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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Disgraced political figure Jack Ryan

Illinois Republican Jack Ryan seemed to have it all: Ivy League credentials, with both MBA and JD from Harvard,train loads of money from his work as an investment banker, and a striking personal appearance.

In 2004, however, he dropped out of his campaign for the U.S. Senate after reports began circulating about allegations that he and his former wife had frequented sex clubs.

Ryan and actress Jeri Ryan had married in 1991 but divorced in 1999. In 2004, Ryan's political opponent demanded that Ryan's divorce and custody records be made public. When the records were released, Ryan's political goose was cooked.

Most political higher-ups who get into zipper trouble have done so by having clandestine sex with women other than their own wives. Ryan's problems, oddly, stemmed from public sex involving his own wife. But then, it's a pretty complicated world out there.

Disgraced political figure Mark Sanford

Entirely bizarre is the "Appalachian Trail hike" of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

Sanford, governor of his state since 2002, dropped out of sight suddenly in June 2009. Aides told the media that the governor had gone hiking to clear his mind.

Sanford, a staunch conservative, had just proclaimed that his state would not accept federal stimulus funds, but the high-placed Republican hiker was getting a stimulus package of his own in Argentina, not trudging the long, lonesome trail.

Busted, he admitted in a rambling press conference statement to having had an affair with an Argentinian woman, Maria Belen Chapur. Later, he admitted to other earlier indiscretions of the same general kind. The situation was especially ironic because after the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, Sanford had favored impeachment.

At one time, the handsome, normally articulate Sanford had been considered as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Political figures from both sides of the aisle have expressed the opinion that Sanford should resign, but at this writing in September 2009, he has not done so.

Disgraced political figure Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer is a man who had a remarkably fine record as New York's Attorney General, then Governor, before being brought down by a sex scandal.

In 2008, Spitzer fessed up to having consorted with a comely young call girl, Ashley Dupre, age 22, and resigned his governorship rather than be impeached.

Until his personal fall from grace, Spitzer appeared headed for even bigger things, perhaps even the presidency.

His education included degrees from Princeton and Harvard, and he had joined a major law firm before going to work for the office of Manhattan's District Attorney, where he took on the Gambino crime family.

As his state's Attorney General, he went after the big fish--in other words, major white collar crooks of various kinds. His efforts were so successful that he had little trouble winning in his 2007 race for Governor.

Following his resignation the very next year, reporters found out that Spitzer had done business with other prostitutes as well, and over a considerable period of time.

Spitzer's sad case is truly one of those stories of what might have been.

Disgraced political figure James Traficant

One of Ohio's most colorful, unorthodox "public servants" was James Traficant, Democrat.

Traficant, who traded on his populist appeal, often voted with the Republicans and in addition, had absolutely the most dreadful hairpiece ever to appear in the halls of Congress.

His toupee was the least of his problems, however, in 2002, when he was indicted for using campaign funds for his own personal purposes. (Gee, imagine a Congressman actually doing such a thing!)

In that same year, he was convicted of multiple felonies including tax evasion, racketeering and bribery and was given a 7-year sentence. His "coming out party" occurred in 2009.

Disgraced political figure Frank Thompson

Frank Thompson, Jr. was not a name known extensively outside the state he represented in Congress, New Jersey--until the 1980 Abscam sting operation, that is.

Thompson was one of six duly elected Congressmen caught trying to peddle influence to a phony Arab sheik. Like the others caught in this net, Thompson was videotaped by the FBI doing what so many of our "public servants" do but usually manage to get away with doing.

For his political sins, Thompson spent 1983-1985 in prison, and his 26-year career in the House ended.

The never-ending need for hard cash--and lots of it-- does this to many a politician, but in this case, it seemed sadder than usual inasmuch as he had sponsored some very good legislation and had been a decorated member of the Navy during World War II. He died in 1989.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Disgraced political figure David Vitter

Louisiana Senator David Vitter is quite a sport, don't you know--nudge, nudge, wink, wink. He is also one of those politicians who lived through personal disgrace and kept alive politically.

