In light of the recent developments concerning Woody Allen‘s alleged abuse of daughter Dylan Farrow at age seven, there’s been a rush of impassioned defenses of Allen. While this whole debacle gets hashed out in the court of public opinion, there’s been some interesting, albeit not new, conversations about bad people making good art. And finally, it’s brought up information about celebrities we’ve long forgotten in service of protecting their artistic reputations.
Allen isn’t alone. Plenty of celebrities have been involved in instances of repeated domestic abuse, violence, or rape, and we ignore it because of the disconnect between their public personas and private issues. We have a system in place for burying these stories in a surprisingly short time, and as such, we think of these people are great artists who also raped/beat up some people.
1. Sean Penn
Penn is a violent guy who spent 33 days in jail in 1987 for assaulting a photographer, and was arrested and charged with felony domestic assault after beating then-wife Madonna. Now, Penn is thought of as the leading guard of Hollywood liberals; he was an outspoken critic of George W. Bush and the Iraq war. He’s also painted himself as a great humanitarian–the first thing I picture when I think of Penn nowadays is him triumphantly on a raft in Haiti. With Penn, we haven’t necessarily forgotten his violent past, but it’s been rewritten and romanticized. Penn’s former violent streak has been morphed into a bad boy persona turned good, and it’s easy to ignore the past when the new narrative is so attractive.
When Rihanna and Eminem’s duet “Love The Way You Lie” debuted in 2010, it brought up old stories about Eminem’s past issues with domestic violence. In talking about the song, Rihanna said that domestic violence is something that she and Eminem both experienced, “you know, on different sides, different ends of the table.” She’s referring of course to her experience as being the victim of Chris Brown‘s brutal attack, and to Eminem as the attacker of his ex-wife, Kim.
Eminem’s “Kim” gleefully recounts his violent feelings about Kim (who has accused him of horrific assaults) and details his desire to brutally murder her. In 2013, Eminem was awarded a Global Icon Award at the MTV EMAs. Everyone loves a redemption story, and I guess continuing to rap about how you beat up your partner counts.
3. Mike Tyson
Nowadays, Mike Tyson is a hilarious 80s throwback legend who has funny cameos in movies like The Hangover, with Bradley Cooper excitedly praising Tyson’s comedic abilities (this, I suppose, counts as art). Tyson is also a convicted rapist who served three years of a six year sentence for raping an 18-year-old woman in 1991.
In addition, Tyson was allegedly violent with his first wife, actress Robin Givens, although he clarified that he never hit her with a “closed fist,” because apparently all other hitting was fair game. He later clarified by saying “I grabbed my wife and hold my wife, you know what I mean? I shake my wife up. I never totally struck my wife.” Great.
But you know that part where he sings “In The Air Tonight?” Pure gold.
4. Jimmy Page
If you went through a Led Zeppelin phase in high school, you might not have known that Jimmy Page dispatched a roadie to kidnap a 14-year-old. Richard Cole walked up to Lori Maddox and apparently said “Jimmy told me that he’s going to have you whether you like it or not. You fucking move and I’ll fucking have your head,” which he followed by grabbing her and forcibly putting her into their limo. Page carried on their illegal, sexual relationship for three years. Another term for that sexual relationship is “statutory rape.”
This has largely been forgotten or thought of as characteristic of the time, since it was all pretty anything goes back then. Unfortunately, statutory rape isn’t something that should be chalked up to the time, swept under the rug, or go unpunished.
5. Bill Cosby
As we learned earlier this week, Bill Cosby was accused by multiple women (upwards of 13) of sexual assault. As detailed in Tom Scocca’s piece for Gawker, many of the allegation included drugging. Four women came forward to give accounts of the assaults under their real names, which is both brave and rare, and multiple lawsuits were settled with gag orders on the victims. All of this information was available to the public in a 2006 People Magazine article, and yet, nobody remembers this, myself included. As Scocca put it, “[w]ith shocking speed, it was effectively forgotten.” He also points out that these lawsuits had little to no effect on his public perception or career:
In 2009, Cosby was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for his distinguished achievements in humor. In 2010, he was honored with the Marian Anderson Award, for “critically acclaimed artists who have impacted society in a positive way, either through their work or their support for an important cause.”