The Art of the Public Apology: How Celebrities Fared After Saying Sorry for Their Scandals

Reese Witherspoon, Tiger Woods, Kristen Stewart and more have famously addressed their fans after controversial events

By Samantha Schnurr May 31, 2017 5:23 PMTags
Celebrity Apologies, Kathy Griffin, Paula Deen, Kristen Stewart, Tiger WoodsGetty Images/E! Illustration

As Justin Bieber's famous lyric rings, "Is it too late now to say sorry?" For some famous faces, the answer is no. For others, the jury is still out. 

When a celebrity is at the center of controversy, the proceeding damage control can be tricky. For many famous faces, the first step involves making a public address to their fans, their loved ones and their colleagues to strategically and, hopefully, genuinely make amends for the trouble they've caused. While many public figures hope their apology will be met with open arms, the context and delivery of such an apology can sometimes make matters worse. 

Still, the only way to understand the true impact of a celebrity sorry is in hindsight. What did they say? How did the world respond? What have they done since? Though these are simple questions, careers have been made and broken upon such answers. 

Here's a look back at some of Hollywood's notable apologies and their aftermaths. 

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Celebrity: Kathy Griffin

Recap: In May 2017, the comedian posted a video of herself holding up a beheaded, blood-soaked image of President Donald Trump to the camera. Along with the video, she tweeted, "1/ I caption this "there was blood coming out of his eyes, blood coming out of his...wherever" Also @tylershields great Photog/film maker." The 56-year-old also wrote, "2/ OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever! I'm merely mocking the Mocker in Chief." 

Aftermath: Very quickly after the video went public, Griffin faced backlash from public figures from all sides of the political spectrum, including President Trump himself, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and CNN host Anderson Cooper. 

"Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!" Trump tweeted. "This is vile and wrong. It is never funny to joke about killing a president," Clinton reacted. 

In response to the backlash, Griffin shared a video of herself apologizing on Twitter, begging for the public's forgiveness and admitting she had gone too far. "The image is too disturbing—I understand how it offends people. I wasn't funny. I get it," she said. "I made a mistake and I was wrong."

While CNN terminated its agreement with Griffin for its New Year's Eve coverage, which she co-hosted since 2007, First Lady Melania Trump has since addressed the controversy as well.

"As a mother, a wife, and a human being, that photo is very disturbing," she said in a statement. "When you consider some of the atrocities happening in the world today, a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it."

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Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Celebrity: Kristen Stewart

Recap: While immersed in the fame of the Twilight franchise and a highly publicized romance with her on-screen beau Robert Pattinson, photos emerged of the actress and her married Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders canoodling on the side of a street. Sanders' wife, Liberty Ross, subsequently filed for divorce and joint custody of their two children. 

"I'm deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I've caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob," Stewart said in a statement. "I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry."

Aftermath: While Sanders' marriage and Stewart's romance with Pattinson both ended by 2014, the two have continued working in Hollywood. Sanders directed Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, due out in 2017. As for Kristen, she finished the Twilight franchise and went on to star in a handful of new projects, including Woody Allen's Café Society. Romantically, she confirmed in July that she is "really in love" with visual effects producer Alicia Cargile. Pattinson also found love with British singer, FKA twigs, to whom he is currently engaged

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Celebrity: Reese Witherspoon

Recap: In 2013, typically straight-laced Reese and her husband Jim Toth were pulled over by a police officer in Atlanta under suspicion of driving while intoxicated after the car weaved across a double line. According to the police report, "Mrs. Witherspoon asked, 'Do you know my name?' [The officer] answered, 'No, I don't need to know your name.' [The police officer] then added, 'Right now.' Mrs. Witherspoon stated, 'You're about to find out who I am'." The Oscar winner was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and Toth was booked for a suspected DUI. 

"It's just completely unacceptable and we are so sorry and embarrassed," Reese later said on Good Morning America, explaining that the couple had gone out to dinner and drank too much wine. "We thought we were fine to drive and we absolutely were not…We know better and we shouldn't have done that." 

"I saw [the police officer] arresting my husband and I literally panicked," she continued. "I told him I was pregnant. I'm not pregnant. I said all kinds of crazy things."

"I was so disrespectful to him," Witherspoon added, speaking of the police officer. "I have police officers in my family. I work with police officers every day. I know better. It's just unacceptable."

Aftermath: Since the arrest, Reese was able to revive her professional reputation quickly, garnering an Oscar nod for her performance in Wild, producing one of the biggest films of 2014, Gone Girl, and lining up a handful of highly anticipated projects for the years ahead. 

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Celebrity: Tiger Woods

Recap: In late 2009, news broke that the married pro golfer was having an affair. Following reports, many more women came forward alleging they'd had romantic relationships with the athlete. By February 2010, following a handful of terminated sponsorships, Woods famously gave a 14-minute press conference begging for his wife, Elin Nordegren, and the country's forgiveness. 


