Celebrities, politicians, royalty: we love learning about their lives, and sometimes we place them on a pedestal. But that only makes their falls from grace even more shocking when they occur. We’ve all been shocked by politicians who fell from grace because of sex scandals or corruption charges. These huge falls from grace include Richard Nixon’s resignation under the cloud of Watergate and Charles I of England, whose fall was so bad that he literally lost his head. And then there are the sports heroes and actors’ falls from grace, from Bill Cosby and Mel Gibson to Lance Armstrong and O.J. Simpson.
Some of these famous downfalls were well deserved, like Harvey Weinstein and Joe Paterno, while others, like Anne Boleyn, are tragic. Here is the definitive list of the biggest falls from grace in history, all the way from the twelfth century to today. Now it’s your turn to weigh in on which of history’s falls from grace were the most shocking. When you’re done, see how the 2017 celebrity falls from grace stack up against the all-time ranking.
Bill Cosby was once known as “America’s Dad.” His sweaters were famous. “The Cosby Show” was a huge hit in the 1980s. But in 2004, the first woman came forward to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual assault. The scandal didn’t explode until 2014, when more than 60 women came forward to accuse Cosby of rape, drugging women, and sexual misconduct, dating all the way back to the 1960s. In 2015, court documents leaked that showed Cosby admitted to giving women Quaaludes without their consent in order to have sex. The scandal completely destroyed Cosby’s reputation.
In April 2018, after being tried for the rape of Andrea Constand in 2004, Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. The comedian faces up to 10 years in prison.
O.J. Simpson was one of the most famous football players in the world and a movie star when a murder trial brought everything crashing down. Simpson was induced into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame two years later. But in 1994, O.J. was arrested for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The “Trial of the Century” may have ended with an acquittal, but O.J.’s reputation was permanently trashed.
In October of 2017, more than 80 women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, which included accusations of rape. Weinstein allegedly abused his position of power to coerce and assault actresses including Cara Delevingne, Rose McGowen, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lupita Nyong’o. Weinstein was kicked off the board of the Weinstein Company, which he co-founded, and he was banned from the Producers Guild for life. As 2017 drew to a close, the police were pursuing criminal charges against the producer.
She was married at age 14 in an arrangement that was meant to be politically advantageous for both France and Austria, but her reign and life ended in horror and tragedy. The extravagant queen Marie Antoinette famously disregarded the plight of the French people in what they described as self-absorbed. While flaunting her wealth the country was falling into political distress and she attempted to flee the country after the storming of the Bastille. The attempt to escape failed, and her husband King Louis XVI was arrested put on trial and executed. Antoinette’s fate followed soon after; she was executed for allegations of treason and theft as well as a claim that she had assaulted her son. Their deaths kicked off the bloody Reign of Terror that killed thousands of French citizens before it ended.
Jim Bakker was one of the most popular televangelists in the country in the 1980s, along with his wife Tammy Faye. But in 1987, everything came crashing down when Jim Bakker’s secretary accused him of raping and drugging her. Bakker resigned from his ministry and was later convicted of accounting fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Bakker’s replacement, Jerry Falwell, called Bakker “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history.”
Joe Paterno might hold the record for most wins in NCAA football history, but he was fired from his job as head coach at Penn State after a child sex abuse scandal. Paterno concealed facts about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys, and may have convinced Penn State officials not to report Sandusky to authorities in 2001. Paterno died from lung cancer two months after being fired by Penn State.
Charles I of England went from being a monarch with near absolute power to England’s first king convicted of treason in 1649. Charles tried to promote the divine right of kings at a time when it was pretty unpopular in England, especially with Parliament. His stubbornness caused a bloody civil war, during which Charles was convicted of treason and beheaded. That’s a pretty big fall from grace.
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France, the most difficult race in cycling, a record seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005—but all those wins were voided in 2012 when an investigation showed that Lance had used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong received a lifetime ban from all sports that use the World Anti-Doping Code, which ended his career.
Aaron Burr was the Vice President of the United States when he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. That’s a pretty quick way to fall from grace. The duel killed Burr’s political career—he was dropped from Thomas Jefferson’s ticket in the 1804 election, and he couldn’t even win an election for governor of New York. But that’s not the end of Aaron Burr’s story. In 1805, Burr plotted to invade Spanish territories and create his own empire—with a side plot to incite a revolution against the United States. In 1807, Burr was put on trial for treason, and he narrowly escaped a conviction. Talk about a fall from grace.
Phil Spector was a top music producer in the 1960s and ’70s, producing more than 30 Top 40 hit singles. But in 2007, Spector was put on trial for the grisly murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who had been found shot in Spector’s mansion with her broken teeth scattered on the floor. In 2009, Spector was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.
Everyone knows the story of Richard Nixon. After a long political career, which included serving in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and as Vice President for Eisenhower, Nixon was elected president in 1968. That’s when things started to go south. During his reelection campaign in 1972, Nixon’s administration bugged the offices of his political opponents to sabotage the Democrats. When the Watergate scandal came to light, Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace.
Congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in 2011 when his sexting scandals became public. And that was only the beginning. In 2013, it was revealed that Weiner was sending explicit texts using the alias “Carlos Danger.” In 2016, Weiner was caught sending texts to a 15-year-old girl. Weiner eventually agreed to a plea bargain with a 21-month prison sentence. He will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Peter Abelard was one of the brightest minds of the twelfth century, a professor at the University of Paris who helped found the scholastic movement…until he seduced his student, Heloise. When Heloise became pregnant, her family blamed Abelard. Heloise’s uncle broke into Abelard’s house and literally castrated him. Abelard was forced to join a monastery for the rest of his life. He even wrote a book about his castration called, “My Calamities.” That’s a fall from grace that still stings more than 800 years later.
In the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination for president, it wasn’t just Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the running—John Edwards came in second behind Obama in the Iowa caucuses. But scandal quickly followed. Edwards used campaign money to cover up his affair even while his wife battled breast cancer. The scandal destroyed Edwards’s political career, even though his 2011 felony trial ended with a mistrial.
Anne Boleyn romanced a king and transformed herself into the Queen of England—but it all came crashing down in 1536 when Henry VIII accused her of incest with her own brother and treason against England. For her “crimes,” Anne was beheaded. To be fair, Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace was less her own fault, and more because of two factors: her insane husband, and her difficulty bearing a son. But that only makes it more tragic.
Tiger Woods became a sports superstar as soon as he went pro in the PGA in 1996. Woods has been called the most successful golfer of all time, and he was one of the highest-paid athletes in the world for several years. But a cheating scandal tarnished Tiger’s reputation. In 2009, Woods was exposed as a serial cheater who had numerous affairs while married. The scandal hurt his career, as a number of brands dropped Tiger as a spokesman.
Evangelical pastor Ted Haggard was caught in a gay sex scandal in 2006, when a male prostitute came forward to accuse Haggard of paying him for sex and using crystal meth. Haggard was forced to resign from his church and attempted a form of conversion therapy, claiming he had embraced his heterosexual side. His wife stood by him during the scandal.
Jerry Lee Lewis was on track to be bigger than Elvis when he fell from grace in 1958. And this scandal was all Lewis’ own making. After hits like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” Lewis married his 13-year-old first cousin when he was in his twenties. The scandal tarnished Lewis’s popularity, and his live performance fees dropped from $10,000 per night to $250. Lewis later found some success in country music, but the scandalous marriage continued to follow him—even though he split from his cousin and went on to marry seven more times.
Rod Blagojevich was the governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009, when he was impeached for corruption. Blago’s crimes included soliciting bribes for political appointments, most notably trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat after Obama was elected president in 2008. Blagojevich was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 14 years in federal prison—where his signature dark thatch of hair turned white.
Michael Jackson was the “King of Pop” and the best-selling music artist in the world when he died in 2009, and Thriller remains the best selling album of all time. But scandal chased Michael Jackson throughout his career. In 1993, he was accused of inappropriate and abusive behavior toward children. The case was settled out of court. But in 2005, Jackson was put on trial for child sexual abuse allegations after hosting a 13-year-old boy for sleepovers. Jackson was acquitted of the charges, but the scandal still tarnished his reputation.
Mel Gibson went from an A-list star to being blacklisted in Hollywood. In his acting career, Gibson was the star of the Lethal Weapon series, Braveheart, and three of the Mad Max movies. But in 2006, Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence. During the arrest, he broke into an angry tirade where he blamed the Jews for all the wars in the world. Gibson was blacklisted in Hollywood for a decade.
Bobby Fischer was a chess master, considered by many to be the best in the world, but his social behavior and ultimate actions tainted his legacy forever. Fischer was a young American chess prodigy during the Cold War era and as a child he was known to be demanding and petulant. He won the 1963-4 US Championship, the youngest and only player to win with a perfect score. But as he became older his attitude became more belligerent and strange: in the 1970s he simply refused to play against his challenger, and didn’t show up to the match. The International Chess Federation stripped his title as a result. More appallingly, he also denounced his Jewish heritage and made anti-Semitic statements; later in life, he even applauded the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After purposely throwing a match in 1972, he reclused for a time, emerging from retirement in 1992 to play a game in Yugoslavia. Although the US warned him not to as Yugoslavia was under a UN embargo at the time, Fischer went ahead with the game, compromising geopolitical relations and leading to a warrant for his arrest. He never returned to the US and died in 2008.
Hamilton’s fall from grace was also the first sex scandal in U.S. history. In the 1790s, Alexander Hamilton began having an affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds while he was Secretary of the Treasury. Reynolds and her husband then blackmailed Hamilton. When the scandal broke, Hamilton published his own confession to clear his name from accusations of financial speculation. He reasoned it was better to confess to an affair than destroy his political reputation—but the scandal ended any chance of Hamilton rising higher in American politics.