These celebrities were beloved by fans and the entertainment industry until one false move totally kiboshed their careers. Some were involved in terrible accidents or crimes. Others delivered awful performances, or awful reviews of awful performances. Who thinks the Earth is flat (and told Twitter all about it?) Who wanted to become president but became a meme instead? And who threw a sucker punch in an elevator? Some stars voluntarily disappeared after their life-changing moments, others were forced out of the limelight, and a few actually attempted to mount comebacks. The results were the same — all that fame and fortune faded from view
Hollywood has always been a fickle business, and the ol’ "five minutes of fame" refrain exists for good reason. Even so, these celebs clearly weren’t expecting to destroy their careers in a matter of seconds. Keep reading to relieve the shocking moments.
In June 2001, 90210 alum and Jawbreaker (1999) star Rebecca Gayheart struck and killed a third-grader who was crossing the street. People reports that it was Gayheart’s negligence that led to the tragedy, with police noting that several other cars had stopped for the boy before Gayheart passed them in the left lane and hit him. She settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the boy’s family, but the damage to her career was done. Since then, the actress’ work has mostly been relegated to TV movies, guest-starring roles in TV shows, and a handful of single seasons of television projects, such as Dead Like Me (2003) and Vanished (2006).
Gary Busey was an acclaimed actor in the 1970s and ’80s, even nabbing an Oscar nomination for his titular role in The Buddy Holly Story (1978). Unfortunately for the star, a stubborn stance and an instant disaster ended his shot at ever returning to that stratum of success. People reports that Busey was an outspoken advocate against motorcycle helmets for years, despite a lot of data (and common sense) showing helmets prevent death and serious injury to riders in accidents. Fast forward to December 1988: Busey was involved in a motorcycle crash without a helmet. He needed hours of neurosurgery to remove blood clots from his brain. After the accident, Busey struggled with drug addiction, yet still refused to wear a helmet. His career since the crash has been relegated to cameos and television work, most notably Celebrity Rehab (2008). Busey has landed no leading roles in anything beyond C-level, straight-to-video fare.
Brandy was an R&B and pop sensation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She had hit songs, Grammys, the TV series Moesha (1996), a judging stint on the first season of America’s Got Talent (2006), and even a doll in her likeness. But in 2007, all that success came crashing down, literally. TMZ reports that on Dec. 30, 2006, Brandy was going 65 mph in her 2007 Land Rover and didn’t notice cars ahead of her had slowed down. She struck a 2005 Toyota, which then hit a 1989 Toyota, sending the 2005 Toyota sideways into a highway divider. As the 2005 Toyota finally stopped moving, a 1988 Acura struck it. (Phew, got all that?) The driver of the 2005 Toyota, Awatef Aboudiha, a married mom, was killed in the accident. Brandy later settled with Aboudiha’s family, but her career never recovered after the tragedy. Her 2008 album, Human, was a commercial disaster; she lost her judging gig on America’s Got Talent; and her brother, Ray J, made the family notorious with his sex tape with Kim Kardashian.
James ‘Jimmy the Greek’ Snyder
James "Jimmy the Greek" Snyder was one of the most successful sportscasters of his time, launching The NFL Today and remaining there for 12 years. Why’d he leave? Well, he was forced out after making some racially charged comments on air in 1988, saying that black athletes left no sports jobs for whites except coaching. As if that weren’t bad enough, he claimed that black Americans were better athletes than whites because of physical traits bred into them during slavery. Dude, seriously? Snyder did publicly apologize but added insult to injury when he later sued CBS for "age discrimination," claiming that his firing aggravated his own health problems. Sure, bro.
Natalia Kills and Willy Moon
Natalia Kills and husband Willy Moon were co-judges on X Factor: New Zealand (2013), which already tells the reader something about their level of pop success. In any case, the pair needlessly ripped into a contestant in a 2015 audition, earning a reputation for the meanest and most ridiculous X Factor commentary ever. What made it the worst? Kills accused contestant Joe Irvine, who simply wore a suit and sang for his audition, of "copying her husband." She added, "You’re a laughing stock. It’s cheesy, it’s disgusting. I personally found it absolutely artistically atrocious. I am embarrassed to be sitting here in your presence having to even dignify you with an answer of my opinion…You make me sick." Moon chimed in, "I feel like you’re going to stitch someone’s skin to your face and then kill everyone in the audience."
The couple effectively killed their careers: They were fired from the show and received so much hate online that Kills had to change her name to Teddy Sinclair. They now perform together under the totally non-ironic band name "Cruel Youth."
Howard Dean was a favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. That is, until the former Vermont governor gave a speech at the Iowa caucus in January 2004 and delivered the scream heard around the world. His overenthusiastic "YEAH!" reverberated as a global joke, essentially ending his chances at ever winning the White House. The media replayed the gaffe constantly, with everyone from Dave Chappelle to Diane Sawyer offering commentary on it. Dean dropped out of the race a month later.
