These days, a public figure need only be accused of a misdeed in order to lose everything, professionally and personally. Actors are being fired from shows, having multi-million dollar deals called off, even being edited out of finished movies as penance on the suspicion that they have committed criminal acts.
As refreshing as it is that the culture that has protected bad behavior for decades is finally being changed, the fact remains that criminals have been allowed to flourish in Hollywood and beyond for a very long time. While some people have a problem with the recent rush to judgment against supposed perpetrators without them getting their due process, that doesn’t change the reality that many stars who have actually been charged and even convicted of crimes still got second– and third, and fourth– chances to grow respected careers and massive bank accounts despite a criminal background.
To be fair, some of these ex-convicts committed their crimes many years ago and have spent a long time living clean, law-abiding lives. But how many civilians get to have major offenses on their records– including felony drug trafficking, sexual misconduct with a minor, and attempted murder– and still have the chance at a halfway decent job, let alone one that can earn them millions of dollars and a legion of adoring fans?
Here are 15 Convicted Criminals Who Are Still On Top In Hollywood.
15. Mark Wahlberg
Mark Wahlberg has played a lot of characters with rough-and-tumble lives, and as it turns out, he has a lot of personal experience to draw from. The actor’s teen and early-20s years were fraught with drugs, violence, and racism that resulted in multiple arrests and serious convictions.
While Wahlberg was reportedly doing hard drugs as early as age 13, his first legal run-ins came at 15 when he was arrested for multiple instances of throwing rocks and yelling racial slurs at younger children. The following year, Wahlberg attacked two different Vietnamese men in unprovoked, racially-motivated attacks, which resulted in a charge of attempted murder and a permanent felony record that he maintains to this day.
14. Kiefer Sutherland
Throughout his 30+ year career, Kiefer Sutherland has had trouble steering clear of legal entanglements, racking up multiple reckless driving arrests between 1989 and 2007. However, it wasn’t until his most recent DUI charge that the actor, most recognizable to modern audience as Jack Bauer in the FOX series 24, finally had to face jail time. He was also arrested in 2008 for headbutting a fashion designer at a hotel following a charity event.
Both arrests came right in the middle of Sutherland’s run on 24, and FOX didn’t seem to have a problem with it– as a matter of fact, the network gave Sutherland another series (Touch) a few years later. In addition, video game publisher Konami later gave Sutherland the coveted lead role in Metal Gear Solid V, even ousting long-time Snake/Big Boss performer David Hayter to let Sutherland have the part. Sutherland is currently the lead of Designated Survivor.
13. Robert Downey Jr.
As the anchor of the entire MCU, Robert Downey Jr. definitely deserves the nine figures he has earned playing Iron Man for the past decade. But RDJ’s unparalleled success might’ve never happened had Hollywood not been so willing to welcome him back after several high-profile derailments into drug addiction.
RDJ’s drug problems first got him into serious legal trouble in the latter half of the 1990s, when he racked up arrests for marijuana, cocaine, and heroine as well as trespassing and possession of a firearm. After dodging jail multiple times via probation and community service, he would eventually miss a court-ordered drug test and have to spend six months in prison.
12. Christian Slater
Following his 1980s heyday, Christian Slater’s career has had some pretty respectable ups (Broken Arrow, True Romance) and embarrassing downs (Alone in the Dark, Hollow Man 2) in the ensuing decades– and his personal life has seen similar peaks and valleys.
Slater’s personal troubles started in 1989 when the actor served jail time for drunk driving and assault. He followed that up with a 1994 arrest for trying to bring a gun onto a plane, and a 1997 prison stint for assaulting both his girlfriend and a police officer while drunk and high. Most recently, Slater was charged with third-degree sexual abuse after allegedly sexually harassing a woman on the street.
11. Tim Allen
After spending over 15 years paying his dues as a stand-up comedian, Tim Allen began a long, fruitful relationship with Disney when he launched his highly successful sitcom Home Improvement in 1991.
Spending the next few decades establishing himself as a family entertainment icon, he starred in the hugely successful The Santa Clause and its two sequels and is currently working on his fourth Toy Story movie as Buzz Lightyear. Allen also recently finished up six seasons of the hit ABC series Last Man Standing.
However, a shadow looms over Allen’s success as a family-friendly leading man. In 1978, he was caught with nearly a pound and a half of cocaine at a Michigan airport. After pleading guilty to felony drug trafficking, Allen was facing life in prison until he agreed to turn in other drug dealers as part of a plea bargain, which reduced his sentence to just two years.
10. Will Smith
Prior to becoming one of TV’s top stars and spending years ruling Hollywood’s summer blockbuster season, Will Smith was known to the world only as rapper The Fresh Prince alongside partner DJ Jazzy Jeff. The duo set themselves apart in the ’80s with their G-rated songs that focused on lighthearted problems like parents not understanding and girls being nothing but trouble.
Ironically, during those days of being a kid-friendly rap star, Smith was involved in an altercation more befitting his rougher rap peers. Following an argument with record promoter William Hendricks, Smith allegedly ordered his bodyguard to attack Hendricks, the result of which was Hendricks being beaten so viciously he needed six stitches and almost lost his vision.
9. Sean Penn
Today, Sean Penn is most closely-associated with his formidable acting talent and political activism, but 1980s Sean Penn was equally famous for his violent behavior and tumultuous marriage to pop star Madonna.
While Penn and Madonna’s relationship troubles were later downplayed by Madonna herself, retroactively calling the accusations against Penn on her behalf “completely outrageous” in 2015, she had reportedly filed assault charges against her then-husband at one point only to drop them later.
