The pitfalls of celebrity life are well-known and heavily documented. If handled incorrectly, fame and fortune can lead to a hard-partying lifestyle full of drugs, booze and many other temptations.
This in turn usually leads to run-ins with the law and often a very public punishment followed by days of headlines and wall-to-wall news coverage. In this climate of fast-moving news and social media, people worldwide may know of a celebrity arrested mere minutes after it’s happened.
Hollywood actors seem especially susceptible to this self-destructive cycle, and plenty of popular and beloved stars have spent time behind bars for past transgressions.
Some of these happened decades ago, so younger generations may not be aware of some of the shady pasts of their favorite movie stars. With that in mind, we have decided to round up some of the world’s biggest names and shine a light on their brushes with the law.
Here are the 15 Famous Actors You Never Knew Spent Time Behind Bars (And The Crimes They Committed).
15. Josh Brolin
Most recently seen as Mad Titan Thanos KO-ing Iron Man in the Avengers: Infinity War trailer, Josh Brolin in no stranger to scuffles himself. He’s admitted to a history of drug usage since his Goonies days and has battled the bottle on numerous occasions throughout his life.
At the age of 19, Brolin was taken in for public intoxication and fighting his arresting officers. Brolin states that he put every penny of earnings he had from a television series he’d filmed into getting the best lawyers possible on his case. His sentence was dramatically reduced and he served “a little bit” of jail time.
Many years later, history repeated itself when the 44 year old Brolin was hauled in after partying a little too hard on New Year’s Eve and being found drunk and in high heels and a tutu.
He spent several hours in a jail cell before being released. Brolin confessed that the police were “very sweet” to him during his time. The actor later expressed annoyance that the police chose to use his scowling mugshot for public release instead of the one where he’s smiling.
14. Michelle Rodriguez
Let’s also not forget her role in Avatar, which remains the highest grossing movie of all time. She’s not slowing down any time soon either, reteaming with James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez for Alita: Battle Angel, playing the role of Gelda, a cyborg warrior.
Rodriguez has a history of legal issues, mostly revolving around drunk driving. In 2003, she was summoned to court for eight misdemeanor charges stemming from incidents such as a hit-and-run and a DUI.
She served two days in jail and months of rehab and community service. She was back in jail two years later after another DUI but was released the same day because of overcrowding.
In 2007, overcrowding again prevented Rodriguez from serving a full term after she was arrested for allegedly violating her probation. Due to the crammed cells, she was released 18 days into her 180 day sentence. Michelle cleaned up her act and completed her community service in 2009.
13. Robert Downey Jr.
As many of you will be aware, Robert Downey Jr. hasn’t always been the squeaky clean face of Marvel Studios’ dominant Marvel Cinematic Universe. A former teen heartthrob, Downey has a dark past filled with stories of drugs and crime.
Downey has been arrested multiple times over his life. His various addictions got him into hot water in 1996, when he was arrested for speeding down Sunset Boulevard. He was found to be in possession of heroin, cocaine, and an unloaded handgun. After he missed a court-mandated drug test in 1997, he spent six months in the LA County Jail.
Downey missed another test in ’99 and was sentenced to three years in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. He was granted an early release and got out a year later.
He cleaned his act up in the following years and hit the blockbuster big time with the one-two punch of Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. Downey maintains that he’s been clean since 2003.
12. Sean Penn
Sean Penn has always been dogged by controversy, but he was especially notorious for his temper in the 1980s. Things came to a head when he lost it with an extra on the set of the movie Colors.
Reports state that Penn objected to extra Jeffrey Klein taking photos of him and Robert Duvall during a break in filming. He spat at Klein, who retaliated in kind.
Penn then beat the man and had to be restrained by the cast and crew. When Penn was later stopped under suspicion of driving under the influence, he was taken downtown.
He was charged with reckless driving and considering that he had put a man in hospital (with minor injuries) previously, he was sentenced to 60 days in the County Jail.
Since then, it’s come to light that he was arrested for attempted murder in Macau after dangling a paparazzo over his hotel’s balcony whilew filming Shanghai Surprise.
He and his assistant were taken to jail, but escaped after the cell door was left ajar. He was later pardoned for this particular incident.
11. Mark Wahlberg
When it comes to recounting Mark Wahlberg’s past, things tend to go from his gyrating days as Marky Mark with the Funky Bunch, get hazy, and then resume around about the late ’90s/early 2000s when he started acting in things like Boogie Nights and other movies.