A handsome young fellow, Vitter went to Harvard, got a law degree, and was a Rhodes Scholar as well. The New Orleans native is a conservative Republican and, as such, has had much to say about the centrality of family values--that is to add, before his name appeared on lists of published phone numbers of brothel clients.

In 2007, Vitter's number appeared in a much-publicized list of "johns" of a prostitution service called Pamela Martin and Associates, operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called "D.C. Madam." It appeared that Vitter had been a client for years--ever since he replaced Bob Livingston, another Louisiana congressman who resigned that in 1999 due to his own adultery troubles.

Vitter more or less admitted his adultery, but lay low and toughed out the criticism and the smirking. He also was reported to be on the list of customers of New Orleans madam Jeanette Maier, sometimes called the "Canal Street Madam." At least in this instance he could claim that he bought local.

Again the Democrats had a field day doing what columnist Cal Thomas termed "pinning the tail on the elephant." The sorry spectacle was no doubt a lot more fun for the Democrats than for Vitter's wife and four children.

Disgraced business figure Richard Scrushy

Note: Wherever there are huge sums of money to be made, temptation also dwells. Most of us--professors for example-- work in jobs that offer scant opportunities for graft and corruption, and perhaps we are honest because there is little opportunity to do otherwise. Corporate titans, on the other hand, sometimes succumb to the desire not simply to be rich, but mega-rich, and do things they, the ones who get caught, are terribly sorry about later. Others serve a little time in stir but emerge from prison still in possession of most of their ill-gotten gains.

Some of these figures simply appear to be larcenous from top to bottom. Others make illegal use of inside information to enrich themselves. Still others buy politicians to help them get what they want. (Sadly, the higher up influence-peddling politicians are, the less likely that the public is to believe that he or she could be so slimy.)

In our present misguided, polarized era in which major corporate CEOs often make perhaps 300 times the compensation of the mean compensation of their employees, the crooked business figure can absolutely ruin the lives of a lot of people with their various schemes for self-enrichment.

In addition, the occasional business titan, like some of our powerful politicians, brings trouble down upon himself for non-financial reasons of a more personal nature.

A good example of what's wrong with the current system of health care in the United States is Richard Scrushy, who founded and ran HealthSouth Corporation, one of the nation's biggest health care firms.

As this is being written, many well-meaning Americans are howling like wounded wolves about the idea of creating a public option in health insurance. Saddest are those ranting that they "don't want the no-good socialistic fed-rul gumment" getting involved in Medicare, apparently not realizing that Medicare is and has always been a government program.

After doing a little college teaching, Scrushy went to work for the Texas health care firm Lifemark, for which he eventually became CEO. In 1983, he founded his own such company, Amcare, and only a year thereafter started HealthSouth, a company he grew into a corporate giant. Scrushy soon was said to be one of that nation's highest-paid CEOs.

When a HealthSouth auditor called attention to suspect company practices, the auditor was fired. Fraud accusations were raised anyway, and the firm's profit picture darkened. Improper Medicare billing was charged, and Scrushy found himself facing multiple counts of fraud. In 2005, however, an Alabama jury acquitted him.

Soon thereafter, both he and an ex-governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, wer indicted in federal court for bribery, racketeering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Scrushy pled not guilty, but both he and Siegelman were convicted. Scrushy's appeal was unsuccessful and Siegelman's only partially successful.

Scrushy lost again in a subsequent civil trial to settle damages to HealthSouth stockholders, and in 2009, he was ordered to pony up $2.87 billion. Locating his assets, however, is proving difficult for officials.

Disgraced business figure Ivan Boesky

One of the happiest looking of Wall Street wheeler-dealers was Ivan Boesky, a specialist in corporate arbitrage.

No wonder he looked happy. His abilities gained him wealth said to be in the neighborhood of $200 million before he came under active suspicion for insider trading.

Perhaps Boesky's intelligence skills had been honed during his time working for the CIA, but his law degree should have caused him to be more subtle in his timing. Eventually, his big stock buys just prior to takeover announcements attracted the kind of attention insider traders don't want.

He worked out a plea bargain by informing against other corporate rascals, was fined $110, and got only three and a half years. Two years later, he was a free man again.

It is said that he was the primary model for the "Greed is good" character Gordon Gekko played so well by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film "Wall Street."

