Celebrities who made a comeback after run-ins with the law

Written by:
January 11, 2018
Updated on April 4, 2019
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Celebrities who made a comeback after run-ins with the law

No one is perfect, and that includes your favorite celebrities. The number of actors, singers, and reality stars who have endured a fall from grace at some point in their careers is staggering. Sometimes there's no coming back for a celebrity who has committed a misdeed — some crimes are just too terrible to forgive — but for the 30 people on this list, redemption was achieved thanks to hard work and, in some cases, fanbases willing to forget youthful indiscretions. (Hey, who hasn't made a few of those?)

These famous faces have all been accused of crimes at some point in their lives, and each has managed to make career comebacks anyways. While some celebrity stories are well-known, a few of these will surprise you. For instance, everyone knows that Robert Downey, Jr. is Hollywood's most famous comeback kid, but did you know that even the wholesome Reese Witherspoon had a brush with the law? That's right, even America's sweetheart makes mistakes.

Stacker has compiled a list of 30 stars who have been accused of crimes in the past, but found a way to move their careers forward anyway — or kept them from stalling before they started. These comeback stories should inspire you as these celebrities are living proof that your missteps don't have to define you as long as you're willing to learn from them.

#30. Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke’s career had stagnated by the time he was arrested on a DUI charge in 2007. The news seemed like little more than a blip in the life of a fading actor, but the very next year The Wrestler was released, earning Rourke a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars and one incredible redemption story.

#29. Paul Reubens

If you grew up in the ‘80s, there’s an excellent chance that you spent your Saturday mornings with Pee-wee Herman. That’s why parents were scandalized when actor Paul Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult theater in 1991. Reubens career as a children’s entertainer was effectively over, but Pee-wee did ride again in the 2016 Netflix original Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.

#28. Lil Kim

In 2005, Lil Kim lied to protect her friends who were involved in a 2001 shooting, and as a result she faced a heavy penalty for lying to a federal grand jury. Lil’ Kim landed in prison, and her vibrant music career was temporarily put on hold. The rapper was ultimately released, and she came back stronger than ever.

#27. Woody Harrelson

Three years before he joined the cast of Cheers, Woody Harrelson was arrested for disorderly conduct. The actor was hauled in for dancing in the street, obstructing traffic, and resisting arrest. That’s not the best way to kick-off a career, but Harrelson’s roguish charm has become a trademark that has led to roles in everything from Zombieland to True Detective.

#26. Heather Locklear

Heather Locklear has been struggling with anxiety and depression for quite some time, and the actress is still facing issues in 2017. However, after being arrested for a DUI in 2008, Locklear continued to work hard on maintaining her career. Despite everything, she's still thriving as a TV star, and she's far from the first actor people think of as troubled.

#25. Joshua Jackson

Yes, even Pacey Witter has had a run-in with the law. In 2002, Joshua Jackson was arrested for assaulting a security guard while drunk at a hockey game. The Dawson’s Creek actor was at the height of his career at the time. While the incident may have slightly tarnished his teen poster boy image, it didn’t slow Jackson down in the long run. He currently has a starring role on Showtime’s The Affair.

#24. Nina Dobrev

The last thing a new TV show needs is bad publicity before it airs, but that’s exactly what happened to The Vampire Diaries when its leading lady Nina Dobrev and several of her castmates were arrested for disorderly conduct in 2009. Dobrev and her co-stars were arrested after a photoshoot led to them distracting passing motorists. Dobrev paid a fine, and The Vampire Diaries went on to air for eight seasons.

#23. Tim Allen

Tim Allen’s acting career almost never happened. Before he was the leading man in family-friendly sitcoms like Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, Allen was arrested in 1978 for cocaine possession. His arrest ultimately led to him spending two years in federal prison. In an interview with The Washington Times, Allen reflected, “It was a watershed moment. It put me in a position of great humility, and I was able to make amends to friends and family and refocus my life on setting and achieving goals.”

