Top 20 Biggest Celebrity Scandals of the Century (So Far)

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Top 20 Biggest Celebrity Scandals of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: William Regot
These are the celeb scandals that've defined the century...so far. For this list, we'll be looking at the biggest controversies over the last two decades involving public figures. Our countdown includes Ellen Degeneres' Treatment of Employees, Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction, Jussie Smollett's Fake Hate Crime, Lance Armstrong's Doping Scandal, and more!
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Top 20 Celeb Scandals of the Century So Far


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Celeb Scandals of the Century So Far.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the biggest controversies over the last two decades involving public figures.

Which of these looms largest in your memory? Have you changed your mind about any of them over time? Let us know in the comments.

#20: Ellen Degeneres’ Treatment of Employees

The comedian presents herself on her talk show as a friendly, down-to-earth personality. However, rumors of mean remarks and actions have circulated for a while, and in 2020, employees began to speak out. In a report from Buzzfeed in July, employees alleged that Ellen presided over a toxic work environment where they were exposed to sexual harassment, racist comments, and other issues from the show’s producers. Following these revelations, ratings dropped by more than a million viewers. In 2021, DeGeneres announced that she would be ending her show after 19 years on the air.

#19: Kanye West Accuses George W. Bush of Being Racist

The slow government response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005 was widely criticized, especially the delay in providing aid to New Orleans residents. On September 2, a benefit concert was held to raise much needed funds. However, Kanye West decided to go off-script. He criticized the media for portraying white families as “looking for food” yet black families as “looting”. And he infamously set his sights on President Bush, suggesting he was indifferent to Black Americans. The comment shocked his co-host Mike Myers and stirred up outrage and debate. While Myers later characterized West’s comment as “[speaking] truth to power”, West eventually apologized.

#18: Michael Jackson Dangles Prince Over a Balcony

The King of Pop was embroiled in controversy throughout the 2000s, what with his child endangerment trial and this 2002 incident that took place at a Berlin hotel. As a spontaneous act to surprise his fans, Jackson presented to a crowd outside the hotel his infant son, Prince Michael Jackson II, or “Blanket.” However, the way he showed his infant child shocked the public, as he put a towel over the child’s head and held him over a balcony where one slip could have sent the baby plummeting to a gruesome end. Jackson seemed to recognize how dangerous his act was and issued an apology.

#17: Eminem’s Feud with the Cheneys

During a congressional hearing in 2000, Lynne Cheney, wife of future vice president Dick Cheney, asserted that Eminem promoted violence against women. Cheney also called on the rapper’s record label to drop him. In response, Eminem made sure to give Lynne a couple of mentions in his 2002 album, “The Eminem Show,” in “Without Me” and “White America.” Even more shockingly, for the music video “Without Me,” Eminem featured a stand-in for Dick Cheney, who’s electrocuted by the rapper. It was another example of Eminem going all out against critics.

#16: Felicity Huffman & Lori Loughlin’s College Admissions Scandal

In 2019, an FBI investigation named Operation Varsity Blues uncovered a criminal scheme in which parents were bribing their children’s ways into top universities. Among those involved were actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives”, and Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame. Huffman paid $15,000 to have someone take her daughter’s SAT test for her, and Loughlin paid $500,000 to have her daughter enrolled in the University of Southern California. Both actresses were arrested and did short stints in prison. The scandal shone a spotlight on how the rich are able to use money and influence to give their children an unfair advantage.

#15: Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 is undoubtedly one of the most infamous television events of all time. At the end of “Rock Your Body”, Justin removed part of Janet’s costume, exposing her breast for about half a second. The backlash was massive - with shocked and outraged commentators lamenting the country’s moral collapse. Over half a million letters poured into the FCC, who fined CBS $550,000, although it was later voided. The controversy is now remembered for having unfairly tarnished Jackson’s career while not affecting Timberlake’s at all.

#14: Kanye Interrupts Taylor Swift’s Award Speech

When Taylor Swift won Best Female Video at the 2009 VMAs, Kanye was so outraged that he crashed Swift’s acceptance speech and let everybody know what he thought. The moment was embarrassing for everyone, even Beyoncé, for whom West was advocating. Beyoncé graciously invited Swift back to the stage to finish her speech when she won for Video of the Year. West faced enormous public backlash for ruining Swift’s big moment and apologized. But in 2016, he also later took credit in an improbable lyric for making Taylor Swift famous … setting off a new round of controversy.

#13: Jussie Smollett’s Fake Hate Crime

The actor from “Empire” made headlines when he claimed in January 2019 to have been the victim of an attack outside a Subway restaurant in Chicago. Smollett alleged that two white males in MAGA hats put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and beat him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs. It was later revealed that the men were actually Nigerian-born brothers who knew Smollett and said he’d paid them to stage the attack. The initial charges against Smollett were dropped, which also caused controversy. He was even so bold as to file a countersuit against Chicago. But he was later convicted of making false police reports and disorderly conduct.

#12: Meghan Markle & Prince Harry Step Down

Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in 2018, leaving acting behind and becoming the Duchess of Sussex. However, British tabloids found much to criticize, from her choice of wedding flowers to the fact she eats avocados. Some commentators have linked this bias to prejudice against Markle’s nationality and biracial heritage. Due to the hostility, as well as invasions of privacy, Markle and Harry stepped down from their senior royal positions in January 2020. Among the public, some were understanding, especially given the fate of Harry’s mother Diana; others were outraged. Perhaps no-one was madder than Piers Morgan, who claims that Markle once “ghosted” him and has kept up a steady barrage of criticism.

