These days, we have insight into the lives of our celebs at the click of a button, with scandals, mishaps and feuds clear for everyone to see. But back in the 80s, this information wasn’t quite so easy to get a hold of – and what was splashed across the front pages of the tabloids one day could be quite easily forgotten the next.
Here we’ve rounded up 20 major celebrity scandals from the 80s you probably forgot about.
20. Milli Vanilli were outed as frauds
In 1989, Milli Vanilli were at the peak of stardom, despite only beginning their music career and getting signed to a label a year prior. However, their newfound fame came tumbling down around them in 1989 during a live performance on MTV. Everything was going swimmingly until their backing track jammed, exposing the fact that the pop group were actually lip-syncing rather than singing, much to the audience’s shock.
The pair made no attempts to cover up the slip, instead simply fleeing the stage, mortified. Though they eventually returned to the stage and finished the set, the pair admitted that their career was never the same from that point onwards. Controversy followed them continuously, only increasing when singer Rob Pilatus allegedly said he was ‘the next Elvis’, and implied he would be more famous than Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney combined.
19. Madonna’s Like a Prayer music video was denounced by the Vatican
Madonna’s music career has always been boundary-pushing, so it’s no surprise that she’s been followed by criticism right from the beginning. Many of her music videos have been blasted as too sexual, too taboo or just too offensive by critics, and her video for Like a Prayer was no exception. When Madonna released the video she was met with outrage and horror from the Vatican, who claimed that it contained blasphemous uses of Christian imagery. The Vatican took issue with the fact that, amongst other things, the video featured footage of Madonna passionately making out with a statue of a crying saint.
Between the statue kissing, her somewhat revealing outfit choices, and the fact that she sets several crucifixes on fire throughout the video, many Christians felt it necessary to protest against Madonna and everything she represented. Not only that, but the video’s original purpose as a Pepsi advert was also abandoned completely, with the company wanting to distance themselves from the controversy.
18. A 15-year-old Brooke Shields starred in a racy Calvin Klein advert
Brooke Shields rose to prominence as a child star in the late 70s and early 80s, but she caused a major scandal when she appeared in a Calvin Klein advert at just 15. In the ad, Shields is rather scantily clad, and says the risque line “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” The implication of a 15-year-old girl going commando did not go down well in the press, and the ad was considered highly inappropriate even at the time.
Still, for Shields herself it was just the latest in a series of scandals, given that she was fresh off filming a movie in which her character fell in love with her cousin. Despite both Shields and her costar being underage, the film was full of simulated sex, and also featured the two raising a child together. Critics also raised alarm bells over the fact that Shields was barely clothed for most of the movie, and was technically simulating incest on-screen.
17. Chuck Berry was exposed for filming women in his restaurant bathroom
Back in the 80s, Chuck Berry found himself in a spot of trouble when he was accused of covertly filming women in the bathroom of his restaurant. After being exposed by one of his chefs, several women filed a lawsuit against the rock star. Allegedly, Berry had compiled tapes that featured hundreds of women relieving themselves in his private bathroom, with cameras placed both behind the toilet and directly above it. Around the same time, adult magazines featuring similar imagery were allegedly found at his house, confirming that Berry was collecting this footage for his own gratification.
Berry was never formally charged with any crime, instead opting to settle out of court with his accusers. All in all, Berry was forced to shell out a sizeable $1.3 million to the women he had filmed, and his reputation took a serious hit.
16. Anjelica Huston cut ties with Jack Nicholson after he fathered a child with another woman
Between 1973 and 1989, Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson enjoyed a tumultuous relationship, rife with recurring rumours of Nicholson’s infidelity. After it emerged that Nicholson had fathered a child with Rebecca Broussard, Huston finally called time on their relationship, booting him out for good. Huston had been harbouring a crush on Nicholson ever since she saw him in Easy Rider in 1969, going to see the movie multiple times by herself just to see him.When she was invited by a friend to his birthday party years later, she was instantly smitten.
As Huston explained in her second autobiography, there were signs that the relationship would eventually go sour right from the beginning, when he cancelled their first date to hang out with his ex-girlfriend instead. After they had broken up for good in the wake of the revelation, Jack gifted Huston a pair of diamond earrings and matching bracelet, which Frank Sinatra had once gifted to Ava Gardner.
15. Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic title for steroid use
In the 80s, Johnson was at the peak of his game. One of the most anticipated races in history, the 1988 100m Olympic Men’s final saw the Canadian Johnson go up against American rival Carl Lewis. Johnson didn’t only beat Lewis, but set a new world record in the process, and was revered as a Canadian hero and ground-breaking athlete. Unfortunately, he was only able to revel in his status for three days, as that’s how long it took for the truth to be revealed.
Johnson had been taking an illegal steroid, and tests confirmed that he had drugs in his system when he had run the race. Johnson was stripped of his title and sent home to Canada in disgrace, in a moment which commentators at the time said “stopped the Olympics dead.” Johnson had been under suspicion for a while, making the moment not one of shock, but mostly of disappointment from his many fans.
