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Celebrity Scandals From the 1970s You Forgot About

The decade following the conclusion of the Summer of Love was one rife with scandal, controversy, and the dawning of a new culture war

Headshot of Colin ScanlonBy Colin Scanlon
tom hayden and jane fonda
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Much of celebrity culture in the 1970s serves as a simulacrum for what would come to illustrate the “cult of celebrity” that defined the remainder of the century - particularly the increased commercialization of celebrity, the gargantuan expansion of tabloid fodder leading to total erasure of a celebrity’s right to privacy, and the expansion of celebrity beyond mere figures of entertainment to catalysts of real social activism. As the counterculture of the 1960s moved to wider mainstream suffusion, much of the idealism and activism of the 1960s gave way to the individualistic, commercial motivation of celebrity in the 1970s, a modus operandi that still typifies our contemporary understanding of celebrity and celebrity culture. Despite more than half a century passing since the beginning of the 1970s, the arcane, morally ambiguous role of celebrity in the public consciousness remains largely unchanged; our boundless parasocial attachments remaining simultaneously ambivalent, nebulous, and contradictory.


Jane Fonda visits Vietnam

jane fonda looking through artillery scope
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Fonda, a prominent activist and one of most recognizable movie stars of the 1970s, toured North Vietnam in 1972 at the height of conflict between Vietnamese and American forces, leading to many conservative media outlets dubbing her “Hanoi Jane” in an effort to undermine Fonda’s antiwar activism. Throughout her time in Vietnam, Fonda appeared on 10 radio programs criticizing the US war efforts in Vietnam while urging American pilots to cease bombing civilian and non-military targets throughout the region. During her visit, the Barbarella actress was photographed seated on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, leading to the Veterans of Foreign Wars calling for Fonda to be tried in US court as a traitor to the nation despite the actor’s anti-war sentiments being fairly commonplace throughout the American public by that point. Fonda has since apologized for the photograph repeatedly, stating her protests were against the US government’s actions within Vietnam, not against the US soldiers specifically. Despite this, neoconservative pundits like Megyn Kelly have continued to erroneously attribute Fonda’s activism to anti-American ideology as recently as 2018 (nearly 50 years after Fonda’s trip to Vietnam).


Tim Allen is arrested for cocaine possession

tim allen mug shot
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More than a decade before rising to fame with his starring role in Home Improvement, Allen was arrested in a Michigan airport for possession of 650 grams of cocaine on October 2, 1978. Allen was able to avoid life imprisonment through a plea deal in which he provided authorities with the names of other dealers in exchange for a reduced sentence of 3-7 years for drug trafficking. The Last Man Standing actor would be paroled in June 1981 after serving just 2 years and 4 months of his sentence in a Minnesota federal prison.


Patty Hearst joins the Symbionese Liberation Army

patty hearst
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Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment by the far-left militant group the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) on February 4, 1974 when she was just 19 years-old. The SLA intended to extort the political connections Hearst’s family maintained to secure the freedom of 2 SLA members, Russ Little and Joe Remiro, who’d been arrested for the 1973 murder of Marcus Foster, an American educator who’d become the first black superintendent of a large urban school district after being appointed Associate Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia in 1969. When the state failed to comply with the demands of the SLA, they instead demanded Hearst’s family donate $70 worth of food to every needy Californian, an effort that would cost roughly $200 million. After being held captive for weeks, Hearst announced she’d joined the SLA, taking the name “Tania” and began helping the terrorist group create explosive devices, kidnap civilians, hijack cars, and rob a San Francisco bank. Shortly after being arrested in September 1975, Hearst denounced the SLA and claimed she’d been brainwashed into participating in their criminal activities. Hearst was convicted of bank robbery on March 20, 1976 but would have her sentence commuted to 22 months served by President Jimmy Carter leading to her release in February 1979. The former SLA member had her full civil rights reinstated on January 20, 2001 when given a pardon by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

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Studio 54 is raided by the IRS

dolly parton concert after party at studio 54
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After receiving a tip from ex-club employee Donald Moon, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) obtained a warrant to execute a search of Studio 54 in December 1978. 31 federal agents executed the search, carting out massive boxes of records, file cabinets, and financial books while bewildered employees looked on. During the raid, one of the club’s founders, Ian Schrager, was arrested for cocaine possession with intent to distribute after federal agents seized a briefcase Schrager was carrying that contained 5 envelopes each containing an ounce of cocaine. Agents were ultimately able to seize more than $3 million in cash after searching the club’s ceiling, a safe deposit box, and home safes belonging to club employees. Ultimately, the club’s founders, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, were found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison. Schrager was later given a full pardon by President Barack Obama in 2017 (Rubell was never pardoned for his crimes since he’d passed away from complications stemming from AIDS back in 1985).


