Actor, artist and provocateur Shia LaBeouf has spent much of his career figuring himself out.
Now 34, he's been acting for almost his entire life (he actually has an IMDb credit that predates him) and has been famous for nearly as long. He spent his youth on TV, including as a star of the Disney Channel series Even Stevens, and had his breakout role on the big screen in 2003's Holes.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints made an indie darling out of him in 2006. The 2007 thriller Disturbia turned him into the boy-next-door heartthrob. And he became the boy-next-door action hero as star of the Transformers franchise and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He twice topped Forbes' list of actors who were worth their price tag relative to how much their films made.
Also at some point in 2007 he went on a date with Rihanna, which turned into rumors that they were a thing, none of which he really dispelled until he told Playboy in 2009, "It never got beyond one date. The spark wasn't there. We weren't passionate about each other in that way, so we remain friends."
For the most part, all seemed to be going right for Shia LaBeouf. Yet while his star was on the rise, his life usually failed to be in sync with his career, the Los Angeles native acting out as often as he scored acting jobs.
And while he's certainly leaned into introspection, drawing on his life story (and basically playing his own father) for 2019's Honey Boy, it's his alleged refusal to get the real help he needs that ex-girlfriend FKA twigs says prompted her to file a lawsuit against LaBeouf alleging that he subjected her to "relentless abuse" during their relationship.
LaBeouf started dating the British artist, whose real name is Tahliah Barnett, in the fall of 2018, stepping out together while he and his wife of less than two years, Mia Goth, were busy divorcing. FKA twigs appeared in Honey Boy, which they shot that year (while, coincidentally, Goth had just made High Life with FKA twigs' ex Robert Pattinson). But by June 2019, the "Cellophane" singer and the actor had cooled off, a source telling E! News that their communication had been "very minimal" while she was on tour.
FKA twigs' lawsuit paints a harrowing account of that time, during which, she says, she had the means to leave him but was terrified of doing so.
She alleges that, after showering her with "over-the-top displays of affection" when they first got together, he became toxically controlling and violent. "He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible," her complaint states.
LaBeouf's rep hasn't yet responded to E! News' request for comment, but the actor said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported FKA twigs' story and the lawsuit, as well as allegations from another ex-girlfriend who says he mistreated her: "I'm not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel. I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations. I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I'm ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say."
In a follow-up email, he asserted that "many of these allegations are not true," but he owed the women "the opportunity to air their statements publicly" while he accepted "accountability for those things I have done."
He's currently sober and in a 12-step program, as well as in therapy, LaBeouf added. "I am not cured of my PTSD and alcoholism," he continued, "but I am committed to doing what I need to do to recover, and I will forever be sorry to the people that I may have harmed along the way."
While he had previously acknowledged that he had some problems, it was once he had stared his father issues in the face writing the script for Honey Boy that he broached the subject of PTSD, tracing his unraveling back to his earliest days in the spotlight.
"For a long time, I thought that life was secondary to art," LaBeouf told Esquire in 2018. "And then you realize you can't have this art thing without the life thing. I'm just trying to deal with my life right now, 'cause I don't have f--k-all to offer the world until I do."
At the time he was analyzing a string of behavior that culminated in him getting arrested in 2017 for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct in Savannah, Ga., where he was shooting The Peanut Butter Falcon.
Last year LaBeouf shared on The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast that it was while in rehab after that arrest that he learned he was suffering from PTSD.
"I just thought I was an alcoholic, like a true blue drunk and I needed to deal with that," he told host Scott Feinberg. "I knew it was an issue but didn't know there was this extra whole other thing that was hindering my ability to have any peace in my life and my ability to deal with people."
After finding success on the Disney Channel, LaBeouf refused to take a break, thinking the more money he earned, the more problems he could solve for his parents, who split up when he was 5. As it turned out, that wasn't the healthiest choice for him.
In November 2007, a 21-year-old LaBeouf was arrested after he refused to heed an order from security to leave a Walgreens drug store in Chicago. He was initially charged with misdemeanor trespassing but the case was dropped after the parties involved declined to press charges.