"I know I have severely disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I have done the things I did. I am embarrassed that I have put you in this position. For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for," he said. "I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me.

Aftermath: In the immediate years afterward, Woods did not celebrate any majors golf wins and his earnings dropped from over $10 million to less than reportedly $700,000. While he did celebrate a resurgence in 2012 and 2013, by 2015, his did not make the cut for the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. His earnings last year were reportedly under $500,000. 

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Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images

Celebrity: David Letterman

Recap: In 2009, six months after marrying his wife Regina Lasko, the Late Show host addressed his audience with a story about how he had been blackmailed by a then-unidentified man threatening to write a screenplay and a book about his alleged extramarital affairs if Letterman did not pay $2 million. After notifying the police and issuing the man a faulty check, the culprit was arrested. 

However, in the process, the host admitted to his viewers that, just as the blackmailer alleged, he'd had sex with women who worked on his show over the years. A week later, he addressed his audience again to clarify that the affairs had since ended and to express his gratitude to his supportive staff. 

"My wife Regina, she has been horribly hurt by my behavior...if you hurt a person and it's your responsibility, you try to fix it," he said frankly. "Let me tell you, folks—I've got my work cut out for me."

Aftermath: The same year of the scandal, the show was contractually extended into 2012. By that year, it had been extended again, ultimately ending in 2015 after Letterman announced his retirement. The finale episode was the highest-rated program on network television. As for his ongoing marriage to Lasko, David later told Oprah Winfrey in 2013 on Oprah's Next Chapter, "My relationship with my wife is never better."

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Paula Deen Ventures

Celebrity: Paula Deen

Recap: In 2013, Deen and her brother were sued by a former employee, who claimed the celebrity chef had made racist comments to the restaurant's employees. While giving a video deposition for the lawsuit, Paula admitted to having used the N-word, but that "it's been a very long time" since. "That's just not a word that we use as time has gone on," Deen continued. "Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do," she explained

After her team tried to clarify with a statement, the scandal snowballed and Deen issued since-deleted remarks on YouTube begging for forgiveness. "I've made plenty of mistakes along the way," she said. "But I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners, I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes that I've made."

Aftermath: In the days that followed, a series of business partners, including QVC, Walmart and the host of her cooking show, the Food Network, cut ties with the star. At the same time, digital support grew for Deen by way of a Facebook page and rising Amazon cookbook sales. Former president Jimmy Carter stood up in her defense, telling CNN, "I think she has been punished, perhaps overly severely, for her honesty in admitting it and for the use of the word in the distant past. She's apologized profusely."

"I learned that no matter how old words get, they have a power," Paula said on E! News a year later. "They have a power to hurt, they have a power to make people happy."

As for her television career, while she no longer has a cooking show, Paula did have a short run on the Fall 2015 season of Dancing With the Stars

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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Celebrity: Hugh Grant

Recap: While rising to fame in the United States, the then 35-year-old actor, who was famously dating Elizabeth Hurley at the time, was arrested for soliciting oral sex from a prostitute in Los Angeles. Since he was about to celebrate the release of his newest film, Nine Months, he was already scheduled for appearances on late-night shows.

When directly asked about the arrest by Jay Leno, Grant said honestly, "I think you know in life pretty much what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing and I did a bad thing and there you have it," he explained. "I've done an abominable thing, and [Hurley's] been amazing about it, and contrary to what I read in the paper today, she's been very supportive, and we're going to try to work it out.''

Aftermath: While he and Hurley ultimately split, Hugh's acting career continued to flourish with steady roles from then onward. As for his outlook on fidelity—well, it hasn't really changed. 

"I always admire the French and the Italians who are very devoted to their marriages," he explained in an interview with Howard Stern this month. "They take them extremely seriously, but it is understood that there might be other visitors at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. You just never boast about. They never say anything, but that's what keeps marriages together."

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Celebrity: Kobe Bryant

Recap: In 2003, a hotel employee filed a sexual assault complaint against the basketball pro. While Bryant admitted to an adulterous encounter, he maintained that the act was consensual. The charges were ultimately dropped and a separate civil lawsuit was settled out of court. After the case ended, Kobe addressed the public with a press conference. 

"I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent. I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making a mistake of adultery," he began with his wife, Vanessa Bryant, holding his hand while seated next to him. "I love my wife with all my heart. She's my backbone. You're a blessing. You're a beat to my heart and the air I breathe...I'm so sorry for having to put you through this."

Aftermath: After having two children together, Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011. However, two years later, both announced they had reconciled and called off their separation. In July, the two revealed they are expecting their third baby

Professionally, Kobe suffered a brief setback after the scandal when some of his endorsers cut ties with him. However, the 18-time All Star continued to lead a well-respected basketball career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers up until his retirement in 2015 after 20 seasons with the team. 

"My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it's time to say goodbye," he announced in a poem. "That's OK. I'm ready to let you go."

(Originally published on September 2, 2016 at 9:00 a.m.)