As a troubled youth, Wahlberg once approached a Vietnamese man and beat him unconscious with a stick. Later on the same day, Wahlberg punched a second Vietnamese man, again with no apparent provocation. He was charged with attempted murder and pled guilty to assault. He was 16 years old at the time.
Wahlberg was sentenced to two years in prison, but ended up only serving 45 days. He decided to change his life around after his jail time.
He’s quoted as saying “Three of my brothers had done time. My sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I’d always wanted to be like. Now I’d earned my stripes and I was just like them, and I realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all.”
10. Christian Slater
Perhaps now best known from appearances on Archer and Mr. Robot, Heathers actor Christian Slater has a checkered past. Like so many others, he has had problems with substance abuse and his first inevitable brush with the law came in 1989, when he was arrested for drunk driving and the assault of a police officer.
He was given ten days’ jail time. Slater’s personal life continued to dominate his professional career, as he was arrested again in 1994 when he tried to board a plane with an unloaded handgun. He escaped a jail sentence with community service.
However, his biggest sentence came as a result of assaulting his then-girlfriend Michelle Jonas and a police officer while under the influence. He was given three months in jail and ordered to attend rehab.
Since then, Slater has mostly kept his nose clean, both figuratively and literally, and attempted to make amends with charity work. He seems to have his head screwed on right these days, being quoted as saying “Work is my hobby, staying sober is my job,” which is a commendable attitude to take.
9. Tim Allen
Most people will know Tim Allen from grunting his way through multiple seasons of Home Improvement, providing the heroic voice of Toy Story‘s Buzz Lightyear, or for Galaxy Quest– perhaps his best performance to date.
Considering his prevalence in family-friendly entertainment, it’s easy to forget that he was once busted for drug trafficking and faced a possible life sentence.
Allen was caught with just over a pound of cocaine at an airport and was soon cuffed and in the back of a cruiser. He was offered the chance of a reduced sentence if he told police extra information.
Allen agreed and was sentenced to three to seven years in prison. He was paroled in 1981 after serving two years and four months behind bars. Allen has made no secret of his past and says that prison matured him. To quote the man himself : “I was funny before that; prison just grew me up.”
8. Matthew McConaughey
It may surprise you that comeback king Matthew McConaughey has had his own troubles with the police. In typical McConaughey fashion, it’s anything but the usual fare.
In 1999, the actor was arrested after police were called to his home following a complaint about loud music. They were greeted by McConaughey loudly playing the bongo drums without clothing on, while another man clapped along.
He was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and resisting arrest. The report claims that McConaughey refused to put pants on and had to be forced into the squad car.
McConaughey spent a grand total of nine hours in prison and had the drug charges against him dropped due to lack of evidence. He seems unrepentant about the whole thing, being quoted in Playboy as saying “What’s wrong with beating on your drums in your birthday suit? I have no regrets about the way I got there.” It’s hard to argue with that.
7. Jane Fonda
Legendary actress and activist Jane Fonda found herself in cuffs and detained for several hours after being caught at Cleveland airport with a bag of suspicious-looking pills.
Fonda was arrested for drug smuggling only to be released on bond. Fonda angrily maintained her innocence and, after months of testing, the pills were revealed to be simple vitamins and all charges were dropped.
She admits to fearing that her arrest would affect both her acting and public speaking careers, but as she notes, she’s been active ever since and the college audiences for her speeches were “never less than 2,000 and sometimes as large as 10,000” people.
Fonda’s defiant mugshot has become one of the defining images of the actress and Fonda has even taken to wearing it on her clothing, rocking a T-shirt emblazoned with it at several public events.
She has taken things one step further and offers a whole range of official merchandise on her personal website with the mugshot.
6. Danny Trejo
Action star Danny Trejo has always been a convincing kick-butt warrior on screen. He looks and acts like a man who has seen it all and that’s basically because he has.
Trejo had a rough upbringing in Echo Park, California in the 1950s. He was raised by his uncle, an addict and armed robber, and soon started down a dark path. He was first jailed at the age of 15 and spent several stretches in and out of prison.
At the age of 23, he was busted attempting to sell a $30,000 bag of heroin to an undercover agent and served five years in San Quentin. During this time, he turned his life around, becoming a lightweight and welterweight champion prison boxer. He also joined the twelve-step program and hasn’t looked back.