"Drinking and driving is one thing, but drinking and shopping... it's just as bad," LaBeouf quipped on the Late Show With David Letterman. Talking to Empire magazine in February 2008, the Los Angeles native called his behavior "complete and utter insanity.
"I was an a--hole," he continued, "and it was a mistake I'm still completely embarrassed about. I was in the middle of a strange mind state, having just come off a three-month window of focus. I can't diminish what happened at all. But I can say this: I'm not the first 21-year-old to be arrested for a misdemeanor. There are lessons in life I need to learn, and I'm learning all of them in front of the public."
At the time, though he was already a veteran actor, it was still a little early on to consider his comment about being in "a strange mind state" coming off "a three-month window of focus" to be vintage Shia.
But only hindsight is 20/20.
In March 2008, LaBeouf was ticketed for unlawful smoking in Burbank, Calif., where you simply can't smoke on the street. His lawyer appeared on his behalf and, after the actor was reportedly fined $500, the case was dismissed.
That July, LaBeouf, by then 22, was in a rollover crash in his Ford F-150 pickup in L.A. that crushed his left hand, requiring extensive surgery, and left his passenger, Transformers co-star Isabel Lucas, with minor injuries. The West Hollywood Sheriff's Department ultimately backed up his claim that the accident, in which he collided with an oncoming car when the driver ran a red light, was not his fault. However, he was still arrested on suspicion of DUI for exhibiting signs of intoxication; in September 2008 the L.A. District Attorney's Office decided not to move forward, citing a lack of evidence. A DMV hearing, at which he risked having his license suspended because he refused to take a breathalyzer test, also concluded with no action being taken.
Later that summer LaBeouf got back to shooting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and lining up future projects, including the Big-Brother's-watching thriller Eagle Eye and Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Dating Wall Street co-star Carey Mulligan for about a year between 2009 and 2010 now appears to have been a great stabilizing force in his life, because LaBeouf didn't make any headlines for bad-boy behavior while they were together.
In February 2011, however, a few months before Transformers: Dark of the Moon hit theaters, LaBeouf ended up in handcuffs after getting punched during a bar fight in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The other guy was cuffed too and both were ultimately let go without being arrested. That October, the actor was involved in another dust-up outside of a bar in Vancouver, where he was shooting The Company We Keep; again, he wasn't arrested.
LaBeouf was going to make his Broadway debut in Orphans with Alec Baldwin and Tom Sturridge in 2013, but that didn't work out due to "creative differences," and he was replaced with Ben Foster.
Also that year LaBeouf was accused of plagiarizing a story by author Daniel Clowes for his own short film "HowardCantour.com" which resulted in a stream of tweets that also borrowed from apologies made by other notable people, including Mark Zuckerberg. Ultimately on New Year's Day, 2014, LaBeouf arranged for a pilot to sky-write "I'm sorry Daniel Clowes." That week CNN reported that another publisher was considering taking legal action, accusing LaBeouf's graphic novel Stale N Mate of ripping off Benoit Duteurtre's The Little Girl and the Cigarette.
Later that month LaBeouf described any and all plagiarism as "meta-modernist performance art," which sure enough was becoming very much his bag. (As were actual bags.)
In 2013 he had also raised eyebrows by joining the cast (meeting Mia Goth in the process) of Lars von Trier's controversial two-part Nymphomaniac saga, which involved CGI-ing the genitals of porn actors onto the two-part saga's more famous cast to show more graphic sexual activity and was slapped with an NC-17 rating. The pair of films were eventually met with mixed reviews, but LaBeouf—who throughout reports of his missteps was still holding his own as a fine young actor—had already lined up the World War II drama Fury with Brad Pitt. (For which, he later said, he didn't bathe for four months, to better replicate the experience of the soldiers, and had a cross tattooed on his left hand.)