14. Brenda Dickson sued Columbia Pictures
Brenda Dickson rose to fame in the 70s and 80s for appearing in CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless as Jill Foster Abbott. Dickson held the role until 1987, when she was finally axed from the show, much to the public’s outrage. Dickson was not prepared to take this snub lying down, instead coming clean about her affair with the show’s creator, William J Bell, and suing Columbia Pictures for unfair dismissal.
She claimed she was blacklisted as a result of the affair, and was open about the damage it had cost her in the industry. Dickson filled a lawsuit for $10 million, and additionally asked for her job back, claiming she had been rendered broke and homeless as a result of her treatment. She was not successful in returning to the show, but she did release the vanity film Welcome to My Home, which became a viral internet meme and even netted her a Vanity Fair cover.
13. Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a live bat on stage
In 1982, Ozzy Osbourne was performing in Des Moines, Iowa when by chance a bat landed on the stage. Obviously the star was feeling a little peckish, as he decided to chow down on the creature, biting off its head. Ozzy would later go on to admit that he assumed the bat was fake and made of rubber, but despite this, there were cries from the public for the rock star to be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
Later in his career, Osbourne made headlines again when he opted to bite the heads off of two live doves in a meeting of record executives. The original plan was for him to release the birds at the end of a short speech, but a combination of boredom and brandy eventually pushed him to take a different approach. The resulting scandal was all over newspapers at the time, and as a result, the sales of his first solo album skyrocketed.
12. Vanessa Williams was stripped of her Miss America crown
In 1984, Vanessa Williams hit headlines when she was crowned as the first African-American Miss America. However, Williams’ past soon came back to haunt her after naked photos printed in Penthouse magazine began to emerge. Williams had been working as a photographer’s assistant when the pictures were taken, and had been assured that they were only silhouettes, in which she was unidentifiable.
However, the photographs were soon bought and released without her consent, and showed her in many compromising positions, including naked with other women. As a result, Williams was forced to turn in her crown and lose her title. Though she was humiliated, the title had never actually been a goal of hers, since she actually entered the competition with the hope of winning the scholarship money.
11. Lionel Richie’s love triangle was exposed
Lionel Richie’s first wife Brenda Harvey was his childhood sweetheart, who many believed he would stay with forever. The two seemed to have an idyllic life, having adopted a child together, but soon after things began to go sour. In 1986, the pop star allegedly began an affair with a dancer named Diane Alexander, often sneaking into her house and staying the night.
After Richie had filed for divorce from Harvey, she showed up at Alexander’s house at two in the morning, discovering him there. Despite friends and family describing Harvey as a gentle and kind person, she completely lost control, smashing furniture and glass as well as kicking Richie and screaming. She was arrested for battery and assaulting a spouse, and Richie soon after married Alexander, though that marriage only lasted for eight years.
10. Matthew Broderick’s car crash fatalities
For a short while in the 80s, Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey were the prom king and prom queen of teen movies. After meeting on the set of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the two became a couple and were touring Ireland in secret, just weeks before the release of Dirty Dancing made Grey a household name. The weather in Ireland at the time was dreadful, and a police officer warned that the route Broderick wanted to drive was incredibly dangerous in the rain.
He was soon proven right, as Broderick’s car collided with another on the country road, killing the two women who were driving in the other direction. Though the crash was caused by Broderick drifting into the wrong lane, his initial charge of death by dangerous driving was downgraded to careless driving, which the family of the victims’ said was a result of his celebrity status. Meanwhile, the ordeal made Grey lose her passion and ambition for acting, and she avoided the Dirty Dancing press tour to stay with Broderick in hospital.
9. Sean Penn assaulted a photographer
Numerous times in his career, Sean Penn has been accused of tussling with various photographers. The two-time Oscar-winning actor was convicted of misdemeanor vandalism in 2010 after kicking a photographer and breaking his camera. Penn was ordered to stay 100 yards away from the photographer, and even had to attend community service.
Not only that, but he was ordered to take anger management classes, given that this was a repeating pattern of behaviour for him. Penn had previously spent 30 days in jail for assaulting an extra, and later attacked another photographer at brother Chris’ funeral in 2006. He even faced a complaint of domestic assault while he was married to Madonna in the 80s, although both denied the accusation while they were together.
8. John Belushi died of an overdose
John Belushi was one of the most gifted and famous comedians of the 1980s, but he didn’t exactly have a scandal-free life. Despite being an originating member of the cast, Belushi was fired and rehired to Saturday Night Life, thanks to his erratic behaviour and substance abuse. Despite this, Belushi managed to expand into both a film and music career, starring in hits like National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, and collaborating with artists like Tom Malone and Paul Shaffer.
Tragically, Belushi died in 1982 as a result of a combined drug overdose, administered by Canadian dancer and groupie Casey Smith. He was posthumously honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his funeral was attended by many famous comedians and actors. Casey Smith served 15 months in jail for her part in Belushi’s death and later retrained as a legal secretary.