#22. Michelle Rodriguez

Michelle Rodriguez has faced multiple DUI charges over the course of her career, and in 2006, she was sent to jail where she served just four hours of a two-month sentence. She was hit with another DUI charge in 2007, but since then she’s become a familiar face to fans of action movies.

#21. Jay Z

Jay Z is one of the rap industry's most recognizable faces, but in 1999 he put his career on the line when he stabbed music producer Lance "Un" Rivera. The rapper was given three years probation after the incident, which he seems to have put behind him as he continues to release new hit records.

#20. Tiger Woods

The golf world’s biggest celebrity had already overcome a cheating scandal when he was arrested for a DUI charge in 2017, but Tiger Woods just keeps bouncing back. In December, he was back in the news for doing what he does best: winning at golf.

#19. Randy Travis

In some ways, country singers are under more pressure to uphold a wholesome image than their other famous peers, and in 2012, Randy Travis discovered this reality the hard way when he was arrested for driving under the influence — while naked. Travis almost lost his career over the incident, but his apologetic behavior helped fans focus on his music instead of his mistake.

#18. Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey wasn’t alright when he was arrested for marijuana possession in 1999, and it certainly didn’t help that he was naked and playing bongos at the time. However, McConaughey doesn’t look back on the headline-making incident with regret. He later told Playboy, “I was not raised to be in jail. What’s wrong with beating on your drums in your birthday suit? I have no regrets about the way I got there.”

#17. Britney Spears

In the mid ‘00s, it seemed as if Britney Spears couldn’t get in the news for the right reasons. Her luck didn’t change when she was charged with a hit and run after a parking lot fender bender in 2007. While the charges seemed minor enough, they were compounded by the fact that the singer was fighting for custody of her children at the time. These days, Spears is far more likely to make headlines for her Las Vegas residency than for getting into trouble with the law.

#16. Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars had a hit record and his whole career ahead of him when he was arrested in 2010 for cocaine possession in Las Vegas. Ultimately, Mars' arrest taught the singer a valuable lesson: that his fame could go away. Looking back on the incident with GQ in 2013, Mars said, "I can take this s--t away from you, young man. That was the lesson. You've slaved away for years and years and years. You've prepped your whole life. It's all you know how to do. You're a kid experiencing life in f--king Sin City, and that was the lesson: It can all be taken away."

#15. Haley Joel Osment

The Sixth Sense child star returned to the spotlight under unfortunate circumstances when he was charged with a DUI and possession of marijuana after crashing his car in 2006. Haley Joel Osment’s situation sounded like the beginning of another tragic Hollywood downfall, but it proved to be a youthful indiscretion. These days Osment is enjoying a career resurgence thanks to appearances on TV shows like The X-Files and Silicon Valley.

#14. Chris Pine

Shortly after the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Chris Pine was arrested for a DUI in New Zealand. The actor was becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to stars, and there was a real fear that his arrest could damage his career. Pine quickly rebounded from his mistake, and has been making hit movies (and staying out of trouble) ever since.

#13. Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart is the person people turn to when they need a killer cake recipe or a fresh tablescape idea. But in 2004 the queen of modern domesticity found herself facing obstruction of justice charges that landed her in jail. That didn’t stop Stewart. Not only did she make a comeback, she now has a cooking show with Snoop Dogg.

#12. Nicole Richie

Richie was the quintessential reality TV star when she was arrested for a DUI in 2006. While Richie was never known for having a “good girl” image, her arrest seemed to signal the end of her time in the spotlight. Over a decade later, Richie has turned her career around, and is now a star on NBC’s hit sitcom Great News.

#11. George Michael

George Michael was a true music icon, and his brush with the law also led to him becoming an advocate for gay rights. In 1998, an undercover police officer caught Michael engaging in a sex act in a public bathroom. The situation led to Michael publicly acknowledging his sexuality, and the late singer went on to sell thousands of more records.

#10. Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon’s status as one of Hollywood’s most likable stars was in jeopardy when she was charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to get back in her car after her husband, Jim Toth, was arrested for a DUI. The video of Witherspoon screaming at the arresting police officer made its way online, and her fans were shocked.

