Renowned celebrity publicist Michael Levin has said that he doesn’t “know any celebrity in America that isn't shaken down for money, blackmailed, extorted." Blackmail can happen to anyone, but Hollywood stars and celebrities are especially ripe for the picking because their lucrative careers depend on the purity of their image. Plus all that money!
If a celebrity has a skeleton or two in their closet, they will sometimes acquiesce to outrageous demands to keep the door closed.
If it works in the extortionists’ favor, chances are the general public will never even hear about it. On the other hand, Richard Hilton imparted some excellent advice to his daughter, Paris, in regard to the practice: “As soon as you pay somebody, then you’re gonna be paying for the rest of your life. My dad always taught me. They’ll keep the tape anyway.”
Many of the stars on this list were hiding something truly shameful. It couldn’t have been easy for those who chose to come clean to the public rather than give in to the blackmailer’s demands. In some cases, the blackmailers wanted revenge. Most just wanted to get paid.
Here are 17 Stars Who Were Blackmailed.
Few would dare mess with Oprah. But Keifer Bonvillain gave it a go when he met one of her former employees at a 2005 party. Bonvillain recorded 12 hours of conversations in which the employee said “awful things” about the goddess of inspiration.
Two years later, Bonvillain emailed Oprah, saying, “there are a lot of people who would want these.” He also claimed offers of between $500,000 and $3 million from tabloids and book publishers.
Bonvillain was willing to lose the tapes for a paltry $1.5 million from Oprah.
Working with the FBI, Oprah wired Bonvillain $3000 in “earnest money” and agreed to meet him in a parking lot the following day. When agents arrested him at the rendezvous point, the man who is one letter away from being a "Bond villain" swore, “it was a big mix-up.”
“I made a bad error in judgement and I put myself in a bad environment where only bad things can happen and they did,” said the comedian in a 2017 Instagram video. Kevin Hart was referring to having cheated on his pregnant wife, model Eniko Parrish.
It was an extortion plot - not a crisis of conscience - that made him come clean.
The blackmailer had secretly filmed the Ride Along actor in a tryst with an actress and model named Montia Sabbag. Sabbag claims to know nothing about the extortion, but admits to being intimate with Hart three times over the course of three days earlier that year.
The FBI is still investigating the case and Parrish has stood by Hart throughout the ordeal.
It could be the plot of Zoolander 3. In 2009, a German male model named Edis Kayalar attempted to extort supermodel Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber. He threatened to give the tabloids a photo of their daughter.
Kaia had been playing cops and robbers when her nanny snapped a playful photo. 26-year-old Kayalar, the nanny's acquaintance, obtained the photo and asked for $100,000 from the couple in exchange for keeping it out of the press, assuming the press would think terrible things about the image.
Crawford and Gerber went to the police instead.
Courts found Kayalar guilty of extortion and he was sentenced to two years in a prison where they definitely don’t have a day spa.
Allison Coss and Scott Sippola didn’t have mercy when they attempted to blackmail the Full House star in 2009. The Michigan couple claimed they had pictures of John Stamos partying in his Florida hotel room with dancers and substances. They threatened to sell the photos unless he forked over the weirdly specific sum of $680,000.
Stamos contacted authorities, who arrested the couple. Stamos admitted to meeting Coss, then 17, at a party in his hotel room. Afterward, he’d kept in touch with Coss via email. But he insisted, "[They] lied about everything" supposedly in the pictures. How rude!
The FBI never turned up any compromising photos. Coss and Sippola were charged with conspiracy and sentenced to four years in prison.
In 2003, photographer John Rutter tried to cash in on some topless photos he’d taken of Cameron Diaz when she was a 19-year-old aspiring model. He planned to sell them in conjunction with the Charlie’s Angels sequel, portraying her as the “bad angel”, unless she paid out $3.3 million.
When Diaz took him to court, Rutter changed his story, claiming that he’d merely offered her first-refusal.
The judge didn’t buy it and Rutter was charged with attempted grand theft, forgery of a release form, and perjury. He was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison and has been forbidden from ever publishing the photos.
Rutter’s lawyer called the case, “an epic battle between a rich and famous celebrity and a hard-working photographer.”
