Nicki Minaj and More Stars Who Hang with Dictators

Nicki Minaj is hardly the first celebrity to associate with a dictator: From Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea to the lavish Gaddafi parties, see more stars who got too close to bad guys.


Nicki Minaj performed for Angola’s dictator this weekend despite calls from human rights organizations for her to cancel the show. She’s hardly the first celebrity to associate with a dictator: From Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea to the lavish Gaddafi parties, see more stars who got too close to bad guys.


Nicki Minaj

Despite calls from the Human Rights Foundation, Nicki Minaj performed as scheduled Saturday night at the Christmas party for the communications company Unitel in Luanda, Angola’s capital. The company is controlled by the family of José Eduardo dos Santos, the country’s president who has clung to power for more than three decades and has been called “Africa’s least-known autocrat.” Her fee was reportedly $2 million. “This is a situation where the level of self-interest is astonishing,” Thor Halvorssen, HRF’s president, told The Daily Beast. “They are hoping this is all going to go away, and people will collect their money, and people will forget about it.”

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty

Mickey Rourke

Actor Mickey Rourke stood in line with hundreds of President Vladimir Putin fans to buy a newly-released t-shirt featuring the Russian president's portrait. The image shows Putin in a sailor cap, surrounded by flowers. Taking part in an apparent fad -- this is only the second time these t-shirts have been put up for purchase -- Rourke spoke glowingly about the Russian leader. "I met him a couple of times and he was a real gentleman... I think he is a good guy. If I didn't, believe I wouldn't wear the T-shirt," he told a reporter.

Aleksey Nikolskyi/AFP/Getty

Steven Seagal and Vladimir Putin

Actor and martial artist Steven Seagal has long been friends with Russian President Vladmir Putin, with the two apparently bonding over their love of competitive martial arts. Seagal, who is also a musician, recently performed a concert in Crimea, the territory that recently split from the Ukraine, alongside a flag honoring pro-Russian separatists currently skirmishing in Ukraine. Putin is like a "brother," the actor told the Moscow Times this year, adding that he considered the Russian "one of the great living world leaders."

Kim Kwang Hyon/AP

Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un

Happy Birthday, Mr. … Dictator? Dennis Rodman serenaded his BFF Kim Jong Un at the despot’s birthday celebration on Wednesday. As if that weren’t gross enough, Rodman’s big “basketball diplomacy” extravaganza will be held later Wednesday, in honor of Kim’s birthday. The Rodman-Kim friendship has gone from crazy to balls-out psycho in 2014, when Rodman went on CNN from Pyongyang and declared “I love my friend” about Kim, all the while defending Kim against attacks about jailed American Kenneth Bae and the last month’s execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek. The tale of their friendship is short, but incredibly strange: Rodman first journeyed to North Korea in 2013 to film a documentary for Vice. The pair watched an exhibition basketball game together and apparently bonded so much that they became “friends for life.” And cue Rodman’s year of living dangerously as he continued to defend his BFF more and more as wild tales came out of North Korea, from his rumored execution of his ex-lover to the purging and execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek. The story about the wild dogs might not be true, but tread carefully, Rodman—we all know how The Last King of Scotland ended.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP,Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty

Jennifer Lopez and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Didn’t being engaged to Ben Affleck rub off on Jennifer Lopez at all? Lopez performed on Saturday at the birthday party for Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan, which Human Rights Watch calls “one of the world’s most repressive countries.” Lopez  performed in front of “enthusiastic” government ministers, ambassadors, and CEO of state-run companies at a $2 million Caspian Sea resort, reportedly dancing “with half-naked backing dancers” and wore traditional Turkmen clothing to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” You probably won’t read too many reports about it, since in Turkmenistan, according to Human Rights Watch, “media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal.” Her choreographer J.R. Taylor tried to rally support before the concert on Twitter with the now deleted tweet “The Turkmenistan Breeze feels amazing at night Kidz! I wonder were all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!” He likely didn’t get many responses, since Twitter is banned in Turkmenistan. You’re a long way from the Bronx, Jenny.