During a press conference for the movie Wild, Witherspoon said, “I guess maybe we all like to define people by the way the media presents them, and I think that I showed I have a complexity that people didn’t know about. It’s part of human nature. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes.”

#9. Will Smith

In 1989, Will Smith’s rap career was taking off in a major way when he was involved in an alleged assault in West Philadelphia. The incident involved an argument that allegedly left a man nearly blind in one eye. However, all charges against Smith were dropped, and the actor may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the stir at the time of his arrest threatened to derail his career, Smith went on to become a major movie star in the ‘90s.

#8. Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant is a modern romantic comedy icon thanks to hits like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. However, the British star’s past isn’t squeaky clean. In 1995, Grant was arrested for lewd conduct after being found with a sex worker. It seemed safe to assume his career was over, but rather than run from the incident, Grant went on a PR apology tour through late night television. The move not only saved his Hollywood credentials, it ensured that his legacy wouldn’t be a scandal.

#7. Justin Bieber

Tween heartthrob Justin Bieber was in the process of reinventing his career when he was arrested for driving while under the influence in 2014. The pop star struck a plea deal at the time, but his image — at least where the parents of his fanbase were concerned  — took a hit. In 2017, Bieber shared his mugshot on Instagram and told his fans how much he has learned since then. “I love this because it reminds me I’m not exactly where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!” Bieber wrote. “The best is yet to come.”

#6. Shia LaBeouf

Due to the high number of former child stars whose lives have fallen apart as they entered adulthood, young adult actors tend to face extra scrutiny. Shia LaBeouf almost became a statistic in 2014, when he was arrested at a Broadway performance of Cabaret for disorderly conduct. LaBeouf hasn't exactly stayed out of trouble since then, but he has channelled most of his energy into making headlines for the right reasons — like serving up memorable performances in films like 2017's Borg vs. McEnroe.

#5. Khloe Kardashian

Currently, Khloe Kardashian is expecting her first child, but in 2007, the reality star was arrested for a DUI. The moment could have been a make or break one for the young Kardashian, but she quickly showed the world that she was willing to learn from her mistakes. During an interview with Tyra Banks in 2008, Kardashian revealed that the experience was a sobering one. “What I could have done is just unthinkable,” she told Banks. “I will never, ever do that again.”

#4. Kiefer Sutherland

In 2007, Kiefer Sutherland was the hottest TV star in Hollywood. His role as Jack Bauer on Fox’s 24 had netted him four Emmy nominations and one win when he was convicted of two misdemeanor counts of DUI. Given that this wasn’t the actor’s first time facing DUI charges, it could have been a career-compromising moment. However, Sutherland managed to bounce back, continuing his role as Jack until 2010.

#3. Halle Berry

Just as her film career was beginning to take off, Halle Berry was accused of leaving the scene of a crime after the actress was involved in a car accident. Ultimately, Berry was given probation and hit with a hefty fine, but she didn’t allow her time in court to slow down her career momentum. In 2002, Berry made history as the first African American woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars.

#2. Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder is one of the undisputed queens of the ‘90s movie scene, but in 2001, the actress was arrested for shoplifting at a Saks 5th Avenue. She was later found guilty of grand theft and vandalism, but in retrospect, Ryder believes the incident reflected her state of mind at the time.

“Psychologically, I must have been at a place where I just wanted to stop. I won’t get into what happened, but it wasn’t what people think,” Ryder told Porter magazine in 2016.

These days Ryder is enjoying a major career resurgence thanks to Netflix’s Stranger Things.

#1. Robert Downey Jr.

In 1996, Robert Downey Jr. was arrested for possession of cocaine and heroin. More arrests and jail time would follow until the actor entered rehab in 2003. He came out on the other side ready to start fresh, and his commitment to sobriety afforded him the opportunity to play Iron Man. The role resuscitated Downey Jr.'s career and turned him into one of the biggest stars on the planet.

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