jail for carrying 2.6 grams of cocaine. Although not nearly as severe as Tim Allen’s charges, the possession of cocaine is still a felony, regardless of the amount.
Mars claimed this was his first interaction with drugs, and the charges were eventually dismissed. Even if no conviction was reached, it might still be difficult not to picture a messy Bruno Mars in a bathroom stall next time “Grenade” comes on the radio.
3 Matthew Broderick
When Matthew Broderick is mentioned, his role as the mischievous (yet harmless) high school-ditching character Ferris Bueller probably comes to mind. Very few envision his reckless driving that resulted in the death of two people in Northern Ireland in 1987. Broderick only suffered a fractured leg and other minor injuries, and actress Jennifer Grey, who was with him, wasn’t hurt. Matthew was charged with causing the death of 28-year-old Anne Gallagher and her 63-year old-mother, Margaret Doherty. Broderick’s rented BMW hit Gallagher’s car head-on.
The maximum sentence for this charge was up to ten years in prison, but Broderick was eventually convicted of a less severe charge and only fined $ 175. The family of the victims called this “a travesty of justice” and received no closure, even though they were promised that Broderick would meet with them, hopefully helping them to move on. Broderick did eventually meet with the family in 2002.
2 Will Smith
In the days following Will Smith’s 1989 Grammy for Best Rap Performance, he was arrested for assault, aggravated assault, and criminal conspiracy. Smith (then known as Fresh Prince) allegedly witnessed one of his bodyguards repeatedly assault a record promoter, which resulted in near blindness. In an interview following the incident, Smith made it very clear he had no part in fracturing the victim’s eye socket. The charges were eventually dropped.
Will Smith, now married with two children, maintains an active role in popular culture, with his followers having little knowledge of his past criminal allegations.
1 Matthew McConaughey
Actor Matthew McConaughey was arrested late 1999, dazed and confused by his own standards, while dancing naked and playing bongo drums in his West Austin home. Although arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, McConaughey was later charged only for resisting transportation, a misdemeanor crime. The drug charges were eventually dropped because they weren’t supported by the facts provided, and the actor only paid a fine for violating a local noise ordinance.
McConaughey, however, failed to comment on his alleged possession of illegal drugs until several years later, which raised sufficient suspicion. Okay—McConaughey’s impressive filmography and lack of any of other known criminal activity may make these charges seem forgivable, but has justice truly been served?
Art Andersen is a freelance writer.