Weekend Roundtable: Good Artist, Bad Person

It’s a sad reality that, even looking back through the ages to writers and painters and musicians of centuries past, far too many great artists and entertainers have turned out to be not-so-great people in real life. With the Bill Cosby scandal still in the news and seemingly getting worse by the day, this week’s Roundtable will examine other celebrities whose work we may enjoy even as we lament the way they’ve behaved or the things they’ve done off-camera.

This week’s topic is sort of a corollary to one we ran a few months ago, called “You’re Dead to Me.” The difference is that, in these new examples, we have decided that we can separate the artists as people from the work they’ve created, rather than writing them off completely.

Shannon Nutt

My pick for this topic is Mel Gibson. While it’s hard these days to separate the work from the person, I have to confess still enjoy the heck out of the ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Mad Max’ movies. Gibson was also developing into a heck of a great director when his personal issues started to implode his career. Is Gibson beyond redemption? I hope not, because I’d love to see Mel get his act together and find a way to atone for his mistakes.

M. Enois Duarte

Perhaps his crime is not as bad as others, but Paul Reubens‘ arrest is probably one of the most embarrassing. Famous for portraying the man-child Pee-wee Herman, the comedian and star of a popular Saturday morning kids’ program was publicly humiliated for essentially being a normal man with certain needs doing a very normal, and healthy I might add, activity. Sadly, pleasing one’s self inside a movie theater was probably not the best place for it. Even sadder, Reubens once again made headlines in 2002 when he turned himself in to the LAPD and was charged with possession of obscene material that he claimed belonged to Rob Lowe.

Brian Hoss

Maybe it’s because I’ve recently been rewatching the very fun ‘I Love the 80s’ series, but it’s pretty fascinating to not only see all the people, movies , music and so forth from the 1980s, but also the early-2000s commentary on them. As such, plenty of candidates that have produced quality entertainment but been very weird in making news cross my mind now.

In the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, Michael Jackson went from an extreme talent to extremely freaky, and there seemed to be no limit to how bizarre his actions and the events around him were. Even after he died, the oddity continued. Fortunately, it’s been long enough now that it’s easier to recall just how talented and popular he and his music were.

Luke Hickman

Have you ever overreacted to such an exceptionally high degree that, no matter whether you felt it was justified or not, the next day you looked back and thought to yourself, “Man, that was dumb”? Mel Gibson has had several tarnishing events in his time in the public eye, but I have a feeling that those angry recordings are one of those instances that he reflects on and says, “I certainly could have handled that better.”

Combine those bad moments with his racial outbursts and you’ll see exactly why the man’s career is basically gone now. Fully aware of his issues, I still love what he achieved in his work life. Not only is he a great actor (I particularly love him in ‘Conspiracy Theory’, ‘Signs’ and ‘Payback’), but he’s a wonderful director too. ‘Braveheart’ is the obvious title to reference here, but you can’t dismiss ‘Apocalypto’ or ‘The Passion of Christ’. If only he wasn’t such a dick…

Junie Ray

I’m going with Joan Crawford. I knew of her as a bad person long before I knew her as a good actress. My first experiences were the ‘Mommy Dearest’ movie about her with the “NO WIRE HANGERS EVER” craziness. Then I saw ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’, and even though she’s the nice one in that movie, I still saw her as crazy by association. It wasn’t until I came across early movies like ‘Dancing Daughters’ that I realized what an absolutely stunning beauty she was. Then in her later films like ‘Mildred Pierce’, I saw the depth of talent she had.

Crawford struggled with alcoholism, had multiple failed marriages, and may have abused her children, and I can accept that as part of who she was, but I’m also glad to have gotten to know her for the parts she showed us on the silver screen.

Josh Zyber

I don’t know whether Bill Cosby is really a serial rapist or not. Some of the allegations against him are so outrageous as to defy credibility (and some of the accusers less than reliable sources… ahem, Janice Dickinson), but the sheer volume of accusations is getting to be basically impossible to dismiss at this point. Even before this scandal broke, I’d often find Cosby to come across as off-putting, pretentious and condescending in interviews – and that coldness (in such stark contrast to the warm and fuzzy characters he’s played as an actor) has made it pretty easy to believe what people are saying about him now.

