Has there ever been a faster fall from celebrity to ignominy than that of Stephen Collins? With TMZ’s release last week of a recording made during a therapy session — in which Collins apparently admits to three instances of exposing himself and/or inappropriate touching with three girls under the age of 14 — he immediately became poison to the public and the industry. His scenes were cut from “Scandal,” he was dropped from the film “TED 2,” and countless media outlets reaped ratings, sales and page views from his shame. The TV Guide Network and UpTV dropped “7th Heaven” series reruns from their schedules. And all before a single charge was filed.
Criminal charges may happen, of course. People magazine confirmed that the NYPD had received an official complaint about Collins after the audio came out, and that the case is under investigation by the Manhattan Special Victims Squad. The LAPD reopened a 2012 investigation. Collins’ estranged wife, Faye Grant, secretly made the tape and then handed it over to police that year. She now claims she had nothing to do with the TMZ leak, although Collins’ attorney has pointed out that the timing, on the eve of their divorce trial, is questionable to say the least.
Given the fact that Collins once enjoyed a squeaky clean, religious faith-inflected image, his fall from admiration is particularly brutal. And of course, the accusations are much uglier than in most of even the worst celebrity scandals. But not all.
Going all the way back to the death of actress Virginia Rappe at a wild party in 1921, some of Hollywood’s famed have dropped to the lowest depths. Then-superstar Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was accused of raping the young ingenue violently and assaulting her with foreign objects, leading to her death. It was also said, however, that she was ill with venereal disease when she went to the party. Three manslaughter trials later, Arbuckle was exonerated, with a public apology from the jury, no less. Nevertheless, he remained persona non grata to his formerly adoring public. The case is still argued about today.
From 2003 into 2005, the media was full of awful step after awful step of the case against the late Michael Jackson. Some 70 investigators from the Santa Barbara D.A.’s office descended on Neverland Ranch with a warrant, you may recall, and accusations led to his indictment and trial for child molestation.
On June 13, 2005, the jury found Jackson not guilty on all fourteen charges, but he was a shell of his former self; his old life was over. He lived in self-imposed exile for a while. His health deteriorated and his dependence on pain medication increased, until he died in 2009.
On the other hand, director Roman Polanski’s life and career went on with a great deal of success after the 1977 incident when he was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. He pled guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, but fled the U.S. before he could be sentenced. Last year, “The Girl,” Samantha Geimer’s disturbing memoir about the rape, was released. Polanski has said he’s regretted the incident ever since.
There were many who believed the star best known as Pee-wee Herman would never come back from lewd conduct charges filed against him in 1991 — the masturbation incident in a Florida adult theater — or the 2002 scandal when his home was raided by police and the L.A. City Attorney’s office seized what they claimed was a massive collection of child pornography. But Paul Reubens has reclaimed his career — possibly due in part to his steadfast insistence that his collection of vintage gay erotica was not child porn.
He issued a statement that people “may think I’m crazy or anything that anyone wants to think about me. That’s all fine. As long as one of the things you’re not thinking about me is that I’m a pedophile. Because that’s not true.” The child porn charges were dropped. Reubens went on to a series of high-profile TV guestings including the role of a European prince on “30 Rock” (created for him by Tina Fey), then his triumphant return as Pee-wee in 2010. This year, movie audiences saw him in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and TV viewers watched him in “The Blacklist.”
Only a few years ago, an Access Hollywood poll showed that 72 percent of moviegoers planned to pass on future Mel Gibson films — that after the star’s anti-Semitic tirade while being arrested, his hurling of the N-word, and his accusations of abuse by ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.
However, industry insiders we spoke to at the time predicted he would overcome. After all, he was worth almost a billion dollars and had an entertainment empire. “If you’re saying people won’t come to see his movies because of this, no,” one writer-producer who had worked with Gibson said flatly. “That’s just not how it works in this business. As long as he’s productive, he’ll have an audience.”
You may have noticed that in the recent “The Expendables 3,” Gibson’s villainous character’s wife is a beautiful young woman with a Russian accent. The casting was not a coincidence. Some joke.
Some stars have struggled back from ignominy. Whether Collins can find a pathway to some sort of public reconciliation is a question that won’t be answered for a long time.