Few things have the power to topple the rich and wealthy like a sex scandal. Over the years, high-ranking politicians, A-list celebrities and wealthy businesspeople have seen their lives turned upside down and their careers ruined by allegations of a sexual nature, and the media are always keen to get as many pages out of the stories as they possibly can.
10. Pamela Anderson & Tommy Lee’s Sex Tape
It’s hard to think this nowadays, but having a sex tape wasn’t always seen as a quick way to get famous and boost a celebrity’s popularity and/or notoriety. In fact, there was a time when celebrities were actually embarrassed to have their private sex tapes leaked to the public. Arguably one of the most infamous examples of this came in 1995 when a sex tape of actress Pamela Anderson (at the height of her Baywatch fame) and her greasy Mötley Crüe rocker husband Tommy Lee found its way online. The coupled alleged that the tape had been stolen from their home and they quickly attempted to block online video distribution website Internet Entertainment Group (which had somehow obtained a copy of the video) from streaming the footage. The pair were denied a temporary restraining order appeal by the California State Court so they attempted to sue IEG instead. A confidential settlement agreement was eventually reached and IEG was allowed to make the tape available to its subscribers. Whether or not the whole thing was a publicity stunt from the very beginning has never confirmed (Anderson and Lee’s lawyers explicitly stated that they never wanted to profit from the tape), but in the years since celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have launched their careers by starring in their own supposedly ‘leaked’ home movies.
9. Anthony Weiner
Modern technology and social networks have made it easier than ever for those in the public eye to accidentally reveal more of themselves than they ever intended. The appropriately titled Weinergate scandal from 2011 is the perfect example of the perils of modern communication. On May 27th, democrat politician Anthony Weiner uploaded a picture of his erect penis and publicly sent to one of his followers on Twitter, a 21 year old college student. Weiner was quick to delete the offending link, but it had already been screen captured by other users and it quickly circulated around the Internet. After several days of denying his involvement (Weiner claimed his account had been hacked and it wasn’t a picture of him), Weiner came clean at a press conference and was also forced to admit he had been sending explicit images to six other women over the last three years. Weiner resigned from congress but he was hit by another sexting controversy in 2013 when he returned to politics to run in the New York mayoral race. It emerged that, almost one year after the first scandal, Weiner had returned to his old tricks and had been sending explicit pictures to another young woman using the alias ‘Carlos Danger’.
8. Operation Yewtree
photo: jmb / Wikicommons
When British DJ and presenter Jimmy Savile died in 2011, the UK mourned the loss of one of its most prolific and beloved entertainers who had been broadcasting on the radio and television screens since the 1960s. Saville was a tireless charity campaigner, even receiving an OBE from the Queen for his efforts, and his eccentric personality had made him something of a British icon. However, one year after his death, an ITV documentary exposed Saville as a predatory sex offender who had been abusing victims for decades. Since his death the police had been inundated with hundreds of historic claims of sexual abuse from victims who stated that they had not come forward because of Saville’s power and influence (it later emerged that many victims had actually reported the abuse while he was still alive but the investigations went nowhere), and a special unit named Operation Yewtree was established to deal with the unprecedented scale of inquiries the authorities were pursuing. The inquiries discovered that at least 214 criminal offences had been committed by Saville, including 34 rapes, and three-quarters of his victims were aged under 18. Operation Yewtree was expanded to investigate sexual abuse carried out by other high-profile people involved in the British entertainment industry during this period and the inquiry led to the successful prosecution of notable celebrities like publicist Max Clifford and entertainer Rolf Harris.
7. Penn State Child Sex Abuse
photo: Skoch3 / Wikicommons
Pennsylvania State is one of the few publicly-funded American universities which is considered to be able to compete with the quality of education provided by Ivy League institutions. However the reputation of the university was rocked in 2011 when it emerged that Penn State’s assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had molested underage boys on or near campus during the 30 years he had worked at the university. Even worse, there was evidence that several high-ranking school officials had gone to considerable lengths to cover up Sandusky’s crimes and fail to report them to the proper authorities. In 2011, Sandusky was indicted on 51 counts of child molestation between 1994 and 2009, but it is suspected that the abuse could have dated back to the 1970s when Sandusky first started working at Penn State. Sandusky was given a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and several officials from the university, including the school president, were forced to resign. A federal investigation into the university’s cover-up is still ongoing and other members of the Penn State’s faculty are likely to stand trial for their role in the scandal.
6. Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair
Stuffy British politicians have always had a reputation for harbouring a seedier side. One of the biggest sex scandals to titillate the UK came in 1963 when it emerged that the Secretary of State for War John Profumo had had a brief affair with 19 year old model Christine Keeler two years earlier. Although the sexual liaison was said to be brief, the story quickly gained steam when it was revealed that Keeler was also bedding a Russian intelligence officer during the same time period. Cold War tensions were at their height and the possibility that there had been a security leak from the British Secretary of State for War made global headlines. Despite initially denying the affair to the House of Commons, Profumo was eventually forced to concede the truth and he resigned from politics. Keeler had been introduced to both men through her socialite friend Stephen Ward, and Ward (who many saw as a scapegoat) was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler. However, he committed suicide before he could be sentenced. Although it was eventually concluded that there had been no security leaks from the affair, the stress of the allegations also caused Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to resign and the scandal was thought to be one of the main reasons the Conservatives lost the 1964 election.
