by Kat Giantis
Hollywood has always served up sordid stories filled with unsavory characters and plenty of sex and violence. And we're not talking about the movies. As long as there have been celebrities, there have been scandals. It seems there's nothing we love more than gorging on a star's public humiliation and pain. And, as Paris Hilton's much-downloaded boudoir romp proves, we're not terribly discriminating as to whose fall from grace we witness.
What's our obsession with watching the rich and famous crash and burn? Maybe we like seeing the curtain ripped back from a celebrity's carefully crafted public image. Or maybe it's just plain old schadenfreude: When a star suffers, it makes us feel better about our own less-than-fabulous lives.
With the media's current crush of coverage for Hilton and Michael Jackson, it seems like a good time to examine the biggest Hollywood scandals ever (sorry O.J. and Monica -- these are celebrity scandals). Below are 10 big names whose troubles grabbed headlines, changed the pop-culture landscape, and brought out the voyeur in us all...
10. Rob Lowe Makes a Home Movie
Long before Paris Hilton burned up computer monitors and Pam and Tommy got busy on their boat (and car, and just about everywhere else), there was Rob Lowe. Back in 1988 at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, the then 25-year-old pretty boy Brat Packer was feeling frisky, so he invited two girls (one only 16) back to his hotel room. After committing their carnal acts to video, Lowe disappeared into the bathroom, and the two women disappeared with the tape and some money. A portion of the graphic video was leaked to the press (it wasn't Rob's finest performance), sparking a tabloid feeding frenzy that kept him under constant media surveillance. The actor eventually settled with the teen and he escaped charges of sexual misconduct with a minor by performing 20 hours of community service. His career rebounded, and the politically minded former pinup landed roles on both "The West Wing" and Governor Schwarzenegger's staff. Now a married father of two, Lowe and his notorious videotaped exploits received new publicity when police found a copy during a raid on the home of Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens.
9. Hugh Grant Is Caught in Flagrante Delicto
Before his fateful encounter with hooker Divine Brown in June 1995, Hugh Grant was best known as the stammering, floppy-haired charmer from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and the devoted beau of cleavage-baring starlet Elizabeth Hurley. That image disappeared the night he drove to a seedy part of Sunset Boulevard and picked up Brown. Within minutes, the pair was arrested for engaging in a lewd act (said act cost Grant $60). When police told Brown who her client was (he had called himself "Lewis"), she responded, "Who the hell is Hugh Grant?" Before long, everyone knew who the hell he was. The publicity was immediate and intense, especially in the actor's native Britain (blasted London's Sun tabloid, "You've Blown It, Hugh!"). Grant, upper lip stiff, decided to go forward with planned interviews to promote "Nine Months." First up was "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, who opened with, "What the hell were you thinking?" Grant's disarming response: "I did a bad thing, and there you have it." His witty and charming talk-show mea culpas provided public absolution, and he walked away with two years' probation, a $1,180 fine, Hurley's forgiveness, and a surging career.
8. Winona Ryder Picks Up Some Bargains at Saks
Even when committing a felony, fashion plate Winona Ryder had impeccable taste. On Dec. 12, 2001, the two-time Oscar nominee was nabbed trying to pilfer nearly $6,000 worth of designer goods -- including a Gucci dress, a Dolce & Gabbana purse, and a Marc Jacobs sweater -- from the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue. In addition to the purloined property, the sticky-fingered cutie pie was also carrying several powerful painkillers and a syringe (she had reportedly obtained prescriptions from different docs using various aliases). At her media-packed trial, Ryder wore her emotions on her sleeve (and the rest of her petite frame), appearing in a succession of modest outfits -- complete with prim matching headbands -- that painted a picture of innocence. It didn't work. She was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, 480 hours of community service, counseling, and was ordered to cough up $10,000 in fines and restitution. While Ryder's movie career has slowed since her arrest, she did find work with Marc Jacobs, who hired her to hawk his designs in an ad campaign that parodied her arrest.
7. Pee-Wee Herman Catches the Late Show
When Paul Reubens was busted outside a Sarasota, Fla., porno theater for allegedly bad-touching himself -- twice -- during a showing of the skin flick "Catalina Tiger Shark" in July 1991, the media and the public had a resounding answer to his nerdy alter ego's well-known catchphrase, "I know you are but what am I?" Suddenly, the man behind the rosy-cheeked, tight-suited perma-adolescent Pee-Wee Herman was branded a pervert. Faster than you could say "I'm rubber, you're glue," CBS had pulled reruns of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse," and Pee-Wee merchandise was yanked from store shelves. Though Reubens insisted he was innocent (he admitted he was in the theater but "never exposed himself or engaged in any other improper activities"), his career as he knew it was over. At least Reubens was able to find the funny in his shame: Two months after his arrest, he donned his Pee-Wee guise to open the MTV Video Music Awards, asking the cheering crowd, "Heard any good jokes lately?" He later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure and coughed up a $50 fine. He bounced back with supporting roles in "Batman Returns" and "Murphy Brown" before being hit with another scandal in 2001 -- this one involving a misdemeanor charge of child porn possession. Reubens maintains his innocence.
6. Woody Allen Woos Soon-Yi
It's always been a fine line between the lovably neurotic nebbish Woody Allen plays on screen and the man himself, which is probably why no one was laughing at the funnyman's antics in 1992. Allen, then 57, had fallen in love with 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime lover and frequent co-star Mia Farrow, who discovered their affair after spying salacious Polaroids the filmmaker had snapped of Soon-Yi. "I didn't feel that just because she was Mia's daughter, there was any great moral dilemma," Allen explained defensively to Time. "The heart wants what it wants. There's no logic to those things." Allen and Farrow, once the most reclusive couple in Hollywood, laid their lives bare during their vicious 1993 custody battle: Allen claimed Farrow hit Soon-Yi; Farrow, calling Allen "a moral tumbleweed," accused him of molesting their adopted daughter Dylan (the allegations were denied and never proven). In the end, Woody's heart got what it wanted: He married Soon-Yi in 1997, and they quietly adopted two children of their own. Domestically, Allen is doing fine, but professionally he's never really been the same. His last few films have tanked, with one critic calling his latest, "Anything Else," the "sourest of romantic comedies."