What’s worse than losing a child? Try the attending paramedic blaming the parents and then blackmailing them about it. That’s what happened to John Travolta in 2009 when his 16-year-old son, Jett, died while vacationing in the Bahamas.
Paramedic Tarino Lightbourn claims that Travolta signed a “refusal to transport” release after requesting the ambulance bring them to the airport so he could pilot them back to the States. But Travolta reconsidered and they rerouted to the local hospital where Jett later died.
The Pulp Fiction star admitted in court that Jett was autistic, suffering from seizures “every five to ten days”. He had ceased administering an anti-seizure drug to Jett at the behest of the Church of Scientology. Scientologists believe that conditions like autism are psychosomatic.
Lightbourn was charged with attempted extortion but the judge dismissed the case after Travolta dropped the charges because of the “heavy emotional toll.”
West’s song, “Real Friends” from his 2016 album The Life of Pablo makes reference to his difficulty trusting people. And it’s no wonder, with such autobiographical lyrics:
“I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was f*ckin' bitches on. Paid that n**** 250 thousand just to get it from him.”
Kanye’s cousin, Lawrence Franklin was present when a family member decided to extort his famous flesh-and-blood. “I was at my aunt’s house when the [one] who had the laptop called me, a friend of his, and my uncle to the kitchen where he opened the laptop to show a [compromising] video of Kanye in clear view… The family member knew what he had was gold, and… went after Kanye… The family member tried to keep a low profile but it was not long before Kanye’s team learned who it was…”
In 1997, Cosby took 22-year-old Autumn Jackson to court for demanding $40 million to keep the secret that she is his daughter from an extramarital affair. Cosby admitted to “a rendezvous” with Shawn Thompson in 1974, but denied Jackson was his child, despite having willingly gifted nearly $200,000 to the family over a period of 20 years. Jackson had recently become homeless and pregnant.
The defense argued that Jackson’s conduct was not illegal because she truly believed Cosby was her father. The judge ruled that paternity was not relevant to the case. A jury found Jackson guilty of extortion and conspiracy and she was sentenced to 26-months imprisonment.
In 2014, Thompson alleged that Cosby had drugged and raped her on the night of her daughter’s conception. She said she hadn’t mentioned it before because she knew no one would believe her.
There’s nothing like infidelity and extortion to really heal a marriage. In 2010, the Buffyverse actor released a statement to People Magazine, in which he confessed to an affair with a then-unnamed woman who was asking him for hush money. “I was associated with a woman who I was involved with and had a relationship with,” admitted the star of Bones. “I felt as though I was being blackmailed or there was some sort of extortion.”
Instead of meeting her demands, he destroyed her leverage by outing himself to the press.
A year later, photos and texts identified the woman as Tiger Woods’ former mistress, Rachel Uchitel. Boreanaz reconciled with his wife of 10 years, Jamie Bergman, and called the incident a “bonding experience”.
This would have made a great Steven Seagal movie! In 2002, the action star’s former business partner (and alleged mob-affiliate) Julius Nasso got very upset when Seagal told him he planned to retire. Nasso and other Mafioso met with Seagal and said he’d sleep with the fishes unless he agreed to keep making movies while forking over a large percentage of their earnings. Seagal refused and ratted Nasso out.
Nasso, who produced Marked for Death and Out for Justice, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for extortion. He was also fined $75,000 and ordered into counseling following release. His light sentence was based on a clean record and a history of depression and anxiety. Maybe Nasso can get a shrink referral from Tony Soprano.
In 2009, Dave stunned viewers when he told his audience that he was being blackmailed. At first, they thought he was joking when he spoke of a note that threatened to expose affairs he’d had with female employees of the show. The blackmailer, later identified as Robert Halderman, said that he would detail the affairs in a screenplay and book unless Letterman gave him $2 million.
Letterman brought the package to the Manhattan district attorney’s special prosecutions office.
Halderman, who was the boyfriend of one of the women in question, pled guilty to attempted second-degree grand larceny. He received six months in jail, five years’ probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
Though Letterman took the extortion very seriously, he couldn’t resist making one joke in his monologue. "Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would, especially for the women."