Before Fury came out in October 2014, however, LaBeouf embarked on his personal artistic blue period, where seemingly everything he did had a social statement attached to it, or at least he liked to think it did. He walked out of a press conference for Nymphomaniac: Vol. I during the Berlin Film Festival in February 2014, silently objecting to questions about all the sex scenes, and then at the film's premiere he dressed traditionally in a simple tuxedo, but put a paper bag on his head with holes cut out for his eyes and "I am not famous anymore" written in thick black marker.
So...that was new.
And it was only the beginning. Later that month he set up shop for five days at a gallery on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, where fans (and not-fans) waited in line for hours for a chance to face a silent LaBeouf, again with a bag over his head, and try to provoke a reaction from him. Props were on hand to aid the visitor's cause. Word on the street was that he was shedding a tear or two, and if made to cry he would lift up the bag to show you.
The exhibit, in collaboration with Finnish performance artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, was called #IAMSORRY and we made him laugh. And cry a solitary tear, though that wasn't our intention.
LaBeouf was sorrier in June, however, when he was arrested for disturbing a production of Cabaret at Studio 54 on Broadway, starring Michelle Williams. The actor, who by then was getting a bit of a reputation, later explained that he had slapped star Alan Cumming's behind (the Scottish actor was reprising his Tony-winning role as Master of Ceremonies) and refused to put out a cigarette when asked. Whiskey was also involved, he recalled.
He was escorted out during intermission, so as to not further disrupt the show—"Do you know who I am?!" he tried to insist to the officers, according to court documents—and a rep for Liza Minnelli, who won an Oscar for playing Sally Bowles in the 1972 film, sent him a copy of the movie—so he would know how the musical ended.
On July 1, 2014, LaBeouf's rep confirmed to E! News that, while he hadn't checked into rehab, he was voluntarily getting treatment for alcohol addiction. "He understands that these recent actions are a symptom of a larger health problem and he has taken the first of many necessary steps towards recovery," the rep said. That November he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and avoided both jail and probation because of the steps he'd taken to get help.
"I was trying to earn my father. I was trying to shake off Disney. I was trying to shake off blockbusters," he recalled that period of his life on Awards Chatter. "And I was trying to work with people who f--ked with me."
In September 2014, perhaps to show off the new healthy leaf he had turned over, he ran at least 144 laps around the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, some with fans and some solo, calling it a #Metamarathon.
Then, in a shocking interview printed in the Winter 2014 issue of Dazed magazine, LaBeouf claimed that he had been sexually assaulted during his week at the gallery for #IAMSORRY.
"One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me…" he said. "There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with dishevelled hair and smudged lipstick. It was no good, not just for me but her man as well.
"On top of that my girl was in line to see me, because it was Valentine's Day and I was living in the gallery for the duration of the event—we were separated for five days, no communication. So it really hurt her as well, as I guess the news of it travelled through the line. When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn't speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful."
His collaborators, Rönkkö and British artist Luke Turner, confirmed that an incident did occur, and that once they realized what was going on they immediately put a stop to it. "Nowhere did we state that people could do whatever they wanted to Shia during #IAMSORRY," Turner tweeted. He explained that the woman in question ran away, for those who were wondering why she wasn't arrested or otherwise detained.
In July 2015, he and then-girlfriend Goth (the aforementioned girl who had come to see him on Valentine's Day) made headlines when they got into a screaming match in public in Germany. LaBeouf could be heard in video footage obtained by Entertainment Tonight yelling, "I don't wanna touch you. I don't wanna be aggressive. This is the kind of s--t that makes a person abusive!"
"If I'd have stayed there, I would have killed her," LaBeouf then told the small group of people he left the scene with in a car, which then took him to the airport.
LaBeouf penned an essay for the 2015 book Prison Ramen, featuring stories from celebrities who had been in jail (as well as recipes they had actually tried behind bars), in which he shared that he'd been to jail five times—the first time being when he was 9 and spent six hours in custody for shoplifting a pair of sneakers. Trip to jail No. 2 was when he was 11 and had shoplifted a Gameboy from K-Mart. Trip No. 3 came when he was 20 after he (this was news) tried to stab his neighbor. (He told Esquire that the guy's car had dinged his mother's car, and so he went after him with a knife.) And then 4 and 5 were for the Walgreens incident in Chicago and his Cabaret interruption.
