In & Out

From Ed Koch to Whitney Houston, Stars Who Came Out as Straight (Photos)

Simon Cowell confesses: He’s not gay. A look at more stars who’ve come out—as straight.

AP Photo (2); Getty Images (right)

AP Photo (2); Getty Images (right)

Simon Cowell just announced he’s not gay. From Oprah to Joe Namath to Pope Paul VI, celebrities who declared their heterosexuality.

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Simon Cowell

With the release of a new biography that claims Simon Cowell had an affair with British X Factor judge Dannii Minogue, comes a seemingly antithetical revelation in the same book: that Cowell is gay. Author Tom Bower says the rumors started in the 1980s when Cowell was known for wearing hot pants and rollerblades, and once promoted one of his acts in gay clubs. Bower also recounts an incident in which the former American Idol judge was confronted by Elton John, who asked, “When are you going to come out and admit you’re gay?” Cowell’s catty reply? “If it means I end up with you, Elton, then never.” But this week Cowell came out and confessed that he is straight:  “If I was gay, why wouldn’t I admit it? It wouldn’t harm me and my mother wouldn’t freak out.”

MJ Schear / AP Photo

Oprah Winfrey

When you’ve been engaged since 1992 and haven’t made it down the aisle yet, people will talk. But in the case of Oprah Winfrey, when the whispers got too loud that her best friend, Gayle King, was actually her lover, she spoke out.  In a 2010 interview with Barbara Walters, Winfrey declared: “I am not gay. I’m not a lesbian. I’m not even kind of a lesbian. And the reason why [the rumor] irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I’m lying. That’s No. 1. No. 2 Why would you want to hide it? That is not the way I run my life.” After the interview with Walters, Winfrey got some support from Rosie O’Donnell, who told ABC News,  “Listen—she’s pretty magnificent in every capacity and no, I don’t think she’s gay.”

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Jeremy Renner

Be careful what you say to an actor who is about to star in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy—he might kick your ass. In an interview this month with The Hollywood Reporter, the 41-year-old Oscar nominee addressed rumors of his sexual orientation. “I want my personal life to be personal, and it’s not fucking true,” he said. “And I don’t care if you’re talking about things that are true, you’re still talking about my personal life. How about I go peek in your window, take what underwear you wore last night, whose husband you were fucking, and shove that in the megaphone throughout your neighborhood? How does that feel?” In the same interview, Renner recounted a story from a few years ago when he was in a bar with his family. “This guy chokes me with the scarf I was wearing,” he revealed. “He called me a fag ’cause I was wearing a scarf! Then he shoved my sister and I got behind him and I choked him out—put him to sleep.”

Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Mike Piazza

In 2002, after the New York Post published a blind item suggesting that a member of the New York Mets was gay, Mets All-Star catcher Mike Piazza held a press conference to declare that he was straight. “I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual,” Piazza told reporters. “I can’t control what people think. I date women.” Though he added that he agreed with his manager at the time, who thought a gay teammate would be accepted. “In this day and age, it’s irrelevant,” Piazza said. “I don’t think it would be a problem at all.” But just to hit the hetero message home, Piazza married Playboy Playmate Alicia Rickter in 2005.

Frank Franklin II / AP Photo

Ed Koch

The first time Ed Koch ran for mayor of New York City in 1977, the eternally single congressman from Queens was taunted with posters bearing the hateful slogan, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” (Mario Cuomo’s campaign denied any role in that attack strategy.) In 1989, with his sexual orientation still being discussed, Koch went on a talk show and declared: “I’m a heterosexual.” But that same year, while promoting a book, he became indignant about the subject,  “I’m 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply Fuck off. There have to be some private matters left.”

David Smith / AP Photo

Blake Edwards

In his 1982 movie Victor/Victoria, director Blake Edwards challenged the audience’s ideas of gender identity and sexual orientation. And despite having been married to actress Julie Andrews since 1969, when the movie was released, many wondered if it was Edwards’ way of coming out. But in an interview with Playboy that year, he copped to being “very heterosexual,” and admitted that he had worked out these issues in analysis. “And little by little, I found out that I was a very normal human being who might have had some homosexual fantasies,” Edwards said, “Anyway, within a couple of months’ time, I realized quite honestly—and with great relief—that I was not a homosexual. Not because I couldn’t have dealt with it but because I preferred not to be a homosexual in this country, particularly then, when they were so discriminated against and when they were all in the closet, so to speak. Anyway, after finding out I was very heterosexual, I said, ‘Terrific!’ And I went on with my life.”

Joerg Koch, AFP / Getty Images

Whitney Houston

For most of her career, Whitney Houston was rumored to be a lesbian—or least bisexual. And as early as 1987, she was issuing denials. “Let people talk,” she told Time. “Let people talk. It doesn’t bother me because I know I’m not gay. I don’t care.” “It doesn't bother me because I know I’m not gay. I don’t care.” Then in 2000, she posed for the cover of Out magazine and addressed the question definitively: “Listen, I took a lot of grief for shit that wasn’t me, OK, ‘cause I had friends, ‘cause I was close to people,” she said. “But that ain’t me. I know what I am. I’m a mother. I’m a woman. I’m heterosexual. Period.”

Focus On Sport / Getty Images

Joe Namath

In the late 1960s when he was quarterback for the New York Jets, Joe Namath was one of the city’s swingin’-est playboys—he even opened a bar called Bachelors III. But Namath also wore fur coats on the sidelines and once posed for a pantyhose ad, which lead to rumors that he was gay. In a 1979 interview with Esquire, he tackled the issue head-on: “Not only am I not gay, I am not even bisexual.... I’m sure 30 years from now, if I’m still a bachelor, people will be asking me if I’m gay.” He didn’t have to wait that long—in 2003, Namath proved once and for all that he likes women. Perhaps too much. During a live interview on Monday Night Football, an inebriated Broadway Joe famously hit on reporter Suzy Kolber, asking if he could kiss her. “Thanks, Joe,” Kolber said smoothly. “I'll take that as a huge compliment."

AP Photo

Liberace

You could say what you wanted about Liberace’s piano playing or his flamboyant costumes, but if you called him gay, he’d take you to court. The late entertainer famously sued Britain’s Daily Mirror in 1956 for an article that described him as “...the summit of sex—the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want... a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” (He was awarded £8,000 in damages.) A year later, he went after Confidential magazine for a story titled “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy!’” But 25 years later, Liberace was hit with a suit of his own, when his former driver and bodyguard, Scott Thorson, sued for “palimony,” claiming they had had a long-term relationship. The lawsuit was later dismissed, and Liberace denied that he was gay. As did Thorson, in a 2002 interview with Larry King in which he claimed to be heterosexual. Their story will be told in a forthcoming HBO movie starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. For the record, both actors are married—to women.

AFP / Getty Images

Pope Paul VI

In 1976, after attacking homosexuality in one of his homilies, Pope Paul VI was accused by a writer in an Italian magazine of being gay. Rather than ignore the charge, the pontiff took the extraordinarily unusual step of giving a speech from his balcony in St. Peter’s Square and publicly denouncing this “horrible and slanderous insinuation.” He then called on Catholics to “pray for our humble person, who has been made the target of scorn, by certain press lacking dutiful regard for honesty and truth.” In the years since his death, the rumors about Paul VI being gay have escalated. But was he? God only knows.