Trejo recently celebrated a staggering 49 years of sobriety. In addition to regular TV and movie appearances, Trejo has thrown himself into charity work too, helping affected youths going through the same problems he did.
5. Paul McCartney
Despite being infinitely more famous for being a musician than an actor, former Beatle Paul McCartney has an impressive IMDB page.
In 1980, McCartney was caught with to smuggle a half-pound of marijuana into Japan. He was hauled away and faced a 7 year sentence due to the country’s no-nonsense approach and severe penalties for smuggling.
McCartney only ended up spending nine days imprisoned in the Tokyo Narcotics Detention Center before the Japanese government stepped in and deported him with no charges filed.
When interviewed about the incident decades later, McCartney recalled that he spent his time in prison doing a lot of thinking and making efforts to be a model prisoner, even befriending the only other English-speaking inmate and a gangster doing time for murder.
After he was released, he broke up his band Wings after gaining some personal perspective during his time inside.
4. Rip Torn
Probably best known for his work on The Larry Sanders Show as well as his scene-stealing appearances in Dodgeball and Men in Black 1 and 2, Rip Torn was arrested after a bizarre incident in 2010, when Torn broke into a bank, drunk and wielding a loaded firearm.
His breaking and entering set off alarms and when police arrived on the scene, the actor was found confusedly stumbling around the bank’s lobby. Several reports state that he was so intoxicated and confused, that he thought the bank was his house and was breaking in because he couldn’t get in the front door.
Torn only spent four days in jail before being released and ordered to seek help for his alcohol abuse. The judge gave him a suspended sentence of two and a half years and three years probation.
Since then, Torn has largely retired from the limelight, but has done the occassional project here and there, including some voice work for Comedy Central animated series TripTank.
3. Jamie Waylett
Undoubtedly the lowest profile actor on this list, Jamie Waylett still had a recurring role in one of the biggest movie franchises ever – the Harry Potter series.
Waylett (above, on the right) played Slytherin bully Vincent Crabbe, one half of Crabbe and Goyle, Draco Malfoy’s dim-witted lackies. Waylett chalked up six appearances as Crabbe before his personal life took over.
In 2011, Waylett was arrested after his participation in the England Riots, in which several cities in the United Kingdom were burned, damaged, and looted by rioters. Waylett was charged with looting a local chemist and being in possession of not only 15 cannabis plants, but also a Molotov Cocktail. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
When asked about his co-star’s arrest, Malfoy actor Tom Felton said “It’s massively disappointing. I haven’t got too much to say other than the fact that he’s let himself down hugely really, and it’s a disappointment for him and the franchise.”
Waylett has kept a low profile since, but let’s hope he’s sorted himself out.
2. Amanda Bynes
It’s something we’ve seen time and time again, but some child actors just can’t handle the pressures of a prolonged career. Amanda Bynes was a popular kid sensation, starting with appearances on All That before getting her own show on Nickelodeon, rather unimaginatively titled The Amanda Show.
She moved into movies with the Frankie Muniz project Big Fat Liar and looked to be the next breakout star after appearances in She’s the Man and Hairspray. However, life got in the way and Bynes’ alcohol issues led her to be arrested for driving under the influence.
Bynes faced serious jail time, but ended up spending a single night in jail and being put on probation for three years. After several public meltdowns and an odd incident in which she was detained after allegedly starting a small fire in a neighbor’s driveway, she eventually got the help she needed.
In an interview with Good Morning America this year, Bynes revealed that she’s three years sober and looking to return to acting.
1. Stephen Fry
Cuddly and beloved British actor/presenter Stephen Fry is almost the last person you’d expect to have spent time in prison. However, he most certainly did.
When he was 17, Fry stole a credit card from a family friend and ran for the hills, being caught in the city of Swindon, many miles away from his hometown. Fry was sentenced to three months in prison for credit card fraud.
When talking about his experience now, Fry talks about how he used the whole ordeal as a galvanizing experience for him, inspiring him to take a hard look at some of his life choices.
While locked up, he helped teach his illiterate cellmate to read. Since then, he’s written to several jailed celebrities, urging them to get the best out of the experience like he did, stating that he wants them to “inspire” their fellow prisoners. Good on him.
Can you think of any other famous actors who spent time in jail? Sound off in the comments!
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