About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Disgraced business figure John Rigas

John J., Rigas was a self-made man trained as an engineer. At the time he ran into major-league legal trouble, he was CEO of Adelphia Communications, one of the largest U.S. cable TV companies.

Rigas started his entrepreneurial career by buying a movie theater, then got into the cable TV business, which he grew with great success.

In 2002, he was forced to resign amidst charges of bank, wire and securities fraud. He, his sons Timothy and Michael and two other Adelphia executives were thought to have improperly taken more than $2 billion out of the corporation.

Rigas was found guilty and given a 15-year sentence; the once successful company went into bankruptcy. Son Timothy was also convicted, but Michael was acquitted. On appeal, a judge lessened John Rigas' sentence to 12 years, and the former CEO was unsuccessful at getting a presidential pardon from George W. Bush. Should he live so long, the elder Rigas will be 92 when his sentence has been served.

Disgraced business figure Robert Vesco

After many years on the lam from U.S. law enforcement, financier Robert Vesco died of lung cancer in 2007 in Havana, Cuba.

Vesco's storied wealth began with his International Controls Corporation in New Jersey. Then in 1970, he took over a mutual fund family, Investors Overseas Service, Ltd., which he then looted.

The Securties and Exchange Commission charged Vesco with defrauding that company of more than $200 million, and rather than face the charges, he rapidly relocated in 1973 to Costa Rica, where he dispensed enough payoff money to prevent his being extradited to America.

In 1978, he moved to Nassau and next to Antigua. He hoped to purchase the island of Barbuda from Antigua and declare it his own sovereign state, but that plan failed.

Next he lived in Nicaragua, and in 1982, he moved to Cuba. There he was charged with drug smuggling, and when Vesco attempted to put one over on Raul Castro in a business deal involving the medicine Trixolan, Vesco was arrested. He was found guilty in a Cuban court and sentenced to a prison term in 1996.

Vesco was scheduled to be released in 2009, but death overtook him at age 71.

Disgraced media figure Armstrong Williams

Note: At least some Americans still look to their news media to perform their watchdog function, looking over the shoulder of government to help keep things reasonably honest. Sometimes, however, our journalists fall down on this part of their job, usually for money. Others fall prey to the tensions of their work, the need to constantly produce, and slip into fabrication and/or plagiarism--firing offenses for reporters. A few others, in the manner of self-important politicians, develop heads so big it's a wonder they can get in the office door; some such individuals are given to ill-advised romantic trysts. Some journalists who undergo disgrace recover quickly; others are forever finished in the news business.

In the years leading up to 2005, nationally syndicated columnist, conservative television commentator and PR agency owner Armstrong Williams appeared to have the word by the tail.

Williams, one of only a few prominent conservative African American media figures, who liked to introduce himself as a third-generation Republican, was doing well financially and was a darling of the Far Right.

Tribune Media Services dropped his column in 2005, however, after reports that Armstrong had accepted $240,000 from the George W. Bush administration to push Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative. Williams took in these funds, which were of dubious legality to begin with, through his PR agency, but his greater mistake was not revealing it to his newspaper and TV audiences. What he did was a blatant conflict of interest.

The Bush administration, of course, got away with paying a journalist to be a shill, but Williams' career as a columnist came to a screeching halt. Radio and TV, having fewer qualms about journalistic ethics, stuck by him, and needless to say, his Graham Williams Group PR firm rolls on.

Other reports revealed that around the same time, two more columnists had accepted smaller amounts of Bush administration money to push for Bush's marriage initiative, which should have been called W's "Just Say I Do Plan." These individuals were Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus (whose column, ironically, was titled "Ethics & Religion"). These two columnists managed to survive their indiscretions.

Disgraced media figure Mike Barnicle

Columnist and commentator Mike Barnicle has bounced back very nicely from having been forced to resign from the Boston Globe in 1998 over charges of fabrication and plagiarism.

Barnicle had been with the Globe since 1973 and had succeeded in becoming one of those relatively few columnists who BECAME their city, so to speak. He was and remains a sharp observer, a gifted writer, a quotable columnist with a good sense of humor. Consequently, his column was highly popular during his 25 years with that paper.

Even under a journalistic cloud of doubt, he was almost immediately snapped up by two other papers: the Boston Herald and the New York Daily News.