"When I'm nervous in my creativity, I think of my failures in life and in art," he wrote. "Thinking about my screw-ups loosens the grip of fear. It's freeing to f--k up and to recover."
And so far, so good, he had recovered enough to still be an object of mass fascination. He had seemingly written the essay, however, before his sixth trip to jail following his October 2015 arrest in Austin, Texas, for public intoxication. He was booked but ultimately just released on his own recognizance.
Also that November, from the 10th to the 12th, he staged his own career retrospective, hunkering down at the Angelika Film Center in New York City to watch all of his movies in a row. The public was welcome to join, and the whole affair was livestreamed. "#ALLMYMOVIES" it was called, of course.
Meanwhile, he and Goth eventually get engaged and tied the knot in a kitschy ceremony at an Elvis-themed chapel in Las Vegas on Oct. 10, 2016.
Which, because it was LaBeouf after all, also looked as if it could've been a put-on (TMZ had a livestream of the ceremony) until he told Ellen DeGeneres (though even then...) it was real.
But he did conduct interviews after that as if he were a married man, telling E! News at the Man Down premiere in December 2016 that his relationship had changed his entire outlook on marriage.
"It's better on the other side," he shared. "I've been lied to my whole life. You always hear these people who are all cynical, like, 'Ah, man, once you get married everything changes. But for the better though!"
Something else moved LaBeouf a great deal in the winter of 2016, however: the presidential election.
On Jan. 20, 2017, Inauguration Day, he set up inside the Museum of the Moving Image and invited passersby to come in and say on camera, "He will not divide us"—also the name of the overall project.
LaBeouf was arrested outside the museum on Jan. 25, supposedly after grabbing a man's scarf and scratching him, but ultimately wasn't charged with anything. The museum shut the project down on Feb. 10, explaining it had created an "unexpectedly volatile situation and serious public safety hazards," so LaBeouf moved it to the El Rey Theater in Albuquerque, N.M.
It was almost immediately vandalized with red spray paint, but other locals came voluntarily to help clean up.
"On the bright side as long as Shia and his team continue to maintain it, we'll keep providing the space," El Rey owner Stephen Segura told Fox News at the time. "Our biggest concern is not wanting to desensitize the artistic community in Albuquerque. We're a community of artists; it's bringing up a lot of conversation. Someone flashed nudity, and someone flashed a gun [at the camera], and it was promptly handled by police. We have plenty of cameras around the theater that people don't notice, and if we see anything we'll work as a community to stop it."
On Feb. 18, 2017, the project was moved to a wall outside the theater. The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, adopted "He Will Not Divide Us" in March and then, according to the project's website, it was taken over by Le Lieu unique, a contemporary art and music center, in Nantes, France, in October.
That April, meanwhile, LaBeouf was caught on video—because there's always someone filming—calling an employee at Pinz bowling alley in Studio City, Calif., a "f--king racist" for apparently refusing him service after he'd had a few too many beers. LaBeouf ran out of the place, only to return after realizing he was still wearing his rented bowling shoes. After that, he took off for good.
Alas, he didn't learn.
On July 8, in a hard-to-watch turn of events, LaBeouf was arrested in Savannah, Ga., after flying off the handle when a police officer and another pedestrian reportedly refused his request to bum a cigarette.
"When LaBeouf wasn't given a cigarette, he became disorderly, using profanities and vulgar language in front of the women and children present," police said afterward. "He was told to leave the area and refused, becoming aggressive toward the officer." Meanwhile, cameras were rolling. LaBeouf was caught on video ranting to the Black cop who arrested him, "Who are you fighting for?! You got a president who don't give a f--k about you, and you're stuck in a police force who doesn't give a f--k about you. So you want to arrest white people who give a f--k? Who ask for cigarettes?"
