17 Celebrities Who've Survived PR Nightmares


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These days, PR fumbles and full-blown scandals are just as likely to ensnare celebrities as they are to trip up companies and politicians. And while some stars find they just can't shake their tarnished reputation, others manage to bounce back -- sometimes better than ever. Here are 17 celebrities who not only survived PR nightmares over the last decade, but even thrived once the dust settled.
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He's just as ubiquitous on our radios as ever, so it's easy to forget that "the Bieb" had a pretty bad run a few years ago. In 2013, he got caught peeing into a mop bucket at a restaurant, and then followed that up with several brushes with the law, including charges for assaulting a limo driver, vandalism and careless driving. But in the past few years, smash hits including "What Do You Mean" and "Sorry" prove he's come back and then some.
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One of the nation's most prominent late-night hosts found himself embroiled in a major scandal in 2009. David Letterman admitted that he'd had sex with female staffers, something a CBS producer had discovered and attempted to use to blackmail him. But fans turned out to be fairly forgiving of the matter, and Letterman kept his show until 2015, when he retired. Today, he's back on TV with a new Netflix show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction."
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Until 2013, the worst most people had to say about celebrity chef Paula Deen was that her recipes used too much butter. Then she was sued for discrimination by the former manager of one of her restaurants, and in the course of her defense, admitted to using a racial slur. And while she lost her Food Network show over the bad PR, all was not lost: She appeared on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2015, has opened at least four new restaurants and penned a best-selling cookbook.
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Most people thought Mel Gibson was done for in 2006, when he was recorded using anti-Semitic slurs against a Jewish police officer who pulled him over for driving under the influence. But several years later, he achieved an improbable comeback by directing the well-reviewed "Hacksaw Ridge," a World War II flick released in 2016. It was even nominated for six Oscars, including nods for best picture and best director. He's also reportedly working on a sequel for "Passion of the Christ."
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Actor Gary Oldman has Mel Gibson to thank for his own PR kerfuffle. Oldman caused a stir in a 2014 "Playboy" interview when he defended Gibson's anti-Semitic rant and used profanity to describe Nancy Pelosi, among other things. Oldman put pen to paper in an apology to the Anti-Defamation League, though the group called the mea culpa "insufficient." But observers can look no further than 2017's "Darkest Hour" to see that any career downturn was short-lived: Oldman's turn as Winston Churchill earned him a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for best actor; he's also nominated for an Oscar.
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Miley Cyrus started out as a wholesome Disney star, but the next several years found her frantically trying to shed that image. In 2013, her twerk-heavy performance at the MTV Video Music Awards was widely panned as raunchy and bizarre, and the next couple of years included near-nudity and drug use, among other controversies. But recently, Cyrus decided to reconnect with original fans by becoming a judge on "The Voice" and returning to a more mainstream sound with her 2017 album, "Younger Now."
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Fans of swimmer Michael Phelps may have forgotten that he was twice arrested for driving under the influence, once in 2004 and again in 2014 (the latter got him slapped with a six-month ban on competitive swimming). In 2009, he also earned a shorter suspension, and lost a sponsorship with Kellogg, after being photographed smoking from a bong. Still, none of his indiscretions mattered when he returned to the pool in the 2016 Summer Olympics, nabbing five more gold medals and cementing his place as the most decorated Olympian of all time.
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The entire world cringed when Steve Harvey accidentally crowned the wrong contestant at Miss Universe 2015, but he's also been criticized for making racially tinged jokes, among other controversies. Still, he's managed to shake it all off: Miss Universe invited him back for the 2016 and 2017 pageants, and his syndicated game show, "Family Feud," has been increasingly successful.
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Who can forget early 2008, when Britney Spears was strapped to a gurney and taken to UCLA Medical Center as she hit the peak of a much-publicized mental breakdown. Though most fans remember haunting images of her shaving her head and beating a photographer's car with an umbrella, they're hard to reconcile with the mega-star of today who has become a mainstay on the Las Vegas strip.
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For journalists, credibility is everything. So when Brian Williams lost most of his in a 2015 scandal about his Iraq war reporting (Williams falsely claimed to have been in a helicopter that took hostile fire), most figured he was done for in news. While he was suspended for six months and lost his gig as the anchor of "NBC Nightly News," network officials gave him a second chance with an anchor spot on cable's MSNBC. He eventually landed his own show, "The 11th Hour with Brian Williams," which has been a ratings winner for the network.
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Dancer and actress Julianne Hough apparently never got the memo that blackface is a no-go, dressing up as the character Crazy Eyes from "Orange is the New Black" for a 2013 Halloween party. Hough quickly apologized after the predictable backlash, and her career doesn't seem to have suffered much. In 2016, she starred as Sandy in Fox's live television presentation of "Grease," and she became a judge on "Dancing with the Stars" starting in 2014.
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In late 2009, one of the world's most successful golfers was forced to fess up to several instances of marital infidelity. He famously crashed his car (as it turns out, his enraged wife had been chasing him), lost major endorsements, and entered rehab for sex addiction. And while he hasn't exactly enjoyed the exponential on-the-course success since then, he was still honored as PGA Tour Player of the Year after a strong run in 2013 and remained one of the highest-paid athletes in sports, according to Forbes.
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The "30 Rock" comedian is best-known today for his spot-on impression of Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live." But Alec Baldwin's "yuge" comeback has come in spite of several personal stumbles. The most major PR headache came in 2007, when a voicemail in which he called his daughter "a rude, thoughtless little pig" was made public. In 2011, he took some heat for reportedly throwing a fit after being asked to turn off his cell phone on an American Airlines flight. And in 2013, he lost a show on MSNBC after he screamed homophobic slurs at a photographer.
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Actress Reese Witherspoon found her wholesome reputation tarnished when she was arrested for disorderly conduct after her husband was pulled over in 2013. She even reportedly asked the police officer, "Do you know my name?" (Cringe.) Interestingly, the incident may have helped bolster her gravitas as she took on meatier, grittier roles including as the protagonist in 2014's "Wild," which earned her an Oscar nod for best actress. Now she's starring in the much-lauded HBO series "Big Little Lies."
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Rapper Kanye West has never exactly been a shrinking violet, but when he interrupted Taylor Swift in 2009 as she gave her acceptance speech for best female music video at the MTV VMAs, it was perhaps the most prominent of a career full of controversies. Still, West has proved to have enormous staying power despite (or maybe even because of) his rants and raves. His latest album, 2016's "The Life of Pablo," went to the top of the charts, and he even managed to become half of one of Hollywood's ultimate power couples when he married Kim Kardashian in 2014.
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When Christian Bale launched into an angry, profanity-laced tirade on the set of "Terminator Salvation" in 2008, it quickly made the rounds online. His eruption at a crew member who broke his concentration during a pivotal scene became fodder for late-night talk show hosts and was even turned into a dance remix. But Bale soon apologized, and his career remained steady. He won the best supporting actor Oscar for 2010's "The Fighter," reprised his role as Batman in 2010's "The Dark Knight Rises," and received two more Academy Award nominations for his work in 2014's "American Hustle," and 2016's "The Big Short."
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Though Schwarzenegger has kept a lower profile since the height of his fame as a bodybuilder, actor, and governor of California, he blew up the headlines in 2011 when he admitted to fathering a child with a household staffer while married to Maria Shriver. But he returned to the spotlight since the scandal, starring in films including 2013's "Escape Plan" with Sylvester Stallone and 2015's "Terminator Genisys." He even took over for Donald Trump as host of "The Celebrity Apprentice," but recently quit, saying the show's association with Trump caused too much baggage.