#11: Martha Stewart’s Insider Trading

Given Martha Stewart’s reputation for giving Americans happy homemaker tips, she was probably the last person anyone would suspect of being a white collar criminal. However, that changed in 2002 when it was alleged that Stewart had sold off more than 3900 shares of Imclone Systems before its stock dropped 16 percent in value the next day. In 2003, Stewart was indicted on nine felony counts related to insider trading, and in 2004, she was convicted on all counts and served five months in a federal prison. Because of the scandal, Stewart had to step down from the board of directors of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc., and she couldn’t join again until 2011.

#10: Britney Spears’ Conservatorship

The Princess of Pop became an instant sensation in 1999 with “...Baby One More Time”. But in the mid 2000s, she had a very public breakdown, shaving her head, checking into and out of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, and even crashing into a parked car. The media coverage was relentless, and the public couldn’t get enough. After child welfare investigators got involved, she lost custody of her kids. It all culminated in a conservatorship under her father Jamie, with conditions including time in a psychiatric facility and using an IUD. In response, her fans started a “Free Britney” movement to advocate for an end to the conservatorship. Britney Spears and her supporters finally got their wish in November 2021.

#9: Tom Cruise’s Scientology Video

Founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology has remained controversial in spite of its celebrity advocates. The organization is infamous for its space opera, involving an alien dictator named ‘Xenu’, but also its predatory financial tactics and aggressive policies towards critics. That hasn’t stopped Tom Cruise from extolling its virtues. In 2008, a video uploaded to YouTube showed Cruise claiming that scientologists are experts at dealing with drug addiction and the only people who can help after car accidents! When the organization filed a copyright claim, YouTube took the video down. This inspired hacktivist collective Anonymous to launch the protest movement Project Chanology,

#8: Lance Armstrong’s Doping Scandal

This pro athlete and cancer survivor was seen as an inspiration by people around the world and raised millions for cancer research through his Livestrong Foundation. He was an example of what was possible if you worked hard and believed in yourself. However, in 2012, Armstrong disappointed the sports world and disillusioned his supporters when he admitted to using steroids to enhance his performance during his bike races. As a result, Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour De France titles and was banned for life from the sport.

#7: Tiger Woods’ Cheating Scandal

In 2009, Tiger’s world was turned upside down when the National Enquirer published a story about an extramarital affair. A few days later, he crashed his car and had to be brought to hospital. As the number of alleged affairs began to grow, so did everyone’s interest in the story, making him the focus of morbid curiosity. As a result of the scandal, his wife Elin Nordegren divorced him and several companies such as AT&T and Gatorade decided to drop him from their endorsement deals. The scandal permanently tarnished Tiger’s squeaky clean image.

#6: R. Kelly Abuse Allegations

The R&B artist has long been suspected of having inappropriate relationships with underage girls. In 2002, R. Kelly was indicted on multiple counts of possessing obscene material involving children, though he was acquitted, and a year later, he was able to beat the rap again. However, in the late 2010s, more allegations of misconduct and abuse emerged, along with a series of high-profile documentaries, including Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly”. In July 2019, federal prosecutors charged Kelly with multiple felony counts, including racketeering, exploitation, kidnapping, and sex trafficking, and in September 2021, he was convicted and will be sentenced in May 2022.

#5: Allison Mack & NXIVM

Best known for her role as Chloe Sullivan on “Smallville,” this actress was involved in NXIVM, a sex cult dressed up as a multilevel marketing orgranization. As part of NXIVM, which she joined in 2006, Mack recruited girls to become “slaves” for cult leader Keith Raniere. In 2018, Mack was indicted on charges including sex trafficking and forced labor that potentially could have landed her between 14 and 17 years in prison. However, because of her cooperation with investigators in bringing down Raniere, Mack was only sentenced to three years in prison, 1,000 hours of community service, and was fined 20,000 dollars.

#4: 2014 Photo Hack

Ever get suspicious emails asking for sensitive information? Some of them look legitimate, as if they’re from Apple or Google - but they’re not. In 2014 several celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, and Kate Upton were the victims of such a scam. Their iCloud accounts were hacked, and nude photos uploaded to websites like 4chan. It was a horrible invasion of privacy that’s enough to give anyone nightmares. Lawrence was perhaps the most vocal about her outrage, calling the hack a violation and “sex crime”. At least five men who were involved in the hacking were convicted and given prison sentences.

#3: Bill Cosby Assault Accusations

Before Hannibal Buress’ rant at a standup show went viral in 2014, Bill Cosby was so loved and respected as a comedian that he was known as “America’s Dad.” However, after the Buress video gained attention, several women felt encouraged to come forward and accuse Cosby of misconduct. In 2018, Cosby was indicted and convicted of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, and received a prison sentence of three to ten years. However, in 2021, he was released early after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction, citing a violation of due process. Other cases are still pending however, and the scandal has forever tarnished his legacy.

#2: Prince Andrew’s Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein was able to cultivate a lot of relationships with powerful people based on his ability to traffic young girls. According to one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, Prince Andrew was one such person and abused her in 2001. The ties between Epstein and the Duke of York were reported by the BBC in 2011, and in 2019 the prince gave a disastrous interview where he infamously tried to dispute allegations by insisting that he was unable to “sweat”. The Epstein scandal has been a headache for the British royal family, and in November 2019, Andrew stepped down from his duties as a royal.

#1: Harvey Weinstein & #MeToo

An influential producer once considered a titan in Hollywood, Weinstein was accused of assault and harassment by numerous women, as detailed by the New York Times and The New Yorker. After these stories came out, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women around the world to share their stories on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. This would spark a movement that changed the way many industries viewed misconduct in the workplace. In February 2020, Weinstein was found guilty of multiple counts of misconduct and was later sentenced to 23 years in prison.
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