Once he was taken into custody, he was seen on camera again at the station telling a Black officer he would be going to "straight to hell, bro," explaining his reasoning to the officer's white partner, "because he's a Black man" siding with the police.
Now that caused some serious remorse. As well as actual reflection and an admittance that he needed more help than he'd ever been willing to get after his prior alcohol-fueled outbursts.
"I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and make no excuses for it," read a statement published to Twitter a few days later. "I don't know if these statements are too frequent, or not shared often enough, but I am certain that my actions warrant a very sincere apology to the arresting officers, and I am grateful for their restraint. The severity of my behavior is not lost on me.
"My outright disrespect for authority is problematic to say the least, and completely destructive to say the worst. It is a new low. A low I hope is a bottom. I have been struggling with addiction publicly for far too long, and I am actively taking steps toward securing my sobriety and hope I can be forgiven for my mistakes."
He went to the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017 for the premiere of Borg vs. McEnroe, in which he played the famously volatile John McEnroe, and, that October, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and obstruction. He was sentenced to a year of probation, as well as ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and get anger management counseling.
LaBeouf continued to post updates about "He Will Not Divide Us" on social media, and he also seemed to be taking recovery seriously, actually going to rehab. And, after preparing for the Esquire interview with his therapist, he opened up about the many highs and lows—and his low in Savannah in particular—that he had experienced in what had already been a really long career.
"I f--ked up," he said simply in the sweeping Esquire cover story. The rest? Not so simple, though he at least seemed to be in earnest about wanting to move forward without further trouble.
Referring to himself as a "buffoon" with no method to his madness, he told the magazine, "I've got to look at my failures in the face for a while. I need to take ownership of my shit and clean up my side of the street a bit before I can go out there and work again, so I'm trying to stay creative and learn from my mistakes. I've been falling forward for a long time. Most of my life. The truth is, in my desperation, I lost the plot."
It didn't look as if Hollywood ever lost his number, though. Despite his stream of misbehavior he never went a year without a movie coming out, be it Michael Bay-big or Von Trier-weird. The Peanut Butter Falcon, co-starring Dakota Johnson and John Hawkes, debuted in August 2019 to generally positive reviews. His autobiographical Honey Boy, about a young actor trying to get a grip on his life and figure out his relationship with his father, followed in November.
This year wasn't as inspiring. The Tax Collector, which came out in August, was widely panned. He was going to be in Olivia Wilde's next directorial effort, the thriller Don't Worry Darling, but dropped out due to reported scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Harry Styles. But he's still got a film in the pipeline, Pieces of a Woman with Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn, coming to Netflix Jan. 7.
But in 2018 LaBeouf acknowledged that his behavior had caught up with him, telling Esquire, "I'm run out. No one's giving me a shot right now. Spike Lee is making a movie. I was talking to him about it. He goes to the money and pushes to try to get me in the movie, the money says no, and that's the end of me hanging out with Spike Lee for this film."
He insisted that hadn't lessened his resolve to get it together and keep it together. He got sober after his 2017 arrest in Georgia, and he started exposure therapy to help him confront the trauma of his past. He then poured his life story into the script for Honey Boy, a creative journey that included going to visit his father in Costa Rica, the first time he'd seen him in seven years.
"Everything that's in the film happened," LaBeouf said on Awards Chatter. "...I became addicted to that kudos. It kind of fueled my way of working for a long time—just pinning your own pain and holding on to it and not really ever dealing with it or questioning it, but just keeping it in a little bottle that you can pop the top on whenever it's needed, when the switch needs to be flipped."
When he was younger, he recalled, "I don't think there was any acting going on. This was, like, personality. There was no acting going on for the huge front half of my career. This was all just my personality exhibited on a camera...It's the ordinary kid in the extraordinary situation over and over and over again. And that's actually what I was—I was an ordinary kid, for real, in an extraordinary situation, for real."
(Originally published March 13, 2018, at 2:20 p.m. PT; updated Oct. 30, 2019, at 11:50 a.m. PT)