In 2008, the KISS bassist revealed that for many years, an “entity” endeavored to extort him for a video of Simmons entangled with a woman who was not his wife. After the most recent attempt, Simmons decided to take legal action and posted a statement on his website.
“The black and white footage may have been decades old… You should know for the record, the garbage was recorded without my knowledge... This is not the first time the entity has tried to blackmail and extort us. We have always refused and we will continue to refuse. I'm told the legal team has been tracking down the parties involved and they will be dealt with appropriately."
The resurgence of the tape came just prior to the third season premiere of Simmons’ reality show, Family Jewels.
In 2006, on the anniversary of her husband’s death, John Lennon’s widow received a blackmail letter from her former employee, Koral Karson. He detailed his myriad grievances, claiming they initiated a series of personal tragedies and hardships.
Karson’s position as Ono’s “driver, bodyguard, assistant, butler, nurse, handyman and more so your lover and confidant over the last ten years” afforded him “literally thousands of hours of recordings… that will shock the world.” Unless Ono paid him $2 million, he would “be forced to testify.” He surmised that, “such a trial, regardless of if I win or lose, will provide me with a significant amount of publicity that I will use to promote a number of books that will portray You, Sean and John.”
Ono’s lawyer stated that Karson’s accusations held no water. He was arrested and charged with attempted grand larceny.
Laurenz Johannes Griessel-Landau heralded the email scam in 1959, when he expressed concern with Elvis' rapid aging during his military service. Griessel-Landau’s letter offered, “to give you a complete new skin and I swear to achieve this within the quickest possible time. Please don't worry about the small wrinkles on your forehead - you will not age.” Elvis agreed to hire the South African doctor to perform skin treatments.
When Griessel-Landau wore out his welcome, Elvis fired him. The enraged dermatologist threatened to expose compromising photos of Presley unless he was put back on the payroll. Elvis refused to comply, giving him only $200 for the treatments and a plane ticket back to London.
Griessel-Landau didn’t let up, so Presley involved the FBI, and the "doctor," later revealed to possess no medical credentials, eventually relented.
You would think the Girls Gone Wild creator would have plenty of blackmail fodder. But in 2004, Darnell Riley went DIY, robbing Joe Francis of valuables and his dignity at gun point. Riley recorded Francis in a compromising and demeaning position, before locking him in the trunk of his own Bentley. Later, Riley threatened to release the tape unless Francis coughed up $500,000.
Riley made numerous attempts to organize the money drop over the next several months, but Francis had already gone to the police and was recording all the calls. Paris Hilton helped crack the case when she overheard an accomplice bragging about the incident at her sister’s birthday party. Riley was involved in her own tape debacle. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery and extortion.
In 1993, poor Louie propositioned the wrong guy, a man named Richard John Gordon, at a casino in Southern California. Four years later, the comedian received a letter from Gordon, asking for a $100,000 "settlement so your secrets don't get out and blow your career." The letter referenced other celebrities whose careers had taken a hit after a scandal as well as Anderson’s involvement in the children’s TV show, Life with Louie.
But by 2000, Hollywood had become a more accepting place. When Gordon thought he could squeeze another $250,000 out of the Family Feud host, the jig was up. Anderson went to the cops and, after a high-speed chase, Gordon was arrested and tried for extortion. The 31-year-old received a 21-month sentence in Federal prison and 3 years of probation.
There are rumors that the Church of Scientology has a “blackmail” file on Tom Cruise (and every other celebrity member). But that wasn’t what prompted a man known as the Sultan of Sleaze to attempt a shakedown of the actor and his then-wife, Katie Holmes.
David Hans Schmidt had over 7000 photos from Cruise and Holmes’ private wedding that he thought would fetch a pretty penny. In 2007, Schmidt acquired the photos from a computer technician, and told the couple he would release them unless they forked over $1.3 million.
Schmidt, who had previously peddled numerous celebrity tapes, was arrested and faced up to two years in Federal prison. He was placed under house arrest and died from an apparent suicide while awaiting his hearing.
Do you know of any other stars who have been blackmailed? Let us know in the comments!