That aside, Penn was arrested and convicted of assaulting a photographer on a film set, a charge which resulted in jail time. That was one of many instances of Penn violently lashing out against the press, apparently not understanding that being married to one of the biggest stars in the world brings a little extra media attention into your life.
8. Michelle Rodriguez
It is perhaps ironic that Michelle Rodriguez’s breakout role was as a boxer in the movie Girlfight, as her first run-in with the law involved a physical altercation with a roommate. While those charges were eventually dropped, legal troubles would continue to follow Rodriguez throughout her career.
Rodriguez was charged with multiple DUIs in Hawaii during her time on the hit series Lost, which eventually led to a two-month prison sentence of which she only had to serve a day due to overcrowding. Rather than count her blessings and stay out of trouble, Rodriguez reportedly failed to complete her community service from those charges and was then sentenced to six months in jail– only, again, her sentence was miraculously cut down to just 18 days because of supposed overcrowding.
7. Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens
Pee-wee Herman has existed for so long and in so many different mediums that it’s easy to forget he’s just the fictional creation of actor Paul Reubens. In fact, its because Pee-wee is so beloved on his own that “he” has been able to endure the troubling arrest record of Reubens.
In 1971, a then-19-year old Reubens was arrested for loitering near an adult theater. A few years into Pee-wee’s existence, in the early-80s, Reubens was sentenced to two year’s probation for drug possession. But it was arrest #3 in 1991 for pleasuring himself in a movie theater that Reubens’ reputation first took a major hit. After spending the next decade slowly rebuilding his career, the public was finally starting to forget that shameful incident when Reubens was charged with possession of obscene material depicting minors in 2002.
6. Charlie Sheen
Although Charlie Sheen was considered a hard-partying bad boy from the very beginning of his career, he actually managed to avoid jail time until the mid-90s despite high-profile infractions including shooting then-fiancee Kelly Preston in the arm in 1990 and admitting to paying “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss over $50,000 for her services. If anything proves just how protected Hollywood’s misbehaving men have been over the years, it’s Sheen’s constant prison-dodging.
It wasn’t until Sheen was arrested for and charged with abusing girlfriend Brittany Ashland in 1997 that he finally got a criminal conviction on his record. Two years later, he violated his probation from that charge when he suffered a cocaine overdose.
Sheen would have subsequent drug- and abuse-related arrests in the ensuing years, during which time CBS continued to employ him on Two and a Half Men, and later, FX would give him his own series called Anger Management.
5. Danny Trejo
This was a tough one to include, since Danny Trejo not only became one of Hollywood’s most beloved character actors but also spent years counseling troubled youths to help them avoid succumbing to a life of crime. Still, his criminal past was so severe that he himself admitted he got to a point where he had multiple death penalty-worthy offenses on his rap sheet.
While Trejo’s exact charges are tough to pin down given how long ago they occurred, it’s obvious that the drug- and violence-related offenses were anything but minor as Trejo not only did a stint in California’s San Quentin Prison, but was even in solitary confinement there for a time.
4. Mike Tyson
In recent years, Mike Tyson has reinvented himself as a kind of lovable figure who cameos in movies, has critically-acclaimed documentaries made about him, and even voices an animated version of himself in a Cartoon Network series.
It’s a far cry from the reputation he got as a boxer, known for throwing such devastating punches that some of his fights would literally be over in a matter of seconds. He also threw punches at his then-wife, Robin Givens, though no legal trouble ever came from that.
However, Tyson would end up spending time in prison after being convicted in 1992 of raping 18-year-old beauty pageant winner Desiree Washington. Despite being a convicted rapist, Tyson has been allowed to have a renewed career as a fun-loving figure who consistently gets cast in movies and TV shows, often in a lighthearted capacity.
3. Jason James Murphy (Casting Agent)
As we learned from some of the recent high-profile downfalls of Hollywood directors and producers, it’s not only on-camera talent that has the potential for not only bad behavior, but at least temporarily getting away with it. In this case, a convicted child predator managed to have his dark past go unnoticed as he spent years as a successful casting agent.
Jason James Murphy was convicted of kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old boy in 1996, which resulted in a five-year prison sentence and Murphy having to register as a sex offender. Fast-forward a few short years, and Murphy– as Jason James– was serving as a casting associate on such high-profile movies as Superman Returns, Hall Pass, and most disturbingly, movies with kid-heavy casts like Super 8, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and School of Rock.
2. Victor Salva (writer/director)
Disney has distributed a movie written and directed by a convicted child predator, who in fact was said to have perpetuated his crimes during production of his previous film.
Victor Salva, who wrote and directed the 1995 Disney fantasy drama Powder, spent a year in prison following a 1988 conviction of sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old boy and possessing explicit videos and magazines featuring minors. Disney claimed not to have learned of the conviction until production had already begun, but that doesn’t explain why they allowed the movie to continue with Salva at the helm.
1. Roman Polanski
What makes director Roman Polanski’s criminal past perhaps worse than any other people on this list is that he hasn’t yet had to pay for his crimes.
In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged on five counts of violent, non-consensual sexuality activity, and drug use involving a 13-year-old girl. Though he initially pleaded not guilty on all counts, he accepted a plea bargain for a reduced sentence and just a single count of unlawful sexual intercourse.
When Polanski learned that he’d probably still face jail time and deportation, he fled the country to avoid sentencing and has spent the ensuing 40 years living in France– a country that has thus far refused to extradite him.
Astonishingly, Hollywood has continued to allow Polanski’s films to be released in the U.S., and he was even awarded a Best Director Oscar in 2002 for The Pianist.
Did we miss any Hollywood criminals? Let us know in the comments.
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