Jason Mojica/VICE Media, via AP

Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un, BFFs? The neon-haired NBA veteran seems to think so. Rodman reportedly told the North Korean dictator that he had “had a friend for life” after spending time with him during a recent trip to the country to film a documentary. Rodman joined several Harlem Globetrotters and television crew from Vice to film a documentary about what life is like in North Korea. The odd couple watched a basketball exhibition together before heading to the Dear Leader’s palace for a party. “Apparently, he had a blast at the game,” said a Vice Media correspondent. “So he invited him them back to his home for a party, and they had a grand old time. Speeches were made—Dennis made a very nice one—and they were met with rounds of applause.”

AP Photo (2)

Hilary Swank and Ramzan Kadyrov

Western celebrities including Hollywood actors Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude van Damme, and soul singer Seal arrived in Grozny in early October to entertain Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov at his multimillion-dollar 35th birthday party. Swank stood on the stage in a pink, open-shouldered dress, in a republic where Kadyrov banned women from entering state buildings without covering their hair in hijabs. “Happy birthday, Mr. President,” Swank addressed Kadyrov, who once said that women in Chechnya are the “property of men.” Kadyrov has been criticized by human-rights groups for his dictatorial rule based on violence and fear and for ordering abductions and murders. Human Rights Watch emailed the celebrities regarding Kadyrov’s “atrocious human-rights record,” perhaps prompting Swank to issue a lengthy apology a week later: Swank was "unaware, at the time, of the allegations against President Kadyrov that have been made by various human rights groups," it read. Swank said she "deeply regrets" the incident. 

Matt Sayles / AP Photo; Franco Origlia / Getty Images

Nelly Furtado and Muammar Gaddafi

While Libya's incipient revolution was growing, the singer tweeted that she will donate the $1 million Col. Muammar Gaddafi gave her for a private concert in Italy: “In 2007, I received 1million$ from the Qaddafi clan to perform a 45 min. Show for guests at a hotel in Italy. I am going to donate the $.”

Robert E. Klein / AP Photo; Dmitry Kostyukov, AFP /Getty Images

Mariah Carey, and Mutassim Gaddafi

In 2009, Western media reported that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, had paid Mariah Carey $1 million to sing just four songs at his New Year's bash in St. Bart's. Gaddafi petulantly denied the reports in the state newspaper he controlled, blaming the big spending on his younger brother, Mutassim. As the Gaddafis' father scrambled to suppress a growing revolution, a cable released by WikiLeaks revealed the sons' spending—including Mutassim's demands for $1.2 billion to build a personal militia and, sure enough, a big payout to Mariah. Jay-Z is rumored to to have joined Carey on the dictators' stage. Carey later said she was "naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for."

Dave Hogan / Getty Images; Mahmud Turkia, AFP / Getty Images

Beyoncé, Usher, and Hannibal Gaddafi

WikiLeaks cables revealed that not only did a Gaddafi son hold a secret New Year's Eve bash in St. Bart's in 2009, but that the Gaddafis repeated it the next year. This time, it was hosted by Hannibal, Muammar's fifth-oldest son, who hired Beyoncé and Usher to entertain guests. Reports varied on how much they were paid; the numbers ranged from six figures to $2 million. Beyoncé's appearance drew even more attention than Carey's had—and more criticism, because Hannibal had recently been in the news for beating his wife, and news had started leaking out that the Gaddafis' father had ordered a jetliner bombing that killed hundreds over Lockerbie, Scotland.


Michael Jackson, and Prince Abdullah al-Khalifa of Bahrain

After he was acquitted of molesting young boys in a long, miserable trial in California, Michael Jackson fled to the dunes of Bahrain—a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf recently in the news for uprisings against its crown prince. Jackson found a friend in Bahrain's Prince Abdullah al-Khalifa, who helped the weary pop icon hide from the press for months. Their friendship was not to last however, after Jackson returned to the U.S. In 2006, Abdullah sued him in a London high court for $7 million, claiming he had promised, among other things, to record two albums and stage an in-house musical production in the prince's palace.

