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They say getting to the top of the mountain is always easier than staying there. The question for most beloved actors and musicians, then, is whether or not the trip from the peak of that aforementioned mountain is a gradual descent or a spectacularly messy leap. Not everyone can fade away in a relatively dignified manner after all. So here’s a sampling of celebrities who seemed all too willing (whether they realized it or not) to rip off their oxygen mask, cut their climbing rope, and tumble back to terra firma in the most horrifying way possible.
#5. Michelle Shocked
Alright, so maybe in 2013 Michelle Shocked stretches the definition of celebrity a bit. But she no doubt has a loyal fanbase, as evidenced by the fact that she continues to record and tour a few decades removed from any measurable commercial success. Whether or not that continues in the wake of her recent anti-gay tirade remains to be seen.
In case you missed the news, the now born-again Shocked reportedly went on a homophobic rant at a club in San Francisco of all places. Here’s a sample of her eloquence:
When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilisation, and Jesus will come back … You are going to leave here and tell people, “Michelle Shocked said God hates faggots.”
Well alrighty then!
Shocked’s statements have so far led to several venues canceling scheduled performances, effectively stopping her tour dead in its tracks. I’m guessing her status as a popular entertainer in the gay community may take a hit as well.
#4. Mel Gibson
If People magazine ever starts handing out awards for Sexiest Drunk Racist Alive, Mel Gibson has that shit locked down. Until then, his best chance for staying in the limelight in a positive way is to either keep financing his own projects or wait for more handouts from Jodie Foster.
Actually, it’s a testament to just how popular Mel Gibson was that he seemed able to skate through one controversy after another. For awhile at least. Even as he dealt with accusations of homophobia and antisemitism, Gibson still managed to spearhead enormously successful projects such as The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006). But it was his July 2006 DUI arrest — during which he railed against Jewish people and used colorful language to describe a female police officer — that his very public unraveling seemingly became too much for people to handle.
And just when it looked like Gibson had mellowed out a bit, he was recorded unleashing a vicious tirade against former romantic partner Oksana Grigorieva. It was… let’s just say it was not good.
But even with all of this, Gibson may still be able to revive his public image. He was cast as the main villain in the upcoming Robert Rodriguez thriller, Machete Kills, set for September 2013 release. His role as a public villain, however, continues.
#3. Jerry Lee Lewis
Yes, I’m referring to that Jerry Lee Lewis, he of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enshrinement and “Great Balls of Fire” fame. See, most people assume he enjoyed a fairly lengthy run at the top of the charts, but the truth is that his time as a pop music hit maker lasted less than two years.
Lewis, aka “The Killer,” burst onto the scene in 1957 with timeless rock and roll hits “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Breathless,” along with “Great Balls of Fire.” He seemed set to take his place among the country’s biggest acts alongside Sun Records label mates Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
And then in May 1958, during a tour of Great Britain, it was discovered that the then 22-year-old Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the previous December. Judgment came swiftly for the Killer. His U.K. tour was cut short and he was all but blacklisted from American radio. He managed just one more Top 40 single over the next several years, when his version of “What’d I Say” peaked at #25 in 1961.
All was not lost for Lewis, however, but it took several years for him to recover from the scandal. Starting in 1968 he issued a string of hit country records (his early Sun singles were country and rock hits) that stretched into the early 1980s. But while Jerry Lee undoubtedly found a second life as a country hit maker, his downfall from rock and roll royalty makes for one of the great what-ifs in modern music history.
Lewis and Brown, incidentally, remained married until 1970.
#2. Lindsay Lohan
TMZ’s Harvey Levin must get down on his knees every night and thank his lucky stars for the personal and professional train wreck that is Lindsay Lohan. Hell, at this point she’s taken more mug shots than publicity photos. For those who stopped keeping track of the illustrious LiLo’s career at some point, here’s a recap:
- 1998: Eleven-year-old Lohan stars in a remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap. The movie is a huge hit and establishes Lohan as one of Hollywood’s brightest future actresses.
- 2003: Lohan co-stars with Jamie Lee Curtis in another Disney smash, Freaky Friday. The film pulls in an amazing $160 million and turns Lohan into a legit star.
- 2004: Lohan’s undeniable charisma carries the day with the Tina Fey-written high school comedy Mean Girls, the starlet’s first non-Disney project. When people later wax nostalgic about what could have been with Lindsay Lohan, this is usually the film they bring up.
- 2004: Lohan takes a stab at a singing career, and releases the platinum-selling Speak on the revived Casablanca label.
- January 2007: Lohan enters rehab for the first time, following rampant speculation that substance abuse and general bad behavior plagued her on the set of the critically savaged Georgia Rule.
- May 2007: DUI arrest #1. Another rehab visit.
- July 2007: DUI arrest #2.
- August 2007: Lohan pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and DUI. She ended up serving 84 minutes in jail in November ’07.
- 2010: Several court appearances and a 14-day jail sentence are the highlights this year. Oh, and more rehab.
- 2011: Lohan is sentenced to jail (again) for misdemeanor theft and ends up spending fewer than five hours in jail after violating her probation.
- 2012: The highlight of Lohan’s year was her starring role in the laughable Lifetime television biopic Liz & Dick. She somehow managed to screw up playing an actress with a long history of substance abuse.
- 2013: Same shit, different year.
God that was depressing to write.
So will Lohan ever be able to pull it all together? Anything is possible of course, but it doesn’t look good at the moment. In addition to her ongoing legal woes, Lohan’s upcoming film roles include Scary Movie 5 and the second film from the ShamWow guy.
#1. Michael Richards
If any group of entertainers had built up an enormous stockpile of public goodwill by the late ’90s, it was the cast of Seinfeld. And although that goodwill didn’t always translate into post-Seinfeld success for Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, we were always at least happy to see them try new things. Except for Bee Movie. I’m still angry from all the ads I had to sit through for that. Fuck Bee Movie.
Anyway, all that goodwill went up in a puff of racist smoke for Michael Richards in November 2006. Richards, performing his stand-up comedy routine at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, responded to an African-American heckler with what can be charitably described as a violent tirade peppered with more uses of the N-word than an N.W.A. song. To make matters worse for Richards, the whole thing was caught on video. Here’s what it looks like to watch a man kill his career, in case you’ve always wondered:
A visibly shaken Richards appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman (courtesy his friend Jerry Seinfeld) to apologize for his impromptu Klan rally, but the damage had been done. Richards announced his “retirement” from stand-up the next year — as if he had a choice — and his few acting roles since then have mostly been acts of charity from friends like Seinfeld and Larry David. At least we’ll always have Kramer.