Disgraced business figure Jake Butcher

Still a well known public figure in Tennessee is former banker Jacob "Jake" Butcher," the guiding light behind the 1982 World's Fair that was held in Knoxville.

With his younger brother C.H., Butcher ran eight banks, the biggest of which was Jake's United American Bank in Knoxville.

Having become very wealthy, Jake twice tried to become governor of his state. In 1974, he lost in the Democratic primary, and in 1978, in the general election.

In the early 1980s, officials began to become suspicious about some of the brothers' dealings, some of which involved shifting funds among their banks, and in 1982, raided these banks and their branches. Evidence of fraud was discovered, and United American went belly up in 1983, a major bank failure.

Jake Butcher pled guilty and got 20 years, but he was paroled in 1992. His brother, C.H. Butcher Jr., was also found guilty and died following a storke in 2002.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Disgraced business figure Douglas S. Cone

The disgrace of wealthy Tampa businessman Douglas S. Cone was not a matter of fraud, insider trading, or any other such business offense, but was of the personal sort.

Mr. Cone, a stern-looking man who made his money in road construction, had been married for 50 years to his wife, Jean Ann Cone. The two had contributed to various philanthropies, most notably the building of Berkeley Prep, a local prep school.

Another generous benefactor of Berkeley Prep was one Donald Carlson, who no one at the school had ever actually met in person. The Carlsons sent both their children to the school,and its baseball field was named in the Carlsons' honor due to their financial gifts.

In 2003, Mrs. Cone returned home in her green Rolls Royce, pulled into her garage, shut the garage door, but left the car running. She died there of carbon monoxide poisoning, and tests later showed that she had anti-anxiety medication in her system in addition to having a high blood alcohol level. Her death was ruled accidental.

Just two weeks later, Douglas Cone remarried, this time to a woman who had been calling herself Hillary Carlson for 20 years. It then came to light that Douglas Cone and Donald Carlson were one and the same fellow.

Cone had managed to have two families for all those years, and they lived a mere 20 miles apart. He had done it by telling wife Jean Ann that he frequently had to be away on business and by telling Hillary that he had a highly sensitive State Department job that kept him on the road much of the time.

Talk about burning your candles at both ends. And talk about sheer gall!

Disgraced business figure Bernie Ebbers

Now reposing in prison on a 25-year sentence, former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers was, as of 2005, at least, at the center of the biggest corporate fraud case in U.S. history. Since then, that dubious distinction has been claimed by another Bernard, this one having the last name of Madoff.

Ebbers, a large, forceful fellow, launched his business career in 1974 by buying an old Mississippi motel. From this humble beginning, he built a chain of motels, and in 1983, he helped found Long Distance Discount Services, Inc., also in Mississippi. This long distance company bought up other similar companies and in 1995, became WorldCom, with Ebbers as CEO.

WorldCom bought MFS Communications for $12 billion the next year and in 1998, it acquired MCI, for $40 billion.

In 1999, Ebbers' troubles began when he tried to take over Sprint Communications as well,at a price tag of $115 billion. Federal anti-trust regulators began to intervene, and that deal fell through. When that happened, WorldCom's stock price plunged as well, and a lot of people lost a lot of money.

Ebbers resigned in 2002. The colorful Sunday school-teaching, cowboy boot-wearing Ebbers came under allegations of securities fraud and conspiracy that same year, and his corporation was shown to have engaged in what very kind people might term "creative accounting."

He was indicted in 2003, but charges were dropped. Ebbers was again indicted in 2004, and in 2005, he was found guilty. After his appeal failed, he reported to prison in 2006 and, barring a presidential pardon, will be in his mid 80s when he emerges.

Digraced business figure Billie Sol Estes

Billie Sol Estes--a wonderfully Southern name if ever there was one--has known the inside of the prison system for his wheeling and dealing in Texas. He is also known for the explosive charges he has leveled at the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Back in the 1940s, Estes made money by selling irrigation pumps that ran on natural gas. He added the fertilizer business to his holdings, adding to his wealth.

A big supporter of then Texas Senator LBJ, Estes concocted a scheme that used non-existent cotton and later fertilizer tanks as collateral for loans. The scheme took advantage of federal farm subsidies for cotton production.

