When Idols Become Villains, Inspiration Turns To Outrage

Powerful role models have the unique ability to widespread good in the world, to change hearts and minds, and entertain the masses. But they also have the ability to do a great deal of harm.

Hero worship is an ancient human trait that, at times, evokes a willful ignorance in trusting fans, who ignore fact that all humans are flawed, or even dangerous.

Here of a few notable heroic figures whose reputations have been, either fully or in part, overshadowed by alleged dastardly deeds for which they’ve seen no little to no jail time.

1. Fatty Arbuckle


Hero: Roscoe Arbuckle, also known as “Fatty” Arbuckle, was a pioneering silent film actor and comedian in the early 1900s, who mentored Charlie Chaplin and became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.

Villain: But in 1921, the slapstick comedian was arrested for the manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe, in Hollywood’s first full-blown scandal. After a bedroom encounter at a bootleg party, Rappe died of a ruptured bladder (the actress suffered from a chronic bladder condition).

The fallout: Though Arbuckle was acquitted, and no evidence of sexual assault identified, Rappe’s last words of “he did this to me” and the resulting scandal were enough to transform the comedian’s image from a beloved, roly-poly idol into a fat, women-crushing brute whose movies were briefly blacklisted.

2. O.J. Simpson


Hero: Before the infamous trial, O.J. Simpson’s football career had made him an athletic hero: he was the first and only NFL player to rush 2,000 yards in a 4-game season. He was idolized by many as the American Dream achieved, especially by African American fans.

Villain: But O.J. Simpson, today, is a name synonymous with the highly-publicized 1994-5 trial, in which the football star  was eventually acquitted of a double murder of his ex-wife and her friend. He was found responsible for the deaths in a civil court, though, and has been serving a sentence for unrelated felonies since 2007.

The fallout: That he got away with murder was regarded as both a triumph and a failure of the judicial system, divided among racial lines. He later hypothetically confessed in a book called “If I Did It.”

3. Bill Cosby


Hero: America’s favorite TV dad and family-friendly, sweater-wearing comedian endured untarnished for decades in the minds and hearts of his fans. The “Cosby Show” actor was remained beloved, in spite of 50 sexual assault accusations leveled against him between 1965 and today.

Villain: In late 2014, a flow of new allegations followed when remarks on Cosby’s alleged rapes by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral, as it seemed that for the first time, strength in numbers were on the side of the victims.The women’s stories are unwavering in shared elements of of being drugged and violated.

The fallout: Universities and TV networks associated with Cosby have denounced him, and though the statutes of limitations are long past for prosecution, even some of his staunchest supporters now agree he’s likely guilty.

4. Jared, Subway Guy


Hero: In the most recent case of fallen idols is the story of Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle, a pitchman with a net worth of $15 million who inspired many with his 245-pound weight loss from eating at the sandwich store. He started a charitable foundation  — the Jared Foundation — to help children struggling with health, fitness, and obesity.

Villain: But Jared, who has been a Subway ambassador for 15 years, will soon plead guilty to charges of child pornography and child-sex solicitation, officials announced on August 17. He also colluded with the executive director of his charity to produce pornography of children as young as 6.

The fallout: That he’s responsible for up to one half of Subway’s growth since 2000 wouldn’t have exactly nudged Subway to expose him sooner, had indeed they known. And according to some, Jared’s behavior was brought to Subway’s attention as early as 2007 to no consequence.

At any rate, Subway has officially scrubbed him from their company now. He’ll face a least 5 years in prison (a sentence lighter than many non-violent crimes) and pay $1.4 million to his victims.


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Jennifer Markert