I think Michael Che had the best line about this scandal in the Weekend Update segment on ‘SNL’ a couple weeks ago when he said, “While I may never forgive Bill Cosby, I hope maybe someday I can forgive Dr. Huxtable.”

Up until and even a little after the recent flare-up of these rape accusations (and these were not the first time he’d ever been accused of this), the TVLand network had been running marathons of ‘The Coby Show’ on the weekends, and I’d caught a bunch of episodes, which reminded me of just how genuinely great a TV show it was. Not only was it a terrific family comedy with endearing, relatable characters, ‘The Cosby Show’ was a breakthrough in the way that African Americans were presented and portrayed on television, and (ironically) created numerous strong roles for women. It was an important, landmark series, and it would pain me greatly if it were pulled from the air forever and never shown again.

If Bill Cosby really is a rapist, history should judge him harshly. But I really believe that future generations, my own kids included, deserve the opportunity to get to know Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. Bill Cosby may not be a good man, but Cliff Huxtable was a great one.

What celebrities have forced you to separate the artist from his or her art? Tell us about them in the Comments below.


  1. NJScorpio

    My first thought, like many, is Mel Gibson. Shortly after his controversy, ‘Get The Gringo’ reminded me how great an actor he is for a very specific (but awesome) role.

    If not for him falling out of favor, I bet Liam Neeson wouldn’t have the same resurgence of his career by (basically) playing Mel Gibson’s roles.

  2. Bill Cosby’s standup was excellent. I love Bill Cosby Himself. I’m having a hard time with all these accusations. He was able to be funny without being dirty and it breaks my heart to hear all these allegations about him. Is there any decent folk in Hollywood?! I still love crazy Mel as an artist. I think he is very gifted and I also loved The Man Without a Face. I look forward to seeing more movies by him in the future.

    • I agree with you, csm101 – like many, my childhood was spent listing to Cosby records over and over again until I had his act memorized by heart. It’s hard to imagine the guy that gave us “Noah…Right!!!” is capable of such evil, but things sure don’t look good at this point.

      About three months ago, I purchased a ticket to see Cosby for a tour stop here in Pittsburgh this coming February. As of today, the show is still scheduled, which is going to make my decision to go or stay home very difficult. I’m really torn about it at this point.

      • NJScorpio

        If it’s being held, I’d go. Who knows if you’d get another chance? Plus, I’d be curious to see if there is an abnormal vibe to his performance (or with the crowd) as a result of these accusations.

      • No matter how great he is, I feel like there would be this thick dark air around the whole thing. One big theater filling elephant, if you will. I don’t envy the predicament you are in.

      • William Henley

        I’m not passing judgement until he either confesses or a court finds him guilty. I find it hard to believe – mainly because of how old most of these aligations are. Most also come from the 60s and 70s, a time of free love and extensive drug use on many people’s parts (I think one or two were from the very early 80s, truthfully, I am not following it that closely), so even if there was some sexual immorality, I would find it hard to believe that they were all non-consensual. I mean, the concept of “we both willingly were using recreational drugs, and while high, we engaged in sexual activity while my judgement was impared” is very different from “I walked by his trailer, he pulled me in and forced me to do stuff”.

        Truthfully, I am not sure what the details of the accusations are as I am not following it that closely, but since Cosby pretty much states in some of his standup routines that he has taken recreational drugs (unless I am completely misinterpreting what he is saying in some of his routines), it wouldn’t surprise me if there were drug-impared sexual contacts. If that ends up being the case, I can forgive him for that.

  3. It’s definitely Tom Cruise for me. In real life the man is a lunatic, albeit a charming one. But God damn do I still love Risky Business, Top Gun, the Mission Impossible series, A Few Good Men, the Firm, Minority Report, Jack Reacher and Collateral. Fuck, I’ve even got a soft spot for Cocktail. If only L. Ron Hubbard’s cult hadn’t irrevocably changed him, I’d probably be interested in meeting and talking with Cruise in real life if given the chance.