In 1962 and 1963, Estes was confronted with multiple fraud charges, was found guilty, and was sent to prison for what might have been a good long stay, even though three individuals who were expected to testify against him kept turning up dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is not to suggest that Estes was responsible for their deaths, but the chain of events was odd indeed.

In 1965, in Estes v. Texas, Billie Sol's sentence was overturned because TV cameras had been allowed in his court trial; 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the cameras' presence had deprived him of a fair trial.

It was then that the freshly sprung Billie Sol claimed that he had shared a good bit of his cotton scam loot with LBJ, that Johnson had had a hand in the deaths of the three witnesses, and--most sensational of all by far--that LBJ had been in on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Due to his record as a felon, Estes and his various charges were not taken very seriously by authorities, although they provided conspiracy theorists a field day.

He has been a rascal, to be sure, but Billie Sol has been the stuff of Southern legend: a convicted scam artist who was at the same time a Church of Christ lay minister and a colorful Texas character of the first order.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disgraced business figure Andrew Fastow

Charges of wire and securities fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and money laundering during his years as Chief Financial Officer at Enron (1998-2002) netted Andrew Fastow six years in prison.

Fastow had helped set up a system of shadow companies used to obscure the actual financial status of that huge energy-trading corporation. For a long while, financial analysts, stockholders and employees were in the dark about the true condion of their company.

Fastow pled guilty to certain counts and, in order to get a lesser sentence, cooperated with investigators. In addition to his prison term, he forfeited around $23 million.

Disgraced business figure Kenneth Lay

An executive whose dishonesty or ineptitude, or both, cost thousands of people their livelihoods and/or their life savings was Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron Corporation.

Lay had a Ph.D. in economics, was once a university economics professor, and began his career with Exxon in 1970. He worked for a while for the Department of the Interior, rising to undersecretary, and next worked for Florida Gas.

In 1985, he was employed by Enron and the next year became its CEO, changing what began as a pipeline company for natural gas into a huge energy-trading firm--one of the nation's biggest companies.

Like most canny CEOs, Lay contributed to both political parties, but he favored the Republicans. He was in the inner circle of George W. Bush, who called him "Kenny Boy." Lay and Enron were most generous contributors to President Bush.

Like most CEOs of large corporations, Lay was wildly over-compensated, of course, but his troubles really began when, after he had just divested himself of a few hundred million dollars in Enron stock, and after he knew the company was headed for bankruptcy, he smilingly assured his employees that all would be OK and to keep buying the company's stock. Many did, and it cost them dearly.

He was charged in 2004 with securities and wire fraud plus other charges and in 2006 was found guilty. He faced as much as 30 years in prison but died by heart attack while on vacation prior to his sentencing.

Disgraced business figure Dennis Kozlowski

Now serving a prison term of 8.25 to 24 years is former Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski, a corporate executive who made lavish executive spending into an art form.

Having been with Tyco since 1975, Kozlowski took over as CEO in 1992 and worked out for himself compensation packages beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.

Company stockholders began to take notice of his excessive compensation, and news began to surface regarding his $30 million Fifth Avenue apartment in New York, a $15,000+ umbrella stand, and--wildest of all--a $6,000 shower curtain.

Then there was the matter of a birthday party held on the island of Sardinia for Kozlowski's wife Karen, who divorced him in 2006. The party was tricked out as a stockholders' meeting and cost the company a reported $1 million, with the high-living CEO contributing a like sum.

These matters, plus allegations of high-ticket art purchases paid out of company funds and absurdly high bonuses for other top corporate brass, led to Kozlowski's resignation in 2002.

Eventually he and his CFO were charged with having stripped the corporation of around $600 million. He was convicted in 2005. His appeal was rejected.

Disgraced business figure Bernie Madoff

Creator and operator of an incredibly enormous Ponzi scheme, said to have cost his clients around $65 billion, is Bernard Madoff of New York.

Financier Madoff is a rarity: a white-collar miscreant who actually confessed to what he had done rather than pleading not guilty or weasel-wording that he "might have made errors of judgment."