5. Fatty Arbuckle
Sex scandals in modern Hollywood may seem like a depressingly regular occurrence these days and celebrities who are caught in the middle of them usually find a way to bounce back, but this wasn’t always the case. Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was one of the most successful silent stars during the early days of Tinsel town and in 1921 he became one of the highest-paid stars in the industry when he signed a $1 million contract with Paramount Pictures. However, in September of that year Arbuckle’s career and reputation tumbled down when he was named as a suspect in the death of aspiring young actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe had been invited to a party hosted in a hotel suite by Arbuckle and some of his friends, but she was hospitalised days later suffering from chronic pain before dying from a ruptured bladder. Her friend accused Arbuckle of rape (media reports later alleged that he had used a piece of ice or a Cola bottle to rape her) and it was suspected that the actor’s overweight frame had caused Rappe’s bladder to rupture. Criminal trials ensued and Arbuckle’s name was dragged through the mud by false testimonies which eventually led to two mistrials. Arbuckle was acquitted in the third trail when it was definitely proven that Rappe had a pre-existing medical condition, chronic cystitis, which was exacerbated by alcohol, causing her chronic pain. It was also revealed that she had had several abortions in the past which were carried out in substandard conditions and could have been a likely cause of her medical problems. Despite the acquittal verdict, the trails had cost Arbuckle most of his personal fortune and his marriage, and his career never recovered from the scandal.
4. Heidi Fleiss
Dubbed the “Hollywood madam to the stars”, Heidi Fleiss ran a high-class prostitution ring in Hollywood during the early 90s. Joining up with Alex Adams (the famous Madam 90210), Fleiss expanded her partner’s A-list client book and brought in attractive young women to build up their illegal criminal escort service. Fleiss has said that within the first four months the ring had made more than $1 million dollars and even on a slow night they would easily bring in more than $10,000. The prosperous prostitution ring ran from 1990 to 1993 when Fleiss was charged with attempted pandering by an undercover police operation. Her arrest shook Hollywood and many assumed that it wouldn’t be long before Fleiss let spill about her high-profile clients. However, despite facing state and federal charges Fleiss remained tight-lipped throughout her trial. She was convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion in August 1995 and served 20 months of her 37 month sentence in a minimum-security prison. 20 years later, Fleiss still hasn’t divulged the contents of her little black book and the only confirmed celebrity to have been a client of her services was actor Charlie Sheen. However, Fleiss has said that Sheen’s name being leaked wasn’t deliberate and it was only because she was carrying traveller’s cheques in Sheen’s name when she was arrested.
3. Tiger Woods
For years, Tiger Woods managed to keep his personal life private as he made international headlines as a golf superstar. However, this all changed in November 2009 when the National Enquirer alleged that Woods had cheated on his wife with Rachel Uchitel, a New York nightclub manager. Uchitel denied these claims but two days later Woods was involved in a minor car crash near his home, and media speculation went into overdrive when it was revealed that his wife had battered the car with a golf club whilst Woods was driving. Woods announced that he was pulling out of upcoming tournaments to attend to personal matters, but a voicemail message left by Woods to one of his mistresses was leaked to the US press a week later. In the coming weeks more than a dozen women claimed to have had affairs with Woods and the golf superstar was forced to publicly admit and apologise for his transgressions. He pulled out of upcoming golf tournaments, was dropped from multi-million dollar endorsement deals and was divorced by his wife the following year.
2. The British Press and Super-Injunctions
The media has the power to make sure that everyone hears about a scandal, but the industry itself was put under the spotlight in 2011 when the UK became obsessed with ‘super-injunctions’. These were effectively gagging orders passed by the courts which legally prevented newspapers and media outlets from disclosing details and revealing information about those named in injunctions. When tabloid newspaper The Sun started printing sex scandal allegations about people who had taken out injunctions in April 2011 (carefully omitting details they legally weren’t allowed to print), they were backed by other supportive newspapers who felt that the super-injunctions were a breach of free speech. Meanwhile, the public feverishly speculated about who had taken out these court orders and why. One month later, a Twitter account started posting the true identity of people named in injunctions and one celebrity, footballer Ryan Giggs (who had taken out an injunction to prevent news of an affair from being printed in the press), pursued legal action against Twitter Inc. in an effort to obtain the names of people talking about the injunction so that they could be prosecuted. It was obviously a pointless endeavour because the information was now out there and thousands of people were talking about the leaked celebrities, but newspapers were still legally prevented from naming those in the super-injunctions even though social networks had proven the gagging orders to be ineffective.
1. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
Sex scandals don’t get any bigger than those which involve world leaders. In January 1998, news broke that then-President Bill Clinton had been having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky between 1995 and 1997. Lewinsky, who had been transferred out of the White House to the Pentagon in 1996 because her advisors thought she was spending too much time with Clinton, had been secretly recorded by a co-worker, Linda Tripp, about her affair with the President. Tripp persuaded Lewinsky to keep any gifts from Clinton that she had received during the time of the affair and also not to dry-clean a blue dress which had Clinton’s semen stains on it. Tripp passed these tapes on to be used in an ongoing civil case against Clinton which alleged that he had made inappropriate sexual behaviour toward a co-worker while he was Governor of Arkansas years before (it was intended for the tapes to be used as proof that Clinton was still exhibiting a pattern of this behaviour), but the case was also expanded to investigate the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. News of the case caused a global media sensation and details of the whole sordid affair – including one infamous incident where Lewinsky pleasured herself with one of Clinton’s cigars – made for attention-grabbing headlines. Clinton famously stated that “[he] did not have sexual relations with that woman” in a televised White House news conference on January 26th 1998, but mounting evidence forced Clinton to ‘retune’ his position. He defended himself saying that the legal definition of oral sex did not constitute sex and that because the acts were performed on him he technically didn’t engage in them. It was obviously a flimsy defence for a grand jury hearing and Clinton was subsequently impeached by the House of Representatives in December 1998 for charges of perjury and the obstruction of justice. However, this was not upheld when the case reached the Senate and Clinton was ultimately acquitted of all charges.