These days, there are constant debates about so-called “cancel culture.” Famous entertainers are just one scandal away from losing their careers.
But controversy and scandal has never held the biggest stars back. In fact, for some of them, controversy helped to put them on the map.
Not buying it? Here are some pop culture figures who still achieved immense success despite huge controversies.
For better or for worse, Kim Kardashian has shaped the exploits of her and her family into a multimedia empire. Along the way, she achieved massive success despite some crazy controversies.
In fact, some cynics think she launched herself to fame by deliberately leaking her infamous sex tape with Ray J in 2007. Later, she would be accused of cultural appropriation in various photoshoots, including one for 7Hollywood Magazine in 2019. She also promoted appetite-suppressing lollipops to fans struggling with body issues in 2018.
Through it all, she has achieved major success that no scandal could hold back. Forbes estimated Kim Kardashian’s net worth at $1 billion in April 2021.
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most gifted living filmmakers. And he has been seriously successful despite some wild controversy.
First, the sheer content of his movies invites scandal. Any given film contains ample doses of ultra-violence and faces accusations of racism and misogyny. Second, he isn’t above putting actors in danger, like nearly getting Uma Thurman killed for a stunt in Kill Bill.
On top of that, Tarantino has made statements that seemed to defend controversial film figures like Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein (he later apologized). But none of this has served to slow his career down.
In 1995, Hugh Grant experienced what should have been a career-destroying scandal. He was arrested for sex with a prostitute, making him the butt of countless jokes and putting his long-term relationship with Elizabeth Hurley to the test. Oh, and did we mention this was right around when he was launching his Hollywood career?
But Grant was publicly contrite about his actions and paid his dues. In turn, this paid off: all of Grant’s biggest movies (including Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary) came out after this major scandal.
Where do we even start with the controversies of Madonna? Her music videos included burning crosses. She covered her breasts in giant cones. She pretended to pleasure herself on stage and even wrote a provocative book called Sex.
None of this hurt her career. In fact, more than most celebs, these scandals and the shocked public reaction to them helped make her a household name.
Cardi B is no stranger to scandal. Her rise to fame came from being one of the most controversial stars of Love & Hip Hop: New York. She’s never tried to hide her eventful past, which included time as a prominent stripper.
And she is still quite scandalous, dropping tongue-wagging songs like “WAP” on an unsuspecting world. But it seems like every sordid song and scandalous moment just makes this Grammy winner’s career stronger.
Chances are that George Carlin would have hated pretentious phrases like “you should live your truth.” But that’s exactly what he did, incorporating controversy into his comedy and his overall brand.
Arguably, Carlin’s most famous routine was “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” When he performed his routine at a Milwaukee festival in 1972, he was arrested on obscenity charges. After that, his comedy career really took off, turning him into a movie star and a household name.
Lady Gaga basically followed in Madonna’s shoes by incorporating controversy into almost every appearance and performance. This included appearing in a meat dress at the MTV Music Awards, glorifying bulimia at SXSW, and even sexualizing Judas — the man who betrayed Jesus Christ!
However, nobody can deny Gaga’s talent. And whether it’s despite these controversies or partially because of them, she has gone on to win awards that include one Oscar, two Golden Globes, and an astonishing nine Grammys!
Before his death in 2016, David Bowie had already achieved legendary status. But he was quite scandalous in his time thanks to his pioneering image of gender fluidity and activities such as heavy cocaine use. He was also busted once for carrying Nazi paraphernalia, and there are allegations about sex with an underage girl.
However, none of this seemed to matter to Bowie’s actual career. He simply became more and more popular as a musician over the decades.
With Michael Jackson, there are different levels of controversy. He created scandals for everything from plastic surgery to marrying Elvis’s daughter to grabbing his crotch during musical performances. But the biggest Jackson controversies include dangling his own baby from a balcony and ongoing accusations of child molestation. No matter how big the controversy, nothing has put an end to his musical empire. His influence is still felt now many years after his 2009 death.
Charlie Sheen is another celeb where the controversy count goes back many decades. The actor has been in and out of rehab, and he’s faced assault allegations, including for shooting a naked fiancée in her arm (and later describing this as “hot”).
He also ran up a jaw-dropping $50,000 tab with Hollywood’s most infamous madame, Heidi Fleiss. Eventually, his drug use led to him being dropped from Two and a Half Men, and he became infamous for claiming he was filled with “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA.”
So, it’s true that controversy eventually ended Sheen’s gravy train. But his controversies lasted many decades, and he spent over seven years acting on TV’s most popular show. Towards the end, he was making $1.78 million per episode — a “winning” amount by anyone’s standards!