Is there anyone who doesn't like a juicy celebrity sex scandal? Other than the celebrities embroiled in one, that is. Or their devastated and life-altered loved ones. (Hi, Arnold Schwarzenegger!)
But for every star that curses their uncontrollable loins, there's just as many who should be getting down on their knees (er, maybe not…that's how some of them got into trouble in the first place) and thanking their lucky stars for having their otherwise good names temporarily dragged through the mud.
Herewith, five stars who successfully managed to navigate the waters of celebrity infamy—and five who failed spectacularly.
The Sex-cesses, Er, Successes:
1. Brangelina: OK, so not a sex scandal that plumbed the same depths as the Sperminator, but back in 2005, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith was in production, rumors swirled that Brad Pitt was tarnishing Hollywood's Golden Couple by stepping out on Jennifer Aniston with his costar Angelina Jolie. Well, you know how the old schoolyard chant goes: first comes love, then comes breaking up someone's marriage, then comes the nonstop addition of globally-bred babies in the baby carriage.
And wouldn't you know it? That's just what happened. When Brad and Angie first went public, Aniston's declaration that he was missing a sensitivity chip was the least of his reputation worries, and Angie was (and to some, still is) considered public enemy No. 1 to girls next door nationwide in addition to providing years of material for the nation's tabloids. But fast forward to today, and through perseverance, their inability to look bad in any photo ever and a unstoppable knack for doing good deeds (Saint Angelina, anyone?), this couple pulled through their media melee with even better public images than they had going in. Power in numbers, indeed.
2. Hugh Grant: How would we describe Hugh's Hollywood comeback? In a word? Divine. Some stars cheat. Some stars get arrested. Some stars even see hookers. But back in 1995, the Englishman everyone looked at as charm personified hit the scandal jackpot, taking care of all three in one, um, blow. But despite his Sunset Strip dalliance with Divine Brown, Grant managed to hold on to his hottie girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley to this day remains one of his closest friends), deliver a pitch-perfect apology during his now-requisite TV rounds (but seriously, what the hell was he thinking?), had immediate box office success right after the scandal (his first post-scandal film, Nine Months, actually outgrossed his last pre-scandal one, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and even managed to give Jay Leno a decades-long ratings lead in the late-night wars. Though one word to celebs: your scandal may be forgotten—your mug-shot never will.
3. Kim Kardashian/Paris Hilton/Pamela Anderson: If turning your scandal into a passport to instant fame (or infamy, whatevs) and a veritable cottage industry isn't the measure of coming out on top, then we don't know what is (which is why these three lovely ladies fall into the same bracket). Whatever you think of Pamela Anderson, she's managed to maintain a steady workload over the years since her Tommy Lee (and, going way back, Bret Michaels) videotaped dalliances, including turning up on the couldn't-be-more-family-friendly Dancing With the Stars. Ditto Kim Kardashian, who bounced back spectacularly from her sex tape episode with endorsements, reality shows, books and God knows what else. But don't take our (admittedly slightly biased) word for it: last year alone, the Kardashians, led by Kim, earned a whopping $65 million. And while—save for that whole not-my-coke-filled-purse-just-kidding-it-is episode last year—Paris Hilton hasn't been dominating the headlines quite like she used to, and, well, we happen to think that's a positive thing.
4. Rob Lowe: The man is neighbors with Oprah Winfrey, for crying out loud. Now that's what we call bouncing back. As one-eighth of the Brat Pack, Lowe got himself into his fair share of tabloid-worthy scrapes, but none so scandalous as when, following the 1988 Democratic National Convention, he went home with a fellow clubber who turned out to be a highly-statutory 16 years old. That he had videotaped their evening together didn't help matters much. Neither did the fact that there was a three's company situation going down that night. But bounce back he did, avoiding any charges and regaining his career foothold, going on to star in Wayne's World, a little ensemble drama called The West Wing and Brothers & Sisters. He even recently wrote a memoir and included the tale of his scandal, telling Oprah that, looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. We wouldn't go that far, but at the very least, it doesn't appear to have been the worst. And that's saying something.
5. David Letterman: Talk about your stupid human tricks. In fall 2009, the late-night host himself became monologue material, when his comedy show took a turn for the dramatic and he announced on-air that he had been the victim of a $2 million blackmail attempt by the ex-boyfriend of the staffer he had been having an affair with. Um, oops. But despite his marital and legal fallout, Letterman and his wife Regina pulled through the public ordeal with their marriage intact, and the whole incident not only provided Letterman with some of his most compelling moments of television, but became a real reason to tune in to the Late Show, with his apology show racking up nearly 5.8 million viewers, more than double of any of his competition. And he hasn't exactly fallen to the TV wayside since then.
Victims of Their Own Sex-cess:
1. Pee-wee Herman: Back in 1991, Paul Reubens walked into a movie theater as one of children's TV's most popular and beloved entertainers. He walked out an entertainment pariah. The theater, as it happens, was showing a triple feature of porn and Reubens apparently decided to loosen his red bowtie more than he should've that day: cut to his headline-grabbing arrest for indecent exposure. He pleaded no contest and more or less laid low for about a decade. Right when he was aiming to make a comeback, with 2002's Blow, he was arrested a second time, when cops found photos of nude teens (he said they were vintage erotica) around his L.A. home. Sure, he's appeared in other projects since and even recently put on a Pee-wee stage show, but has never reached his pre-scandal heights of fame. And when your name is still an automatic punch line 20 years later, you haven't won.
2. Roman Polanski: Sure, Roman's big screen projects continue to defy logic and morality and attract both critical laudings and A-list stars (call it the Woody Allen effect), but there's something about having sex with a drugged-up 13-year-old girl that just sort of has a way of following you around your career, you know? Polanski found that out back in 2009, when instead of picking up a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival, he was picked up and taken into custody on the then 32-year-old charge he had fled the U.S. to avoid. He was put into house arrest and sent Hollywood into disarray between "Free Polanski" supporters and those who had common sense (shout-out to Kirstie Alley!). And seeing as how he's still not welcome in this country, we'd call that a fail.
3. R. Kelly: Look, we know R. Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts of videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl (a 14-year-old girl, for the record). We know that he's had his share of hits in the years since the allegations first came up (however laughable the operatic and neverending "Trapped in the Closet" was, it received ridiculous amounts of radio and airplay). But, fair or not, when it takes you six years to fight a kiddie porn case, that's what you're going to be remembered for. That and your penchant for, uh, waterworks. Besides, when was the last time you heard R. Kelly's name and not smirked? Case closed.
4. Jesse James: He's found love again. Which, you know, more power to him. He found someone willing to publish his memoir. And even more people who allowed him to promote it on TV. It sold in decent numbers. And yet…when you think Jesse James, do you think, "Man, what a comeback that guy made!" No. No, you don't. Some things you cannot unsee, and a man in a Nazi uniform giving a "heil" salute is one of them. Besides, no one breaks the heart of America's sweetheart and is allowed back into the A-list. Except for maybe Brad Pitt.
5. Michael Jackson: Yes, he was the King of Pop. Yes, his contribution to music will never be forgotten or perhaps even superceded. But he also failed to ever make the same impact on the world, musically or otherwise, as he did before his neverending stream of child-abuse allegations and trials. Accusations first surfaced in 1993. A media circus followed. He infamously went to trial on a new set of allegations in 2005. He was acquitted, sure. But he was never the same.