In October 2004, Ashlee Simpson performed her hit single, "Pieces of Me," on Saturday Night Live, and it went fine. However, when she returned to the stage to perform her next tune, "Autobiography," things went south. The vocals for "Pieces of Me" began playing while Simpson’s mic was down at her side. She tried to recover, for some ungodly reason, with a spontaneous hoedown before fleeing the stage. At the end of the episode, a visibly mortified Simpson said her band played the wrong song. Later, on 60 Minutes, she blamed her acid reflux for her reliance on a backing vocal track. Simpson attempted comebacks, but the public wasn’t having it. She was booed at her Orange Bowl performance in January 2005, and her record sales never recovered from the humiliation.
Rapper B.o.B has laid low since his smash hit, "Airplanes," in 2010, but he really cemented his status as a flop when he tweeted in January 2016 that the Earth is flat. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he got some heat from astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who tried explaining to him that the planet is actually pretty round. He tweeted, "Duude—to be clear: Being five centuries regressed in your reasoning doesn’t mean we all can’t still like your music." B.o.B responded with the diss track "Flatline," which features a recording of Tyson discussing the formation of the Earth. It was the most listens the rapper had attracted since 2011, but not for the right reasons.
Troy Duffy is the director of the cult classic 90’s film, The Boondocks Saints. His story is legendary: He wrote the screenplay on his breaks from tending bar, and sold it to Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, who also offered to buy the bar where Duffy worked and sign it over to him as part of the deal. How Hollywood is that, right? Except according to The Guardian, he turned into an alcoholic egomaniac who blew the deal after getting into an argument with Ewan MacGregor. Documentarians Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith — who made their own film, Overnight, which tracked Duffy’s disastrous mishandling of his opportunity — told The Guardian that it was the Ewan MacGregor incident that soured Weinstein on the deal.
After Miramax dropped the film, Duffy accepted a lesser deal that left him with no distribution rights, meaning when the film attained cult status upon DVD release, Duffy got nothing. And though the film’s underground success eventually led to a sequel 10 years later, The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day just barely made its money back at the box office and was also viciously panned by critics. "Duffy’s film made me sad for the Irish in general and Irish-American vigilantes in particular," one critic wrote in the Chicago Tribune. It’s probably going to be hard to sell a trilogy on that endorsement.
Sinead O’Connor was banned from SNL after she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II during her a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s "War." But the sacrilegious act did more than just get the bald-headed songstress booted from late night TV. According to The Atlantic, O’Connor was instantly reviled. At one demonstration, "piles of her records, taped, and CDs were crushed by a steamroller, and it took only a year before she "disappeared from the American pop scene" altogether.
Billboard offers a more egalitarian take on O’Connor’s post-SNL career, stating that she did still successfully sell albums in the years that followed, granted none of her songs ever made it back onto the Hot 100 chart. And while it’s unlikely that anyone can name a single Sinead O’Connor song outside of the smash hit "Nothing Compares 2 U," everyone can probably cite at least one or two times she’s made headlines in the past few years, be it her public and graphic pleas for sex or her Twitter feud with Miley Cyrus. Album sales or no, O’Connor has been nothing but a provocateur for decades now, a choice she made when she left her music career in tatters on the floor right beside that photo of the pope.
Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympic sprinter also known to the sports world as "Blade Runner," became an international sensation after his performance in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Though he failed to medal — he was eliminated in the 400m semi-final round — his participation in the games was not only historic, but the result of a hard fought five-year court battle that overturned a ruling which deemed his prosthetic legs gave him an advantage.
But everything changed within six months when Pistorius was charged with the murder of his model/actress girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. She was shot and killed by Pistorius on Valentine’s Day in 2013 while she was locked in the bathroom of his home. Pistorius claimed he thought she was an intruder, but a jury didn’t buy that. According to CNN, he was convicted of manslaughter, then "a higher court reversed that to murder" the following year, which earned him a six year prison sentence and an untimely end to a once promising athletic career.
Ray Rice’s career ended in 2014 with a single knockout punch. But unfortunately, he was an NFL star, not a boxer, and the punch he threw landed savagely on his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer. The incident was captured on video, which also includes Rice then dragging Palmer’s lifeless body out of the elevator in which he attacked her.
Amazingly, Rice and Palmer stayed together and even married shortly after the incident. Rice avoided criminal charges by getting "accepted into a pretrial diversion program," according to USA Today. But he wasn’t so lucky with the NFL. His team, The Baltimore Ravens, dropped him immediately. The league suspended him indefinitely, although he successfully sued them, won a monetary settlement for wrongful termination, and was reinstated as an unsigned free agent. As of this writing, Rice remains unsigned after years of begging any team to bring him on, even pledging to donate his salary to "organizations with programs focusing on education and prevention of domestic violence and supporting survivors and their families." Still, no takers. And before anyone starts feeling sorry for the admittedly repentant Rice, keep in mind that despite his fall from grace, he still collected "almost $27 million of a five-year, $40 million contract he signed in July 2012," according to Sports Illustrated. That version of unemployment doesn’t sound so bad.
