Stars Who Became Felons
1. Mel Gibson: The Year of Living Dangerously
It’s been a nightmare year for Mel Gibson. There were the audio recordings, courtesy of ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, of Gibson using racist and foul language toward her. Then Grigorieva accused Gibson of punching her repeatedly in the face, breaking her tooth. It’s as if Gibson’s unhinged Detective Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon was a matter of art imitating life. But before the rants, the deep forehead creases, and the receding hairline, Gibson was a certified dreamboat, and one hell of an actor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his performance as ambitious Australian journalist Guy Hamilton in Peter Weir’s 1981 film The Year of Living Dangerously. Hamilton arrives in Jakarta to cover the Sukarno regime—the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI)—which is being supplied with weapons by the communist Chinese, and failing the people of Indonesia. Hamilton falls for Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), a beautiful young assistant at the British Embassy. Though overshadowed by Linda Hunt’s Oscar-winning turn as Chinese-Australian dwarf Billy Kwan, Gibson proved he was an actor you could root for, leading The New York Times to say, “If this film doesn’t make an international star of Mr. Gibson, then nothing will.”
2. Randy Quaid: Midnight Express
Before Randy and Evi Quaid’s crazy train to public meltdown this year (which includes felony charges of squatting in their former Santa Barbara home), Quaid attempted an escape in the 1978 film Midnight Express. Directed by Alan Parker from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Oliver Stone, the film concerns American Billy Hayes (Brad Davis), who is arrested in Turkey with two kilos of hash taped to his body, and sentenced (initially) to four-and-a-half years in hellish Sağmalcılar prison. After he’s severely beaten following an escape attempt, a scuzzy, gaunt man picks him up, and says, “Here, smoke some of this rocket…” before feeding Billy a joint. This is Jimmy Booth (Quaid), an American arrested for, in true Jean Valjean fashion, stealing two candlesticks from a mosque. Jimmy is the poster child for paranoia-induced volatility, and receives the brunt of the punishment. As Jimmy, with his gap-filled teeth and bouts of frenzy, Quaid has never been better.
3. Lindsay Lohan: Mean Girls
Before the DUIs, the probation violations, and the confessions of a teenage drama queen via Twitter, Lohan was one of the most talented actresses of her generation, convincingly playing a pair of contrasting twins—one with a British accent—in 1998’s The Parent Trap, and again, wowing audiences as Jamie Lee Curtis (trapped in her body) in 2003’s body-switch comedy Freaky Friday. But it was her Silverstone-esque role in the Clueless-meets- Heathers teen comedy Mean Girls in 2004 that showed her firing on all cylinders. The film follows home-schooled 16-year-old geek Cady Heron (Lohan) as she enters her first year of high school and navigates the various cliques, before going undercover in The Plastics—a trio of three mean girls, led by queen bee Regina George (Rachel McAdams). “This just really affirms completely that she is a movie star,” said Paramount exec Rob Friedman. Though “fetch” will probably never happen, Mean Girls will remain a classic teen comedy. The only question is: Will the fallen star ever stage a comeback?
4. Charlie Sheen: Platoon
Sheen’s always been one of Hollywood’s ultimate bad boys—which this year we saw play out in a chaotic stay at The Plaza, which resulted in his hospitalization and a naked porn star trapped in the bathroom. Also this year, the Two and a Half Men star pleaded guilty to domestic abuse for a Christmas Day 2009 fight he had with his then-wife, Brooke Mueller Sheen, in which he allegedly held a knife to her throat. But Sheen has given his fair share of great performances—such as in his role as Private Chris Taylor in Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War film Platoon. Taylor is a naïve young American who, in 1967, ditched college for combat duty in Bravo Company’s 25th Infantry Division and finds himself caught in his platoon's civil war between compassionate Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and ruthless Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1986, and is regarded by many as one of the greatest war films of all time.
5. Wesley Snipes: Jungle Fever
Now serving a three-year prison stint for federal tax fraud, Wesley Snipes won’t be out of the slammer until July 19, 2013. Though known more for actions flicks like Passenger 57 and Blade, Snipes has displayed his considerable acting chops in a variety of other films, including the comedy White Men Can’t Jump and as drag queen Noxeema Jackson in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. But arguably his most impressive performance came courtesy of filmmaker Spike Lee in the 1991 drama Jungle Fever, about a married black man (Snipes) and a white woman (Annabella Sciorra) in an interracial affair. Snipes plays Flipper Purify, a successful, married man who works at an architectural firm in New York City, who, late one evening, has an affair with his temp secretary, Angie (Sciorra). The film was controversial for its negative portrayal of interracial relationships—that blacks and whites go to bed with one another based purely on, as Roger Ebert said, “media-based myths about the sexual allure of the other race.”
6. Rip Torn: The Cincinnati Kid
Journeyman actor Rip Torn’s battle with alcoholism has been well-documented, but on January 29, it took another wild turn. In one of this year’s craziest celebrity arrests, Torn was found inside a closed Litchfield Bancorp branch office in Lakeville, Connecticut, drunk and carrying a loaded revolver (without a permit). Torn was so drunk, he broke into the bank thinking it was his home. He was charged with first-degree burglary, second-degree criminal trespassing, and third-degree criminal mischief, but pleaded guilty and ultimately got off with just three years probation. But before things got really bad, Torn was known as an exceptional character actor, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 1983’s Cross Creek, and an Emmy Award for his role in the trailblazing TV series The Larry Sanders Show. However, one of his most memorable turns was as wealthy New Orleans businessman William Jefferson Slade in Norman Jewison’s 1965 poker film The Cincinnati Kid. Slade is a vicious fellow who has a pistol range and a love of fixed card games. After being taken for a ride by Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), Slade vows revenge, concocting a series of schemes to get “The Kid” (Steve McQueen) to beat Howard.
7. Jeffrey Jones: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
In 2003, character actor Jones was arrested for possession of child pornography, and also hiring a 14-year-old boy to pose for pornographic photos. He was ultimately sentenced to five years probation and forced to register as a sex offender for life. However, on June 30, Jones was charged in Los Angeles with failing to update his sex-offender registration status—a felony offense, to which he eventually pleaded guilty. Before this series of unfortunate events, Jones was a talented supporting character—earning a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus, and is a favorite of Tim Burton’s, appearing in Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow, usually as lascivious, morally reprehensible characters. However, like Paul Gleason in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club before him, Jones’ turn as Edward R. Rooney, the dean of students in Hughes’1986 comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, made him something of a cultural icon. As Rooney, a self-important nutjob hell-bent on busting hooky expert Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) for truancy, he was the foil to Bueller’s antiauthoritarian rebel—an overbearing, vindictive despot, and the bane of every teenager’s existence. In one of the film’s best scenes, Rooney goes off-campus to find Ferris, eventually attempting to break into his house. He ends up being chased by the family’s crazy dog, and dropkicked in the face by Jeanne (Jennifer Grey), Ferris’ sister.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.