Later, he expanded his efforts into radio and television commentary. His early-morning radio show Barnicle's View and his work on Hardball and Morning Joe on morning TV have made him familiar to a still larger audience, and he is also popular (and well paid) on the speaker circuit.

Barnicle no longer does his Daily News column but has continued the one in the Boston Herald.

Disgraced media figure Jayson Blair

A personable young repoter on the fast track at the New York Times was Jayson Blair, who in 2003 was busted for fabricating and plagiarizing various kinds of information in his news stories.

The 27-year-old Blair had been an Affirmative Action hire, and opponents of such programs lost no time in making him a one-man argument to do away with preferential treatment in hiring and retention.

The venerable Times, which over the decades has made very strong efforts to fact-check its news and feature copy, suffered considerable embarrassment from the Blair affair.

An internal investigation found a surprisingly large number of instances of these transgressions, and two of Blair's bosses also parted company with the Times: Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, who resigned under pressure a few weeks after Blair's departure.

In 2004, Blair told his side of these events in a book, blaming his troubles on drug problems in his early years and on depression. A year earlier, he had launched a company called Azure Entertainment in Centreville, Virginia.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Disgraced media figure Janet Cooke

Not often do Pulitzer Prize winners have that prize immediately taken away, but such was the case in 1981 with Washington Post attractive African American rising star reporter Janet Cooke.

The story that landed her in trouble was about an 8-year-old African American boy, identified simply as Jimmy, who lived on the rough streets of the nation's capital and who had become a heroin addict. Readers shuttered with sympathy upon reading the story's description of this poor child with needle marks pocking his tiny arms.

Public outcry was such that Mayor Marion Barry launched an unsuccessful search for little Jimmy. As it turned out, this was because there was no Jimmy, just many other children who were in similar predicaments.

Finally, Cooke admitted that "Jimmy" was a sort of composite character who represented other ghetto children she had encountered. This revelation of less than literal truth embarrassed her paper and her managing editor, Bob Woodward, who had nominated her for the Pulitzer. She was forced to resign, and the Pulitzer was straightway returned to sender.

It also came to light that some of the credentials on Cooke's resume had been distortions of truth. She did not, in fact, speak four languages, had not completed a degree at Vassar, and had not studied at the Sorbonne as claimed.

Later, Cooke married a lawyer, and the couple lived for a time in Paris. They divorced, and she dropped out of the media radar for years. Then in 1966, she did an interview story that appeared in GQ magazine. It was written by her former Post colleague and one-time boyfriend Mike Sagar. The two received a $1.6 million payment for movie rights to the Cooke story.

Disgraced media figure Jay Forman

Out-of-control youthful indiscretion might be the best way to view what happened to young writer Jay Forman, who more than likely was given more journalistic luggage than he could swim with.

Foreman was writing for Slate.com when, in 2001, he posted a highly colorful story titled, simply, "Monkeyfishing." This story got him fired from further work for Slate.

His first-person account told of an island, Lois Key,on which researchers had created a colony of rhesus monkeys, left there to breed for future use in research projects.

The story told of a boat trip to that island, where from the boat, "fishermen" used heavy tackle to cast fruit-baited hooks in the direction of the monkeys in order to hook them in the manner of hooking fish.

Young Mr. Forman expressed shock at the cruelty of the practice and no doubt assumed that animal-rights activists and other readers would feel likewise. The story was filled with convincing detail.

Respected Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley, who is Slate's founding editor, began to question the story. Eventually, Forman admitted the the entire account was fabricated and that it contained a few other irregularities, as well. Thereupon, Forman and Slate parted company. There actually were monkeys on Lois Key, but they have been removed due to the embarrassment of the Forman affair.

Disgraced media figure James Guckert

An absolutely stomach-turning story from George W. Bush's years in the White House was that of James Dale Guckert, who posed as a White House reporter at Bush press conferences, where he tossed softball questions to the president or his press secretary.

For this assignment, Guckert used the alias Jeff Gannnon, and he managed to do this from 2003 until 2005 when he was unmasked as a plant and a phony.

Also in 2005, news surfaced that Mr. Guckert's suggestive photo appeared on the websites of gay escort services in the Washington area. This revelation did not fit entirely well with the GOP's family-values image.