Charles Manson is convicted of murder and sentenced to death

charles manson heading for courtroom
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Manson, alongside his sycophantic followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for his involvement in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders following a months-long trial ending in early 1971. Though Manson and his “family” were originally given the death penalty, the California Supreme Court invalidated the group’s sentencing, automatically commuting their sentences to life imprisonment. Manson would spend the rest of his life in prison, passing away from colon cancer on November 19, 2017 at the age of 83, nearly half a century into his sentence. The surviving members of the group, Watson and Krenwinkel, both remain behind bars, both Manson and Atkins having passed away while serving their respective life sentences.


Sonny and Cher divorce

sonny cher at the oscars
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Cher filed for divorce from Bono in 1974 citing “involuntary servitude” amid accusations Bono had been withholding her portion of the acclaimed musical duo’s earnings, igniting a highly litigious battle between the couple for primary custody of their son Chaz (then known by their birth name, Chastity). Though the pair had only legally been married since Chaz’s birth in 1969, they’d initially wed in an informal ceremony back in 1964. Following the finalization of their divorce in 1975, Cher embarked on a wildly successful solo career while Bono entered politics, later becoming the Congressman for California's 44th district in 1995, a position he’d hold until his death in a skiing accident in 1998.

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Bruce Lee’s shocking death

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After laying down for a nap following a meeting with film producer Raymond Chow, the famed martial artist and actor was found unresponsive by the producer on July 20, 1973 after failing to appear for dinner plans he and Chow had made. A doctor was called and unsuccessfully tried to revive Lee for 10 minutes before he was transported to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong where he was pronounced dead on arrival at the age of 32. Lee’s sudden death was officially ruled a “death by misadventure” catalyzed by a cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) stemming from a reaction to Equagesic, a combination drug used for short-term pain relief in patients with musculoskeletal disorders or tension headaches (Lee had complained of a headache earlier that day and had taken the drug after being given it by his colleague, Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei, while at the actress’s home). Medical experts later theorized that Lee’s fatal cerebral edema had been caused by heat stroke and over-exertion, exacerbated in part by Lee’s elective removal of his underarm sweat glands in 1972 (an ostensibly aesthetic choice made by the actor for appearance on film).


Charlie Chaplin’s body is stolen

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The remains of the late comic actor were stolen from a cemetery near the Swiss coast of Lake Geneva on March 2, 1978, just months after the silent film actor’s death on Christmas morning 1977 at the age of 88. Later, Chaplin’s widow, English-American actress Oona O’Neill, received a ransom demand for more than half a million dollars to ensure the safe return of her late husband’s body. After receiving threats against her 2 youngest children, police began monitoring Oona’s telephone line alongside public phone kiosks in the region, leading to the arrest of 2 auto mechanics, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev, following a 5 week investigation. The pair led authorities to where they’d reinterred Chaplin’s body in a cornfield roughly one mile from Chaplin’s Swiss manor and were subsequently convicted on counts of graverobbing and attempted extortion. Wardas and Ganev, political refugees from Eastern Europe, hoped to extort Chaplin’s widow to assuage the financial difficulties they’d encountered after fleeing their respective countries. Wardas, the primary architect of the crime, was sentenced to four and a half years of hard labor while Ganev was given an 18-month suspended sentence after being found to have limited involvement in the heist.


Roman Polanski is arrested

roman polanski
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The then 43 year-old Rosemary’s Baby director was arrested in Los Angeles on March 10, 1977 and charged with a litany of offenses (unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, perversion, sodomy, sexual assault by use of drugs, performing a lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor) after drugging and raping 13 year-old Samantha Gailey at the home of actor Jack Nicholson. The disgraced French director accepted a plea bargain for the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in exchange for the remaining 5 charges against him being dropped. Upon learning he was still likely to face imprisonment and deportation (Polanski holds dual French and Polish citizenship but not American), Polanski fled to London and then France hours before his formal sentencing and has continually evaded justice by remaining predominantly in France and other countries unlikely to extradite him to the United States. Courts in both France and Poland have refused US extradition of Polanski for decades. Polanski, now 89, remains a free man in France.

Headshot of Colin Scanlon
Colin Scanlon
Colin is a writer born and based in Pittsburgh, Pa.
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