7. Olivia Newton-John’s Physical music video
Despite her transformation from goody two-shoes to leather-clad bad girl at the end of Grease, Olivia Newton’s John maintained her reputation as a clean-cut Australian sweetheart. That only changed with the release of Physical, her second studio album, with the title track in particular kicking off some serious controversy. The music video depicts Newton-John working out in a skintight leotard, surrounded by overweight men who struggle to keep up.
The men then magically transform into hunky models, leaving arm in arm or hand in hand with each other and leaving Newton-John with the last of them. Everything about the track was provocative, from the sexual content of the lyrics, to the apparent presence of gay men in the music video. However, it soared to the top of the charts and remained there, finally allowing Newton-John to shed her innocent image.
6. Christian Slater’s car chase
For a time, Christian Slater seemed to live a charmed life. A teen icon in the 80s and early 90s, he starred in some of the biggest films of the time, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Interview with the Vampire, and cult hits like Heathers and True Romance. However, the highs of his career were matched with some serious valleys, mostly thanks to his own problems with substances and alcohol. Slater has been convicted of drunk driving twice in his career. The second was in 1989, when he was chased by police through West Hollywood into a dead-end alley, kicking an officer in the head as he tried to scale a fence to escape.
It would not be the last time he got in trouble either, as he later attempted to get onto a plane with a gun in his hand luggage. Not only that, but he later got so intoxicated at a house party that he repeatedly bit, punched and kicked the other guests. He even attacked both the janitor and the police when they attempted to intervene, leading to his arrest.
5. Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin peed on a plane
If anyone is expected to get up to inappropriate and outrageous behaviour, it’s rock bands from the 80s. In particular, Guns N’ Roses made a reputation for themselves that involved plenty of scandal, mischief and destruction, making this incident just another in a long line. Still, when guitarist Izzy Stradlin got on a plane from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, he probably didn’t expect to wind up in Phoenix in handcuffs instead. The arrest was the result of several instances of deeply inappropriate passenger behaviour, which began when Stradlin (above right) lit up his cigarette in a non-smoking area and verbally abused a flight attendant.
It ended when, having apparently gotten frustrated with the long wait time for the plane bathroom, Stradlin relieved himself in the galley of the plane, in front of all the other passengers. Needless to say he didn’t make it to his destination, and instead went back home to his mother’s house to attempt to kick his drug and alcohol habits.
4. Todd Bridges’ attempted murder charge
There are numerous stories of child actors reacting badly to the pressures of growing up in the spotlight, but arguably none suffered more than Todd Bridges. The star of Diff’rent Strokes alleged that he was abused constantly as a child and introduced to drugs early, leading to numerous addictions by the time he left the show. This led to multiple charges, from being convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, to calling in a false bomb threat.
The charges escalated further when Bridges was accused of possessing both a loaded firearm and carrying drugs for sale in his car. Most infamously though, he was accused of attempting to murder Kenneth “Tex” Clay, a prolific Los Angeles drug dealer. Bridges was declared innocent, after his lawyer argued an upbringing in the entertainment world had scarred him, leading to him being framed.
3. Corey Feldman sued his own parents
Corey Feldman never really had a chance to discover life outside of show business, since he was working in film from the age of 13. Having starred in both Stand by Me and The Goonies, he was in the privileged position of working with Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner right at the beginning of his career. As a result, he turned 14 having earned over a million dollars, which his parents were in charge of managing responsibly.
Unfortunately, Feldman’s parents spent it frivolously, leaving him with just $40,000 in his account. As a result, Feldman sued for emancipation from his parents, looking for the right to control his own finances. He won, but was required to give his last $40,000 over to his father as compensation, leaving him with nothing.
2. Paul McCartney’s jail time
The Beatles are inarguably the biggest rock band of all time, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they got up to some rock star antics over the years. Despite the pristine image that their boy band roots afforded them, they were no strangers to drugs and alcohol, which eventually landed one of them in some trouble. In 1980, Paul McCartney was travelling to a show in Japan when he was discovered to have eight ounces of marijuana in his suitcase.
He was immediately arrested and convicted, with the sentence for his crime being seven years of hard labour. However, McCartney’s celebrity status meant that he avoided the worst of the sentence, instead staying in a Japanese prison for nine days. He later called it the most harrowing time of his life, even if he said he enjoyed the novelty of bathing with all the other prisoners.
1. Diana shaking hands with AIDS victims
Princess Diana was no stranger to controversy throughout her time in the spotlight, but one choice of hers went down in history.
In 1987, Diana visited a London hospital dedicated to treating patients with HIV and AIDS, and shook the hands of patients there without wearing gloves. Though this would be an expected gesture today, at the time paranoia about the illness was high, with the general public believing that the disease could be passed via a handshake or embrace.
Until the Princess made it her mission to turn the tide of public opinion, over 50% of people in Great Britain were in favour of quarantining those found to be HIV positive. However, the grace and compassion she showed made the front page of almost every newspaper, and did in fact change how the public viewed those with the illness.