In a surprisingly candid interview with the New York Daily News, Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven did not mince words when he took the blame for his movie ruining Elizabeth Berkley’s career. "Showgirls certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way," he said, adding, "It made my life more difficult, but not to the degree it did Elizabeth’s. Hollywood turned their backs on her." Verhoeven even attributed the "abruptness" of Berkley’s performance to his direction, but he admits that the film ultimately failed to convey his vision.
Berkley has also publicly acknowledged the post-Showgirls destruction. In a tearful breakdown during a Dancing With The Stars rehearsal in 2013, she told her partner, Val Chmerkovskiy, that she was not expecting the "criticism" and "backlash" she received from the controversial role which resulted in "a lot of doors slammed in her face." But probably the saddest part of Berkley’s confession is her admission that her turn on Dancing With The Stars was so "empowering" that it felt "like some sort of sentence was lifted." Yep, you read that right. Elizabeth Berkley actually felt that doing Dancing With The Stars was her big career comeback after 22 years of industry stonewall. That’s not even funny. That’s just sad.
Everyone knows Katherine Heigl torpedoed her reputation with her remarks about the show that made her famous, Grey’s Anatomy. But where Heigl’s Grey‘s flub led to a slow career evaporation, co-star Isaiah Washington’s resume took a kill shot when he got axed after it was reported in the press that he used a gay slur during an argument with Patrick Dempsey, then moronically repeated the slur backstage at The Golden Globes. That was in 2007, and it would take six years for Washington to stage his Hollywood comeback.
In 2013, he told The Huffington Post, "After the incident at The Golden Globes, it just, everything just fell apart," adding, "I lost everything. I couldn’t afford to have an agent. I couldn’t afford to have a publicist for crisis management." Washington then went "underground" for years to escape what he categorized as "persecution" from "a behemoth of the media" that he claims created a false narrative surrounding his on-set remarks. Washington is now back to working regularly, thanks to his own efforts rebuilding his fan base via social media and collaborating on independent projects during his blackball period. He even returned to Grey’s Anatomy in 2014 for a single episode, but we’re guessing he steered clear of McDreamy at lunch.
Winning an Academy Award is usually a golden ticket to A-list stardom for the lucky few actors who win them each year. And with comedian Mo’Nique’s win for her powerful dramatic turn in 2009’s Precious, it seemed like she was destined for that track. But the second she walked off that stage with her trophy in hand, everything went sideways. She wouldn’t get another role for five years until 2014’s Blackbird, an indie flick that coincidentally starred fellow Hollywood outcast, Isaiah Washington.
According to a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mo’Nique claims she was finally told a few months prior by director Lee Daniels that she had been blackballed as a result of her husband’s aggressive salary negotiation tactics. Incredulous, Mo’Nique went to TMZ and blasted Daniels, claiming she believes he was behind her career downfall, because she didn’t thank him in her Oscar acceptance speech. Not surprisingly, this did not get Mo’Nique back into the good graces of the Hollywood elite, nor did her later doubling down on both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, who she’s also accused of conspiring against her. Yikes. Mo’Nique’s career may have been abruptly and unfairly shoved into an early grave, but she’s been doing nothing but shoveling dirt onto it ever since.
The Australian DJ certainly wasn’t known around the world prior to her career-shattering goof, but she is now, especially since her ill-advised antics even got The Royal Family mixed up in a tragic suicide in 2012. According to Buzzfeed, Grieg posed as Queen Elizabeth and called the hospital where a pregnant Kate Middleton was being treated. They spoke with two nurses; first was Jacintha Saldanha, who forwarded the call to another nurse who unwittingly told the DJ’s details of Middleton’s condition. Three days later, distraught over her involvement with the breach of such a high-profile patient’s medical information, Saldanha slit her wrists and hung herself. One of her three suicide notes included the damning accusation, "I hold the Radio Australians Mel Greig and Michael Christian responsible for this act."
Grieg and her co-host, Michael Christian, were suspended from the airwaves, there show was cancelled, and higher-ups called for a "company-wide suspension of prank calls." Christian, who was a minor player in the call, returned to radio on a different station a few months later. Grieg, however, filed a lawsuit against her employers, alleging that they "failed to maintain a safe workspace." They eventually settled, with the station publicly stating that Grieg had objected to the airing of the prank call, but nevertheless, she also resigned from radio in December of 2013. After a three year hiatus, Grieg returned to the airwaves, although she admits she’s still apprehensive about being "aligned" with the infamous prank that destroyed her career and others’ lives in a matter of seconds.