Around the same time, several actual journalists were shown to have been paid substantial sums by the administration to write or broadcast the GOP party line, but without revealing these payments to their readers--another appalling ethical violation.

To give "Gannon" the appearance of legitimacy, the sham news agency Talon News was created, for which the bogus reporter was nominal Washington Bureau Chief.

After 2005, Guckert came out of the closet and began writing a column for the Washington Blade, a newspaper for that city's gay community.

Disgraced media figure Stephen Glass

In 1998, young star writer Stephen Glass was fired by The New Republic magazine for having fabricated facts, quotes and sources for stories. Despite this huge setback, Glass has managed to begin a new career and appears headed for success in it.

The Chicago native first came to the nation's attention while editing the student newspaper at Pennsylvania University during a time of especially touchy race relations. A group of African American students had confiscated most copies of one issue of that paper due to a story they disliked. The school's administration caved in to political correctness, and the only person to get into trouble for the incident was a hapless security guard who had tried to stop the removal of some copies of the paper.

Glass' troubles at The New Republic began in 1998 with a story he had written about a money-hungry 15-year-old computer hacker. As do so many stories that get journalistic writers into ethical trouble, this one depended on the use of anonymous sources. The story also contained what the magazine concluded were invented quotations.

Nothing if not versatile, Glass did stand-up comedy for a short while, published a book based on his firing, saw a movie made about his story, and finished at Georgetown Law School.

Disgraced media figure Bob Greene

One of the last of the many great Chicago newspaper columnists was Bob Greene, who also has written many books.

His column career ended sadly in 2002 when he resigned following his confession that he had paid far too much attention to a high school girl who had come to the paper to interview him for a school assignment.

The girl was 17, and Greene was a middle-aged married man. He later invited her to dinner, then met her at a hotel. Greene denied having had sex with her but admitted to the gross impropriety of his actions.

Greene had gone to work as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1969 after finishing college. A couple of years later,his writing skills earned him his first column, which in 1976 was picked up by the Field Newspaper Syndicate.

He relocated to the Chicago Tribune, where his popular column appeared for the next 24 years and was nationally syndicated by Tribune Media Services. All the while he published books. He also wrote a column for Esquire Magazine and did commentary for Nightline on ABC and has written for CNN.

While he has done well with his career as a book author, the story of his departure from journalism is a sad one because he was so good at what he did in his column.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Disgraced media figure Jack Kelley

An unfortunate story of talent gone to waste is that of USA Today reporter Jack Kelley, who had to resign in 2004 over charges of plagiarism and fabrication, most of which he denied.

Kelley was hired by USA Today right out of college and began writing his striking news accounts in 1986. He established himself as a star reporter, a good writer who didn't mind putting himself into danger, often in foreign lands, to get a good story.

In 2002 he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the beat reporting category, but just thereafter his colleagues and superiors began to suspect that on some occasions he had played fast and loose with the truth. In 2003, he was accused of such in an anonymous letter, and an internal investigation began.

Some of his troubles stemmed from his use of anonymous sources, and proof was finally produced that he had misled his newspaper by arranging for a Russian speaker to impersonate a Serbian in order to verify an interview story he had done.

The talented but perhaps overly ambitious Kelley resigned in 2004 amidst still other charges of fabrication and plagiarism.

Disgraced media figure Patricia Smith

Writer Patricia Smith has bounced back nicely as a poet after having had to resign from the Boston Globe in the late 1990s.

Smith wrote a Globe metro column that had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but revelations appeared that she had fabricated quotations, events and even people in some of her work.

Since that time, she has remained out of newspaper journalism but has made quite a hit as a performance poet. In fact, she has won the National Poetry slam competition four times. The Chicago native, who is African American, has won a variety of impressive awards and is also a jazz vocalist.

Disgraced media figure Edward von Kloberg III

Not exactly a media figure, but certainly a media-related figure was Edward von Kloberg, lobbyist and PR representative to some of the world's most unsavory characters of recent times.

The flamboyant Kloberg, who added first a "van" before his birth name, and later changed it to a more regal sounding "von," founded Van Kloberg & Associates in the nation's capital in 1982. Business was not as strong as anticipated, and he filed phony financial statements with a loan application, which earned him a conviction, punished by one year on probation.