Instead, he pled guilty to duping an enormous number of investors, some of them very wealthy and presumably sophisticated individuals, via what might very well be the biggest Ponzi scheme anyone ever operated.

Madoff started his own Wall Sreet firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, in 1960 and grew great wealth for himself and some of his employees, some of whom were family members.

Madoff lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous, with a New York penthouse plus other residences in Palm Beach and France.

In 2008, with trouble closing in, he confessed to his sons that he was operating what amounted to a giant Ponzi scheme. The two younger Madoffs turned him in, and their father was arrested by the FBI straightaway.

For a time, Madoff was held in house arrest, but his bail was revoked and he was taken into custody. He was found guilty and sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison, with restitution demands of $170 billion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Disgraced business figure James McDougal

One of Bill and Hillary Clinton's closest business associates, Jim McDougal, died in prison at age 57 in 1998.

McDougal and his wife Susan partnered with the Clintons in the infamous Whitewater land deal while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. At that time, McDougal owned and ran the Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, from which he took funds to cover losses suffered in the development planned to be built in the Ozarks.

McDougal, a big supporter of the Clintons in politics, used the Rose Law Firm, in which Hillary was a partner, as his legal counsel when charged in 1984 with fraud. McDougal also got into fraud trouble over another development project, Castle Grande, near Little Rock.

McDougal was convicted on 18 felony counts and faced a sentence that would have imprisoned him for many decades, but at that time he began cooperating with Kenneth Starr's investigation of Whitewater and managed to have his sentence cut to three years. McDougal's wife Susan would not cooperate and spent 18 months in prison for contempt. She also received a two-year sentence for bank fraud.

The flamboyant Jim McDougal suffered a heart attack and died about a year before his scheduled release. Before he died, he published a book containing allegations about payoffs to the Clintons and an unfulfilled promise of a presidential pardon for Susan.

Disgraced business figure Michael Milken

One of those all-American stories of temporary disgrace erased by big bucks and good deeds is that of financier Michael Milken, known as the Junk Bond King.

Milken, who emerged from his troubles with more than $2 billion, was charged in 1989 with securities fraud and racketeering due to alleged insider trading and other violations.

The racketeering charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain, but in 1990 Milken plead guilty to several financial market improprieties. He got 10 years, but later, with the help of lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the term was reduced by a judge. Milken served a bit less than two years and emerged still smiling and still very wealthy.

The Wharton School MBA worked for the investment bank Drexel Harriman Ripley, later Drexel Burnham & Company. There, he began dealing in risky but high-yield bonds. Later, he left Drexel to start his own firm, International Capital Access Group.

The wily and successful bond trader has resurrected his public image via good works accomplished through the Milken Institute, the Milken Scholars program, and Milken foundations for research on epilepsy, melanoma and prostate cancer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Disgraced business figure Marc Rich

The commodities trader born in Belgium as Marc David Reich, had his name changed to Marc Rich (a downright prophetic choice) after he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1942.

Rich married a shoe company heiress in 1966 and in the early 1970s, contrived to ignore the U.S. embargo on buying oil from Iraq and Iran. This occurred at a time when Iran was holding more than 50 American citizens hostage, and Rich's deals no doubt helped the Iranians and Iraqis purchase armaments. Having bought the oil on the cheap, he then sold it at enormous profit during a period of frightening U.S. gasoline shortages. He established a beneficial relationship with Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and also founded a big real estate development company in Eastern Europe.

Rich came under indictment for tax evasion and illegal oil trading in 1983 and chose to remain in Switzerland rather than return to America and face charges. He gave up his U.S. citizenship, living the lifestyle of the rich and famous with residences on Lake Lucerne and in the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz and in Marbella, Spain.

Rich lives the very, very good life in Europe, continues doing business deals in Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere, has been honored in Israel for his philanthropy there, and was a big contributor to the coffers of President Bill Clinton.

In one of his most questionable non-sexual acts as president, Clinton granted Rich a full pardon on Clinton's last day in office. Rich's beautiful ex-wife, Denise, had been a major contributor to Clinton and the Democratic Party and had lobbied hard for the pardon. The pardon, like Bill Clinton's unusual intern policy, was one of his most shameful acts.