Trusted, beloved stars lose luster amid allegations of bad behavior
There were few icons as loved and respected as Bill Cosby. Through his work on “The Cosby Show,” he transformed the perception of what it was to be a “family man.” Cosby’s humorous, self-revealing universal truths made him a beloved and respected moral authority.
His animated series “Fat Albert” was a perfect example. Inspired by Cosby’s childhood, the cartoon was groundbreaking for its portrayal of African-American characters and its unflinching value-based lessons. On “The Cosby Show,” his portrayal of the sweater-clad Cliff Huxtable secured his role as “America’s Dad.” We bought Jell-O Pudding Pops because of him.
All this despite decades of allegations of sexual assault. Those allegations faded as his star rose higher and higher. But now those allegations have resurfaced to haunt him.
Several women have come forward claiming Cosby drugged and assaulted them. Cosby has issued a statement discrediting decades-old accusations, and his attorney has denied four of the allegations. But several of his performances have been canceled, including at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, which on Nov. 24 indefinitely postponed Cosby’s concert appearance that was scheduled for January.
Cosby is not the first to fall from grace. Here is a brief overview of beloved childhood heroes who once served as shining examples only to have their luster tarnished by scandal.
The “Fatty Arbuckle Incident” is one example of an innocent man judged guilty by the public and the press.
Arbuckle was a beloved star of the silent pie-throwing comedy era. His gentle demeanor and rotund stature were contrasted by his almost graceful slapstick comedy. His popularity was so great that, in 1921, Paramount Studios signed him to a three-year, million-dollar contract. Fatty Arbuckle celebrated with a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
The party ended with a young actress named Virginia Rappe being found inebriated and disheveled on the floor of Arbuckle’s hotel room.
Maude Delmont, a woman of dubious character who previously had been charged with 50 counts of extortion and other crimes, met Rappe only days earlier and brought her to the party. Delmont accused Arbuckle of raping the woman. When Rappe died three days later, that accusation escalated to one of murder.
What followed was sensationalistic press in graphic detail. Rappe was portrayed as an innocent starlet, while Arbuckle was accused of crushing her with his sheer weight and committing deplorable acts. He was held up as an example of Hollywood immorality.
Three manslaughter trials followed. Despite being the first accuser and witness, Delmont did not testify, as she was considered unreliable. The first two trials ended in a hung jury and deadlock. The third ended in an acquittal and an empathetic apology from the jury proclaiming him as innocent and free of blame.
Despite his exoneration, the stain of the accusations and subsequent demonization destroyed his career. He died at age 46 from a heart attack.
Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman)
Paul Reubens had created the character of Pee-Wee Herman for an innuendo-filled, adult-oriented, stage show satirizing children’s television. Toning down the more risque elements, he took the character to the silver screen in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” The success led to an Emmy Award-winning children’s TV show.
Despite the child-like character he portrayed, Reubens was an adult with very adult proclivities. In 1991, Reubens was arrested in a porn theater in Florida for committing acts of self-pleasuring. His arrest and jarring bearded mug shot quickly destroyed his wholesome persona. He was now getting different kinds of laughs as fodder for late-night TV.
The public and many celebrities came to his defense, including Cosby, who said, “Whatever he has done, this is being blown all out of proportion.”
After a hiatus of a few months, Reubens, in character as Pee-Wee Herman, took the stage at the MTV movie awards, asking, “Heard any good jokes lately?” The audience gave him a standing ovation, leading to his uttering one of his popular catchphrases: “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh!”
The scandalous incident has largely been forgotten, and his cult following continues to grow. He returned to the stage with a new show in 2010 and a new Pee-Wee film is in the works.
Kevin Clash (Elmo)
Kevin Clash was the man behind one of the most popular characters in children’s TV history — Elmo from “Sesame Street.”
Clash started puppeteering at the age of 10. By the time he was a teenager, he had built almost a hundred puppets and began performing on television. He performed as a puppeteer for “Captain Kangaroo,” “The Great Space Coaster” and then “Sesame Street.” Though other puppeteers had performed Elmo, it was Clash’s take on the character that propelled it into the spotlight as the show’s new star. This led to a producer credit, public appearances, books and the popular Tickle Me Elmo doll.
In 2012, “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” an award-winning documentary about Clash’s life was released. That same year, a 23-year-old named Sheldon Stevens claimed Clash had a sexual relationship with him when he was 16. He later recanted when Clash admitted the relationship, but both admitted it was between consenting adults. Two weeks after Stevens recanted, two more young men came forward with similar claims.
Clash was forced to resign in disgrace from “Sesame Street.” Ultimately, all cases were dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.
On the popular TV show “7th Heaven,” Collins played the affable Rev. Eric Camden for 11 seasons. The character, a family man with seven children, was the show’s moral compass.
The show was notable for its religious slant and strong morality-based lessons aimed at teens facing tough issues such as the “evils” of premarital sex. The Parents Television Council consistently ranked it as one of the Top 10 family TV shows.
In October, audio recordings of Collins were released in which he made a horrific confession, admitting to multiple acts of child molestation. The audio was secretly recorded during a therapy session with his wife, who is seeking a divorce. In the recording, he confesses to molesting at least three victims ranging in age from 10 to 13. Police are investigating.
From 1993 to 2002, Amanda Bynes was Nickelodeon’s darling breakout star. She began acting at age 7. Her Nickelodeon career began with a role in the ensemble cast of sketch comedies “All That” and “Figure It Out.” By age 13, she was headlining “The Amanda Show.”
After the show ended, she had a string of film roles. In 2010, in an effort to shed her teen star image, she posed for Maxim magazine. Shortly afterward, she announced her retirement. She returned briefly in 2012 before again announcing her retirement from acting, this time to focus on her fashion design and rapping careers.
Earlier this year, Bynes was expelled from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and entered an out-of-control spiral. After multiple drunken driving charges, two hit-and-run accidents and a drug arrest, she was arrested and placed in a 72-hour mental-health evaluation hold. Her behavior had grown increasingly erratic and bizarre. The scandal has grown to include shoplifting, bizarre costumes, an imaginary marriage, claims of doubles taking her place and multiple run-ins with the law.
After a 46-day stay in a mental-health facility, Bynes was released in late October. Those close to her disclosed she is suffering from bipolar disorder. She eventually took to Twitter, explaining her behavior was the result of a “microchip installed in her brain.” After recently making a death threat to her parents, she announced via Twitter she is in therapy.
Her Twitter followers now number more than 2.5 million, and she has appeared in hundreds of stories in the media.
In the end, many celebrities find their most lasting fame in the infamy of their scandals.