Von Kloberg, who favored the wearing of a black cape with his evening wear, was known for taking on clients that no other PR rep would accept.

Most notorious of his clients was Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Others were Ronamia's Nicolae Ceausescu, Liberia's Samuel Doe, and Zaire's Joseph Mobutu Sese Soko.

The fees Von Kloberg charged were high, but he suffered from bad health and in 2005, jumped to his death from Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo.

Disgraced media figure R. Foster Winans

Highly prolific author and ghostwriter Foster Winans spent nine months in prison in the late 1980s after being convicted of insider trading and mail fraud.

At that time, he was a writer for the Wall Street Journal column "Heard on the Street" (1982-1984) and was convicted for passing contents of his columns' contents to a broker.

Prior to those years, Winans had worked as a reporter for various newspapers from 1967 to 1981, including a stint as a New York Times correspondent and a researcher for the TV magazine show 60 Minutes.

A talented writer, he has done a number of historical novels and other books and has ghost-written books for others. Since his incarceration, he has contributed commentary pieces to the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Christian Science Monitor.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Disgraced religious figure Tony Alamo

Note: Child abusers, homophobes, racists, cult autocrats,dubious healers, clergy who bilk the elderly and the overly trusting, clergy who say one thing and do the opposite: such are the kinds of men and women who have, to one extent or another, sullied a noble institution, religion, as well as their own reputation. Their names and misdeeds surface in the news, they have an unwanted 15 minutes of fame, and then their names and faces begin to recede into dim memory.

The Clintons are by no means the only remarkable characters to come out of Arkansas in recent times. Another of a different sort is evangelist Tony Alamo, whose birth name was Bernie Hoffman.

Hoffman moved to Los Angeles as a young man, changed his name a couple of times and attempted a music career. He was a rough-looking fellow who looked as though he could hold his own in a bar fight.

The music thing didn't work out terribly well, but he and his wife started manufacturing and selling a line of denim jackets and decided upon a career as Christian evangelists. The couple had their own TV show in the 1970s. When she died of cancer, he reportedly told his audience that she would be resurrected and kept her body on display in a temperature-controlled glass coffin for half a year.

Alamo has waged a long war of words against the Roman Catholic Church and against the U.S. government, as well. During the 1980s, he told his followers that the Pope and Ronald Reagan were Satanic devils. In the 1990s, he served a prison sentence--his second--for tax evasion.

In 2008, Alamo was charged with transporting minors across state lines for immoral purposes; he was found guilty in July 2009.

Disgraced religious figure Jim Bakker

"Doing well by doing good" might well have been the motto of former Assemblies of God minister Jim Bakker, co-founder of the PTL Club who left that ministry following a sex scandal.

In their youth, Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye decided to become evangelists. A few years later, in 1966, they were working for evangelist entrepreneur Pat Robertson during the early years of his Christian Broadcasting Network in Tidewater Virginia.

The peppy Bakkers worked for the religious variety show "The 700 club," then had their own "Jim and Tammy Show," aimed mainly at children.

At some time after 1970, he couple moved to California, the land of golden dreams, where they conducted the "Praise the Lord" show on Trininty Broadcasting Network. Around a year thereafter, they moved back to the East Coast to Charlotte, N.C., and founded a new and highly popular show, "The PTL Club."

PTL stood for Praise the Lord, but in time, critics wiescracked that it really should stand for "Pass the Loot."

The Bakkers assured their followers that God wanted them all to be rich (and presumably wanted the Bakkers to be even richer).

The couple's appeals for "love gifts" were many and varied. A fair amount of the loot that poured in from the well meaning faithful was devoted to a really, really lavish lifestyle for Jim and Tammy.

The height of their ambition came with the building of Heritage USA, a huge Christian theme park in nearby Fort Mills, S.C. Offers for "lifetime memberships" became fraudulent come-ons for some PTL members and attracted the eagle eye of investigative reporters at the Charlotte Observer newspaper.

About that same time, reports revealed that Jim Bakker had made a fat payoff to a buxom young woman, Jessica Hahn, as hush money because he had had sex with her, which she was calling rape.

Bakker resigned and Lynchburg, VA, pastor Jerry Falwell assumed the helm of PTL.

