Thanks in no small part to the often sycophantic and cowardly entertainment news industry that dominates North America today, prominent celebrities and business officials in Hollywood often get off scot-free or are treated lightly when they commit (or are accused of) serious criminal offenses.
Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Vince Neil, the list goes on and on and on. While drunk driving and sexual assault are deeply serious crimes, perhaps nothing is as troubling as murder. We’re all familiar with former Naked Gun star OJ Simpson’s so-called “Trial of the Century” back in the ‘90s, but sometimes, the question of whether an entertainer has caused a death is not even remotely in doubt by the public or debated by the authorities.
With that, here are 16 actors who have, according to the law or prosecutorial theories, killed someone, and at times gotten off lightly for the offense.
16 Caitlyn Jenner
Formerly known as Bruce, Caitlyn Jenner, the one-time Olympian, occasional actor, and Kardashian clan patriarch got into some hot water back in 2015. While driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, she rear-ended the back of a car and caused a multi-vehicle collision. Though accounts of the event differ, Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Jenner claims she was being pursued by paparazzi at the time.
In the ensuing wreckage, 69-year-old Kim Howe was killed. Her family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jenner, which was settled in 2016 for what the Daily Mail described as a “modest amount.” Would she have escaped charges had she not been famous? Like a great many mysteries that have puzzled society for decades, we will never truly know.
15 Robert Blake
A trial ensued, witness credibility was challenged, and prosecutors made several missteps. Upon being found not guilty, the late Mrs. Blake’s family sued Robert in civil court and won a judgment against him. Though his status pales in comparison to that of O.J. in the annals of American infamy, one cannot deny that the two men have led similarly sad and seedy lives in the years since the peak of their celebrity.
14 Salman Khan
Back in 2002, the well-known Bollywood actor Salman Khan ended the lives of a homeless man and injured several others when he recklessly drove his car into a bakery in Mumbai, India. Though he was charged at the time, the case was later dropped, until he was re-charged more than a decade later.
In this case, India demonstrated that, like its American counterpart, those in the entertainment industry on the subcontinent have a way of not paying for their mistakes. First, the man’s driver lied and said he was behind the wheel on the night of the collision, and later, the chief witness to the accident turned up dead. Charges against Khan were dropped due to lack of evidence, and his career has continued on to much critical acclaim.
13 Michael Jace
Perhaps best known to readers for playing Julien Lowe on FX’s The Shield alongside Michael Chiklis, the New Jersey born Michael Jace landed himself in legal hot water when he was arrested for the shooting death of his wife in April of 2014.
Here, unlike most performers who get off or elude charges when found guilty, the former actor actually got what he deserved. After a trial where the prosecution played audio in which Jace joked that his wife should try to “run to heaven” before shooting her in both legs, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. For a man who often played the “good guy” in movies and television, art did not do the cliched thing it supposedly does and imitate life. In Jace's case, at least.
12 Felicia Pearson
Raised in an almost perpetually hard youth (seriously, her parents were incarcerated addicts), Pearson is best known for playing the fictional Felicia “Snoop” Pearson on what is considered by some to be the best television show of all time The Wire. She landed the role after meeting star Michael K. Williams in a Baltimore area club.
Before her small screen fame, Pearson had previously served time in prison for the shooting death of then fellow teenager Okia Toomer. Incarcerated at 14, she served six and a half years before being released.
Since the show ended in 2008, Pearson has continued to work occasionally and had a recent legal dust-up once more on drug related charges. She was given three years’ probation on a seven-year suspended prison sentence and has stayed out of trouble so far. We hope she continues to do so.
11 Lillo Brancato Jr.
Best known for playing Matthew Bevilaqua on The Sopranos, the Colombian born 41-year-old actor landed himself in legal hot water back in 2005 after some criminality in the Bronx.
According to reports from the time, Brancato and accomplice Steven Armento were confronted by off duty NYPD Officer Daniel Enchautegui when they were trying to break into the house next door to his very own. Proving themselves to be the kind of stupid criminals that come around far too often, the pair engaged Officer Enchautegui in a gunfight that ended his life.
In the later trial, the actor was charged with second-degree murder and found not guilty, but still ended up serving nearly a decade in prison for the burglary. He was released on parole in 2013.
10 Amy Locane
A series regular on the original run of Melrose Place in the early ‘90s, Locane got engaged in the late ‘00s and decided to retire from acting. A few years after getting hitched, she ended up ending the life of someone else.
On a summer day in New Jersey, Locane crashed her car into that of an elderly couple, which was turning into the driveway of their home. In doing so, she took the life of 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured her husband Fred.
In the investigation, it was discovered that the former soap star was driving nearly 20 miles over the designated speed limit and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. As punishment for her crime, Locane served three years in prison, two less than the supposedly mandatory minimum sentence of five.
9 Charles S. Dutton
A mostly-character actor who has appeared in countless films and television shows ranging from the much-maligned Alien 3 and Criminal Minds, the Baltimore born actor had his significant brush with the law while still a teenager.
At the age of 17, Dutton stabbed a man to death who he claimed had attacked him. The authorities didn’t buy it, and he was subsequently put in prison to serve out a seven-year sentence for manslaughter. After being released, he was eventually sent back to jail for possession of a deadly weapon.
It was here while on his second prison stint that Dutton picked up an interest in acting. During a period in solitary confinement, he accidentally grabbed a book of black playwrights to read during his time in isolation. He enjoyed it deeply, and the rest is cinematic and broadcasting history.