Joel Ryan / AP Photo; Jerry Lampen, Pool / AP Photo

Naomi Campbell, and Charles Taylor

British supermodel Naomi Campbell is famous for assaulting anyone who gets in her way, from friends and assistants to Heathrow Airport police. But one of her brushes with the law involved something much more sinister. After a dinner at the home of former South African President Nelson Mandela, she reportedly told people that Liberian dictator Charles Taylor had given her a huge diamond. Taylor was later brought to trial on war-crimes charges, and accused of using "blood diamonds" to buy weapons. Campbell denied the accusations angrily, refusing to answer questions and storming out of an interview about it. She testified at Charles Taylor's trial in 2010, though her involvement in the diamond controversy, has never been fully uncovered.

Charles Gorry / AP Photo

Paul Robeson, and the U.S.S.R.

Paul Robeson was one of several black Americans, including some of his relatives, who emigrated to the U.S.S.R. and became radical political activists. After an illustrious football career, Robeson became one of the first concert singers to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals, and appeared in several plays as well. When he first visited the Soviet Union in 1934, he was amazed by its lack of segregation. "Here, I am not a Negro but a human being for the first time in my life ... I walk in full human dignity," he said. As he became a more vocal advocate for communism, the State Department confiscated his passport and forced him to appear before Sen. Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee. Robeson wrote glowing tributes to Joseph Stalin and died without regretting his faith in Soviet leaders.

Howard Yanes / AP Photo

Kevin Spacey, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, and Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez may not be considered a dictator, so maybe that's why Hollywood is so fond of him? The leftist Venezuelan president has had his fair share of Hollywood visitors, including Kevin Spacey, Danny Glover, and Sean Penn. Spacey and Chavez did not speak about their meeting, but reportedly Chavez and Glover agreed to make a movie called Toussaint about the Haitian slave who led Haiti's overthrow of colonialism. Penn and Chavez discussed a number of topics, including politics and President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and also whether Penn would film a movie in Venezuela. The meeting must have gone well, Penn later railed on Real Time With Bill Maher about the portrayal of Chavez in American media, suggesting prison time for journalists who call Chavez a dictator.

Lydie, Sipa / AP Photo

Oliver Stone, and Hugo Chavez

Chavez hadn't lost his love of Hollywood by 2010, when he teamed up with director Oliver Stone to make a documentary about Venezuela. Stone came back so impressed with Chavez that he introduced Chavez to Venice audiences when the announcer left the president off at the premiere of South of the Border. The film did much better in the U.S. than in Venezuela, where it bombed. Maybe Venezuelans were sick of Chavez's "intoxicating" energy.

AP Photo

James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B. B. King, Miriam Makeba, the Spinners, Bill Withers, and Mobutu Sese Seko

In 1974, Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of the country then called Zaire, wanted to show the world of what he had done since Congo's rocky struggle for independence 14 years earlier. Mobutu, a close ally of the U.S., had a nearly 30-year reign over Congo-Zaire—one of the longest and most devastating in African history. Nevertheless, the "Rumble in the Jungle" and the concert that preceded it brought some of the biggest celebrities of the time to Kinshasa. Mobutu paid $5 million each to Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to bring their famous boxing feud to Zaire's capital, as part of the "authenticity campaign" for the new country. Zaire 74, the concert held six weeks before the fight—it was originally intended to be the same weekend as the fight, but Foreman suffered an injury that pushed the concert back six weeks—brought James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, the Spinners, and Bill Withers to perform in an epic concert. The 2009 documentary, " Soul Power, captures the great music that came out of the concert—with the ubiquitous signs of Mobutu's rule everywhere in the background.