7 months ago
I don’t know why, but when a celebrity commits a violent or serious crime, the public is always shocked. Aghast, disbelieving, shaken. It’s like we forget that famous people are, in the end, people. However, they made it to the top, they still have the same vulnerabilities, the same demons as the rest of us.
That said, it’s not like De Niro, DiCaprio, or Carrot Top are devastating social media daily with crime sprees. Celeb malfeasance is often quiet: tax evasion (Nicolas Cage and Wesley Snipes); DUI (Kevin Hart and Justin Bieber); Drug use (Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Downey Jr.).
There have been famous people who went far beyond hiding money from the government or dropping trou while dancing in traffic. Some of them you’ve heard of. Some are more obscure. In this case, one thing they have in common is none of the crimes were accidents such as vehicular manslaughter—a death brought on by reckless or just plain bad driving.
As far as anyone knows, these stars meant to do what they did. Read on, especially for the surprise at the end.
Boxing Promoter Don King
Truth is, it’s been well-known for years that Don King killed a man. Yes, he has that troll-doll hair and a winning smile and he rubs shoulders with celebrities all over the world, up to and including the president of the United States. But few people really know the extent of King’s brutality. In 1966, he beat, stomped, and kicked a man named Sam Garrett to death—over a $600 debt. This wasn’t a momentary loss of sanity, either. The police report made it clear King was out to get as much blood as possible from Garrett. He had a gun in his hand when police arrived and dropped it at their command—then he gave his victim a final kick in the face. He was convicted of second-degree murder. In the 1980s, the governor of Ohio pardoned him, and in 2016, the city of Cleveland named a street after King. The same street where he killed Sam Garrett.
I debated this one because, to me, Lewis wasn’t that famous. However, he had a notable role in the FX series Sons of Anarchy for two seasons and several other credits before the series. Lewis went out of his mind in a truly horrific way, ending a spiral of violence that had begun about a year before. Lewis was renting a residence from 81-year-old Catherine Davis when on September 26, 2012, they were found dead along with Davis’s cat. Piecing it all together afterward, police uncovered a terrifying narrative. It began with Lewis breaking into Davis’s home then killing her and her cat. After randomly assaulting two other people, Lewis apparently fell (or possibly threw) himself from the top of Davis’s home, dying instantly on the pavement below.
Lewis beat Davis to death, and while it would be easy to assume he was on drugs or drunk at the time, he was not.
By the time he was convicted of murder, Phil Spector may have been best known for being that tragically weird-haired music guy who shot an actress. Which is true, however at one time, Spector was a titan of the music industry, He basically invented an entire sub-genre of rock, the Wall of Sound. It was as much as sound engineering feat as anything, Spector layering track after track to create music that felt almost operatic in scale, regardless of the style. Then in 2003, he killed an up-and-coming actress, Lana Clarkson, shooting her in the mouth as she sat in a chair inside his mansion. His first trial was televised, and it was notable in part for Spector’s hair. No, really—the balding mogul went to absurd lengths to hide his baldness, and it lent the proceedings a surreal, almost grimly funny feeling. His first swing through court ended in a mistrial, though. Finally, in early 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder. He’s currently serving a 19-year-sentence.
Jace wasn’t necessarily a household name, no, but like Johnny Lewis, he’d had a standout role in a popular TV series, ironically as a police officer on The Shield. The crime for which he was convicted was notable for its apparent cruelty. As his two young children watched, Jace shot his wife. Then he said, “You like to run so much. Why don’t you try running to heaven?” His wife reportedly wanted a divorce and Jace was obsessed with the idea she was cheating on him. He was convicted and will deal with his religious and romantic obsessions for a minimum of 40 years in prison.
If you’ve ever binged the old TV series The Twilight Zone, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Gig Young. He was the lead in a classic episode, “Walking Distance,” about a man who time travels back to his childhood to learn he’s happier living life today. Young also starred in dozens of movies, eventually earning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Young was an alcoholic who’d been married five times when at 64 he wed thirty-something magazine editor, Kim Schmidt. Their marriage lasted just three weeks, ending in a murder-suicide. Police believe Young shot his wife then shot himself. There’s always been a measure of mystery surrounding Young’s motives. He left no note and his career had slowed, but was by no means over. Strangely, Young’s Oscar statuette vanished after his death.
John Wilkes Booth
Bear with me here: For his time, Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, was a major celebrity. He and his family were an acting dynasty, akin to the Baldwins. Various estimates of Booth’s fame at the moment he shot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater have compared his name recognition and fandom to Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, or (seriously) Emilio Estevez. His was a name the average American had probably seen in the papers and might recognize if it came up in conversation. Comparing historical eras to the modern day will always fail on some level, but if you can imagine a major actor assassinating a major public figure, you can probably imagine how the already war-weary public was rocked by the news. A great president gone, and a matinee idol of the day killed him. That’s insane.