    • Mark me down as one of those who don’t get all the hate geared toward Cruise. He’s been demonized because of his (granted, pretty wacky) religious beliefs, but by all accounts and reports, he’s one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

      • frankie

        Agreed. I don’t see anything “bad” about the guy. If it’s only because of his religious beliefs, I would have to include everyone who is religious because I find all of it pretty wacky. I don’t think him jumping up and down on Oprahs couch makes him a bad person.

  4. I think Mel Gibson was a victim of a drunken rant. Honestly speaking we all think that way at one point or another, let’s not lie to ourselves or the general public or pretend we’re not all that way to some extent. If you’re white, look at what’s going on in Ferguson, get drunk and see what happens. I think the Star Trek TNG episode where Picard and Crusher were linked was a perfect example of this.

    Paul Reubens was just an idiot and got caught.

    Before the latest drama, Bill Cosby had a reputation of being a racist.

    • Chris B

      Regardless of how much I’ve had to drink, I don’t ever see myself screaming into the phone the kind of things he did.

    • Don’t judge me, hear me out. Back in 1990 it seemed really creepy to wack off in a theater, but I think if something like that happened now, it really wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe because Pee Wee was a kids show? I always thought the Pee Wee Herman persona was kind of creepy anyway. In retrospect, him doing that in the theater just made him more human and i like him better for it now. If you would of asked me back then, I would of said, “I knew something wasn’t right with that guy!”

      • Freakyguy666

        Disagree. With home theaters, DVD, & the Internet, there’s even less reason these days one would go to a public place to wack off. Clearly PeeWee wanted to get off in a public place. That’s what made it wrong–not the act itself.

        • It was a porno theater. I’m pretty sure Pee Wee wasn’t the only guy jerking off to x rated movies in a place like that. Maybe he did get off (no pun intended) on doing it in a public place, but I’m pretty sure that’s what people did in those types of places. He just had the misfortune of getting caught and being somewhat famous.

    • NJScorpio

      I thought Gibson’s rant was about Jews controlling Hollywood? I don’t see how that is tied to Ferguson.

      And honestly, if you look at the history of the great Hollywood studios, you’d see that almost all were founded by Jews who were driven west by Thomas Edison…and even today, Jews are as much a part of Holllywood as blacks are a part of professional sports. It’s one of those undeniable distributions that are disproportionate to the overall population.

      But, knowing that, and making your money off Hollywood, you DON’T want to make an anti-semetic rant. That”s just stupid.

      • Chris B

        Gibson did have a rant about Jews controlling Hollywood when e was pulled over by the cops.

        I was referring to the several rants recorded by his ex-girlfriend and released to the public. They’re all available to listen to on YouTube…pretty vile stuff.

  5. Frank

    Good ol’ Polanski. The truth is you really don’t want to know what your idols and favorite celebs are really like or what they really do off screen. They are human just like everyone else. Anyone ever hear about Kirk Douglass being a monster?

  6. I used to confuse Victor Salva with Guillermo Del Toro. They’re both overweight Latino filmmakers with accents when they talk, although I think Del Toro’s is thicker. Any one ever see Powder? Jeepers Creepers? Nature of the Beast? Nature of the Beast is a great little cat and mouse horror/thriller starring Erick Roberts and Lance Henricksen. One guy ran off with a million bucks and the other guy is a serial killer known as Hatchetman. It’s a cool little idea and a very small cast of characters carrying the movie. I’m sure most of you guys are familiar with Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2. I love this little monster movie (the first one) as it plays with a brother and sister dynamic being stalked by a strange and shape shifting creature who drives around in a truck and pays homage to movies like Duel. Anyways, the writer and director of this movie is a convicted child molester. I admire this guys horror sensibilities, but what he did was so detestable. I don’t know where his head’s at nowadays, but is there room for forgiveness or redemption for the things he did?