Jim Bakker was found guilty of a variety of charges and was given a 45-year prison sentence, which eventually was cut to eight years. He was paroled after serving only five years.

The Bakkers divorced, and both remarried. Jim and his new wife moved to Branson, Missouri, in 2003, and he resumed work in the TV ministry business.

Disgraced religious figure Paul Barnes

For the large evangelical churches of Denver, Colorado, 2006 was a rocky year (pun intended).

Just a month after the highly publicized resignation of Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, came news that Paul Barnes, founder and pastor of Grace Chapel in the Denver suburb of Englewood, was leaving his pastorate.

The cause was that he admitted to having had sexual relations with men over his 28 years of his Grace Chapel ministry.

Although such churches generally decry homosexuality, to his credit, Barnes had not spoken out on same-sex marriage and other such issues in the way Haggard had done.

Disgraced religious figure Todd Bentley

Canadian Pentecostal revivalist minister Todd Bentley, originally from Canada, had to sever relations with the Assemblies of God Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida, due to a romantic relationship with a female staffer.

Bentley, who had a hard youth involving drinking, drugs and gang activity, was convicted of sexual assault charges in the early 1990s.

The burly, balding, tatto-covered evangelist and faith healer was known for his high-energy revivals that featured rock music and rock concert-like light shows to add luster to his efforts at healing.

Bentley claimed to have visited Heaven and talked with the Apostle Paul and with an angel called Emma. He was packing them in until revelations of the marital indiscretion that led him to move to Fort Mill, S.C. Chances are, however, he will be back at it soon.

Disgraced religious figure Chan Chandler

No doubt he meant well, but Baptist pastor Chan Chandler's zeal got the better of his good judgment when, in 2005, according to members of his Waynesville, N.C., church, he banished members of the congregation for having voted for John Kerry instead of George W. Bush for president.

The tax-free status of the small East Waynesville Baptist Church was put into jeopardy after news of these charges surfaced.

Chandler, 33, reportedly told his flock that if they had voted for Kerry in the election, they must either repent or leave the church. Nine individuals claimed to have been expelled from the congregation.

Due to the controversy, Chandler himself left his pastorate in 2005, and around 40 congregants went with him into the light of a more Republican day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Disgraced religious figure Charles Dederich

Charles E. Dederich had a good, useful idea, but it went askew. Having suffered from alcoholism, he knew a thing or two about how to help people with addictions and even figured out how to make lots of money doing so.

His rehabilitation program in Santa Monica, California,lost its compass, however, and morphed into cult, which was named Synanon. Members lived in what amounted to a commune and had to surrender themselves to the will of Dederich and other Synanon leaders. Some came to call this lifestyle a reign of terror, and after a lawyer unfriendly to the cult had a rattlesnake put in his mailbox, Dederich was taken to court.

At that time, Dederich lost control of Synanon, which fell apart in 1991.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Disgraced religious figure John Geoghan

Perhaps America's best-known pedophile and maybe even a record holder was former Roman Catholic priest John Geoghan.

The troubled father was accused of pedophilia by around 130 boys and young men over his long career in the Boston area, shuffled from one parish to another by his superiors.

Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 and cost the church many millions of dollars in settlements. Some cases remain pending. The way his diocese handled his case was part of what led to the resignation of his Cardinal, Bernard Law, in 2002.

For a while, the aging priest lived in a home for retired clergy but was sentenced to 9-10 years in prison in 2002. Pedophiles appear to be most prisoners' and most guards' least favorite kind of criminal, and Geoghan's life in stir was a virtual hell on earth.

In 2003, a tattoo-covered homophobic young inmate, Joseph L. Druce, got into Geoghan's cell and strangled him to death.

Disgraced religious figure Ted Haggard

Talk about mea culpas! Energetic pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs Ted Haggard was separated from that post in 2006 after revelations that he had a relationship with a former male prostitute.

Haggard, who had been a vocal critic of homosexuality and an opponent of gay marriage, also resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Haggard, who denied being gay but admitted to "having issues," went into a three-week intensive counseling program conducted by four clergymen from the megachurch he had founded.

In a letter to his former church, Haggard admitted to sexual immorality and called himself a liar and deceiver. In 2009, haggard admitted to another homosexual relationship with a young church member, who was given a settlement by the church.