8 Lane Garrison
Clearly, some celebrities can’t handle their liquor in any way, shape, or form. Like others on this list who have screwed up, Lane Garrison, best known for playing David “Tweener” Apolskis on the Fox television series Prison Break, ended up serving prison time in the real world after killing someone when behind the wheel and not in control of his faculties.
In 2006, the actor caused the death of automobile passenger and 17-year-old Vahagn Setian when the car they were both in crashed into a tree. For this egregious act, Garrison was sentenced to three years in prison. He could’ve gotten the maximum of six years and eight months, but, perhaps thanks in no small part to the nature of celebrity, he got lucky.
7 Snoop Dogg
This incident is a bit tricky, so bear with us.
In the early days of Snoop's (whose real name is Calvin Broadus)’s career, he and McKinley Lee had their day in court after a gang member was shot because of them at a local park. After a confrontation, Philip Woldemariam was shot by Lee from the passenger seat of a Jeep that Broadus was driving. Under the law in most places, this made Snoop just as liable for a murder charge as if he had pulled the trigger himself.
In the end, the pair were both acquitted on most charges, but ended up with a deadlocked jury on charges of voluntary manslaughter. Snoop’s career in music and film has continued on, with most fans tending to forget that he'd done any wrong in the first place.
6 Brandy Norwood
Known professionally as Brandy. "The Boy is Mine" singer and Moesha star had a very similar experience to that of the Kardashian clan's Caitlyn Jenner.
Back in 2006, on the 405 freeway towards San Diego, California, Brandy struck the rear of a vehicle driven by 38-year old Awatef Aboudihaj. The car in which Aboudihaj was traveling was then struck by several other cars after being pushed forward, and the middle-aged mother of two died from her injuries the next day.
Later, the singer and actress would be sued and ended up settling out of court with several different individuals. Again, like Jenner, you have to wonder what would have happened had she not been famous. Perhaps the police wouldn’t have worked as hard to find justifications for not charging her criminally?
5 Johnny Lewis
Maybe shows about crime tend to be cursed? Because like Mr. Brancato and Garrison, the late actor and Sons of Anarchy star Johnny Lewis also took his fictional work into the real world.
In 2012, and after several prior legal incidents that were perhaps exacerbated by a head injury caused by a motorcycle accident, L.A.P.D officers were called to the home of Lewis’ landlady, 81-year-old Catherine Davis.
When they arrived, they found Lewis dead in the driveway and Davis dead inside of her ransacked home. In the ensuing investigation, it was determined that Lewis broke into the building, murdered Davis and her cat, and then passed away due to “partial strangulation”.
Had he been treated for his apparent mental issues, perhaps things could have unfolded differently.
4 John Huston
The legendary director of classics like The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen also dabbled in acting at points in his life (he played the villain in Chinatown), fathered children who would go on to be acclaimed actors in their own rights, and even was a boxer at one point. But few are aware of the fact that he accidentally killed someone.
In 1933, he struck and killed a young woman while out driving. Though a coroner’s investigation would absolve him of all blame for the incident, Huston was deeply traumatized by what he had done and left the United States for the foreign comfort of London, not returning to Hollywood until 1937.
Huston himself passed away in the late ‘80s and the woman he struck and killed seems to have been lost to history. We researched and couldn’t seem to find her name anywhere.
3 Rebecca Gayheart
Best known as the Noxzema spokesmodel of the 1990s, star of the 1999 black comedy Jawbreaker, and as a series regular on Nip/Tuck, Rebecca Gayheart had a not-so-minor brush with the law back in 2001. While out driving in Los Angeles, she struck a 9-year-old boy named Jorge Cruz Jr. as he was crossing the street. According to a lawsuit later filed by the boy’s parents, a car had stopped and motioned for young Jorge Jr. to cross, and that’s when Gayheart went around the vehicle in front of her and struck him.
She pleaded no contest to charges that resulted from the incident and was punished with three years of probation, a one-year driver’s license suspension, and 750 hours of community service. Even for what was likely a complete accident, that seems a bit light to us.
2 John Waters
Known for creating what can best be described as…unclean films and the musical Hairspray, Waters is what anyone with half a brain in their head can describe as eccentric. He once traveled across the nation as a hitchhiker and wrote a book about it. And, like a handful of others in the entertainment industry, he also killed someone while on the road.
In his 2010 book Role Models, Waters wrote the following on page 61 of his autobiographical tome.
I never told Leslie this, but off camera I had killed somebody…Accidentally…Completely accidentally…An elderly man, without looking, stepped off the curb right in front of my car. His body flipped and landed on the hood with his face pressed toward mine through the driver side windshield.
Other than his book (and in this article, obviously) this incident doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere else. So there, dear reader, is something of a Screen Rant exclusive!
1 Matthew Broderick
The actor perhaps best known for his iconic portrayal of Ferris Bueller in the titular film from the gone-too-soon John Hughes brought his 1980s to a close by taking a mother and daughter from this Earth while on vacation.
While driving a BMW in Northern Ireland with then-girlfriend and former on-screen sister Jennifer Grey (on a side note, eww), the actor crossed into the wrong lane and collided head-on with another vehicle driven by Anna Gallagher and her mother Margaret, killing them both instantly. Though he could have faced five years in prison, the actor was fined just $175 dollars for the crime. At one point, he had planned to meet with the family of the victims, but as of 2012, he has failed to do so.
Can you think of any other entertainers who have killed someone or committed other serious crimes? Let us know in the comments.