  7. melic

    I’ll go old school. All film fans owe a debt of gratitude, but are also somewhat embarrassed of, DW Griffith.

    I’ll also second the nomination of Roman Polanski.

  8. EM

    I don’t have a specific celeb in mind for this topic, but I’ll offer this thought. One of the great purposes of art is to usher in a world better than our own, often by helping us become better than we are, sometimes by portraying ideals and sometimes by portraying failure to meet ideals (sometimes by portraying both). Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that our artists are not yet better than they are. The world still needs work. I’m glad our artists help us make it better, rather than only contributing to its flaws.

  9. HennyB

    R. Kelly: No denying he peed on those girls, but he’s just too damn talented.

    John Lennon: Abusive to his wife, and he’s the best of the Beatles.

    Chuck Berry: Love him despite the girls’ bathroom incident.

    Bing Crosby: Beautiful voice despite being utterly sadistic to his kids.

    Frank Sinatra: Had to resort to the mafia to get roles, but what a wonderful performer.

    Jim Henson: Cheated on his wife constantly and neglected his kids. But he will always be a phenomally talented creator akin to Walt Disney.

    • eric

      Chubby Checker: Has a dozen or more love children, and treats his legitimate kids like crap. There are dozens of these types out there.

      Clint Eastwood: How many kids does he have that he doesn’t have anything to do with? And ex-wives? and Orangutans…

      Russell Crowe: Every personal story about this guy seems to be about what an asshole he is and how arrogant he is.

      Chris Brown: A horrible woman beating bastard just for a start with this guy. How many others are there out there we don’t hear about?

      The common denominator is they are all human and we know way to much about them. We don’t reward them for who they are but how well they dance and sing for us on queue. Throwing money at anyone with these less than desirable character traits will only make it worse.

      Maybe a future roundtable could be about our favorite victims who deny they were victims… Mccaulkin anyone??

  10. Paul leal

    I watched Rob Lowe on letterman one night, when he said that he was a presenter at one of the award shows. He than got a call from Charlie Sheen who was an old friend and in the categorie that Rob was presenting in. He says to Rob nomader who is to win say my name , I will bet a pile of money and we will
    Spilt it then laughs. The next day in my local paper on the front page was a story of how Charlie Sheen tried to defraud this award show. My point is how much of this stuff is real and how much is twisted for good paper and tv sales .Also Mel was to have said this when he was drunk who has not said stupid things when we were drunk just because they are famous they are still people and to still be paying 4or
    5 years later and with your career come on seems like overkill .

  11. Kraig McGann

    I think most “Artists/Celebrities” disappoint outside of their work. They do not have to live in the real world so they don’t. The Media lavishes them with undeserved attention and a pulpit to spout their often highly ignorant views. I think George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck deserve a significant amount of derision. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ would serve them and us much better than having to endure their self righteous prattle.

  12. William Henley

    Truthfully, I am fine with just about anyone as long as they keep their mouth shut. The more they open it, the more I hate them. Mel Gibson has pretty much been quiet for years (unless I met something), so that doesn’t bother me anymore. Pretty mcuh, kepe your mouth shut.

    Some people are just unforgivable, like Jane Fonda.

    Others who just seem to be unable to keep themselves under control, say Lindsay Lohan, for instance, is just hard to respect. Of course, you could argue that she never was a good artist. However, if she got herself cleaned up, stayed clean for an extended amount of time, and then did a comeback and actually performed the role decently, than sure, I could accept that.

    What I don’t get is how people who were destroying their lives and die because of something like a drug overdose are suddenly sanctified or something. It is like, if someone dies doing something stupid like excessive drugs or drinking, suddenly we are supposed to forgive them because they are dead and think everything they ever did was fantastic.

    Stepping off of my soap box now

  13. Jon

    I nominate James Cameron. While an incredibly gifted filmmaker (if not necessarily a great writer), he’s got a reputation for being a real ass hat to his crews and actors (and ex-wives).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *