What does it take to kill a Hollywood career? More than it used to, obviously.
MEL Gibson’s career is teetering on a razor’s edge of oblivion and redemption, as the recent Hangover 2 kerfuffle illustrated, while Charlie Sheen apparently has an all-powerful immunity card to protect him from his own naked, raving “allergic reactions”.
What does it take to kill a Hollywood career? The criteria are forever shifting.
In the early 1920s, silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle saw his career – and life – ruined after he was charged with manslaughter stemming from a woman’s death at a party.
William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers drove the sensational coverage, and although Arbuckle’s third trial (after two mistrials) resulted in an acquittal (the jury statement proclaimed him “entirely innocent and free from all blame”), the film industry not only prevented him from working but refused to circulate his films.
Adultery kept Ingrid Bergman in Italy for several years in the 1950s but did little harm to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and countless cheating Hollywood couples since.
Roman Polanski won the best director Oscar for The Pianist (2002) despite having lived in Europe since 1978 to escape sentencing for his guilty plea to unlawful sex with a minor, yet Paul Reubens, aka PeeWee Herman, never really did get his career back on track after his 1991 arrest for indecent exposure in an adult movie theatre. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks. Is blurting out racial slurs a career killer? Well, aside from last year’s Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Michael Richards has done no non-animated TV or movie acting since he shouted racial epithets at an African-American heckler at a West Hollywood comedy club in 2006.
Isaiah Washington had been enjoying a career breakthrough on Grey’s Anatomy until reports of him using an anti-gay slur against costar T.R. Knight – and his rehashing of the controversy and word backstage at the Golden Globes – left him jobless in 2007.
Yet in her 2006 divorce filing, actress Denise Richards quoted a Sheen phone message in which he called her the same racist term Michael Richards used, and Sheen’s career had no hiccup.
Are drugs a career killer? If so, much of Hollywood wouldn’t be working. The key word there is “working”.
“If you’re still in the business delivering the product, you can be forgiven and forgiven and forgiven,” said Bruce Bibby, who covers gossip for E! under the name Ted Casablanca. “There are heroinaddicted actresses out there, and everyone knows who they are, and they keep delivering the product.”
By contrast, Lindsay Lohan, whose struggles with substance abuse are well-documented, is not working reliably, and her seemingly endless trips to rehab make it difficult for producers to insure her.
Robert Downey Jr was in a similar situation many years back and did prison time. Now he’s one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Key factor: Aside from being immensely talented, Downey is widely acknowledged to be one of Hollywood’s best-liked figures – and being liked counts for a lot.
How else to explain Sheen’s Teflon coating? Any of these incidents might have killed other careers:
> Sheen was reported to have accidentally shot his fiance, Kelly Preston, in the arm in 1990; yes, she broke off the engagement. That same year also found him in rehab for drug and alcohol use, but his addiction problems continued, and he was hospitalised for an overdose in 1998.
> Also in the 1990s, Sheen admitted patronising Heidi Fleiss’ prostitution ring and was charged with misdemeanour battery (and received a suspended sentence) after a former girlfriend said he’d abused her. His marriage to Denise Richards ended in divorce in 2006 with her accusing him of threatening her and being addicted to drugs, porn, prostitutes and gambling, according to a court filing.
> Sheen repeatedly has suggested that the George Bush administration was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
> In late December last year, Sheen was arrested for attacking wife Brooke Mueller; she accused him of holding a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her. He reentered rehab, and in August this year he agreed to a plea deal on misdemeanor assault while the more serious charges were dropped. CBS showed its support by renewing him for another two years for his sitcom Two And A Half Men at what USA Today reported to be US$1.8mil (RM5.6mil) an episode, “making him by far the top-paid TV star”. Police encountered Sheen again one morning in New York after he reportedly trashed his Plaza hotel suite in a naked, intoxicated rage allegedly witnessed by a prostitute after he couldn’t find his cell phone or wallet – all with his exwife Richards and their two kids in another room nearby. His publicist said he had “an adverse allergic reaction to some medication”. How does Sheen do it? Showing up for work and making his employers money helps. Also, one prominent Hollywood publicist (who, averse to commenting on real or potential clients, asked not to be named) noted that fans by nature are a forgiving bunch. “They actually like their heroes flawed,” the publicist said. “They can identify with them better.”
In that case, Sheen is prompting people to identify with some pretty extreme behaviour, but, Bibby noted, at least the actor always has been upfront about being a “bad boy”.
“He’s a pretty well-liked guy,” Bibby said. “Gibson isn’t.”
Director Todd Phillips was keen on helping Gibson off the mat by way of a presumably wacky cameo as a Bangkok tattoo artist in the Hangover sequel, and he noted in a statement that he “had the full backing” of Warner Bros Pictures president Jeff Robinov. So at least one studio is ready to do business with the troubled actor-filmmaker just three months after the public release of his raging, threatening, epithet-filled phone messages to then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.
But, Phillips’ statement continued, the casting decision “did not have the full support of my entire cast and crew” – with Zach Galifianakis widely reported to have led the complaints – so Gibson was out, and the uncontroversial Liam Neeson was in.
The New York Post subsequently reported that Gibson was “furious” over getting the boot, and it quoted “a source close to Gibson” as saying: “He doesn’t understand why Mike Tyson, a drug user who turned his life around, was given a chance (in the first Hangover) while Mel was kicked to the curb. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
If you want to avoid Sheen’s wrath, it’s probably best not to date him. If you want to avoid Gibson’s wrath, it’s probably best not to be female, Jewish, black, Hispanic or gay. A fine distinction, for sure.
“Basically, I think it all comes down to arrogance,” Bibby said. “Charlie Sheen is not an arrogant (jerk). He’s just an addict. And Mel Gibson is an arrogant (jerk) and an addict.”
Still, the publicist said we shouldn’t count out Gibson, who has two films in the can (Jodie Foster’s The Beaver and How I Spent My Summer Vacation from Adrian Grunberg, Gibson’s first assistant director on Apocalypto).
“Comebacks are easy. They just take time.” – Chicago Tribune/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Teflon coated: Charlie Sheen arriving at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen, Colorado, for a hearing in his domestic abuse case. Despite his problems, Sheen is still a well-liked figure in Hollywood.