Top 10 Career-Ending Blunders of All Time

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February 21st, 2011

Anyone who has spent significant time in the real world understands that one misstep can ruin a promising or even established career. It’s why we choose not to become too comfy around our coworkers, speak our minds in the office, or behave in any manner that indicates we’re unprofessional. The fear of what could happen is enough to keep most people in check, especially if they live in the public eye. Just look at the prominent people listed below — their successful careers were gleefully guillotined in public by the merciless, blood-thirsty lynch mob that is the media. Of course, in some cases, these people were already suffering career declines, and their so-called "career-ending" blunders didn’t really end their careers, but crippled them. Semantics aside, we can all agree that their falls from grace were cringe-worthy.

  1. Mel Gibson’s Voice Mail Revelations: Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant during his 2006 DUI arrest didn’t kill his career — after all, his project Apocalypto was well-received, ranking No. 1 during its opening weekend. The second episode, however, pretty much sealed his fate as a Hollywood has-been. During the summer of 2010, Gibson’s girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva filed a domestic violence-related restraining order barring him from coming near her or her daughter, of whom Gibson is the father. What’s more, previous assertions that Gibson harbors racist and sexist feelings were confirmed when recorded phone conversations between him and Grigorieva were released to the public. His most notorious comments are so vile that it’s difficult to imagine him becoming a marketable star again if he’s bitten by the acting bug — his impending return notwithstanding.
  2. Gary Hart’s Monkey Business: Hart isn’t the first or last man in power to be hamstrung by his lust for women — see Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But the aspiring president, who was the frontrunner heading for the 1988 Democratic nomination, has never lived down his candidacy-sinking extramarital indiscretions with model Donna Rice. His ultimate downfall, even more so than the affair itself, proved to be his cavalier attitude toward the press. When speculation arose about the matter and questions poured in, he responded by saying "Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored." The Miami Herald took him up on the dare and exposed his monkey business, famously printing a photo with Rice seated on his lap aboard the appropriately-named luxury yacht Monkey Business. Hart subsequently dropped out of the race, lashed out at the media, returned to the race, withdrew again after Super Tuesday and went on to have a much lower profile career in politics.
  3. Jimmy the Greek becomes an Amateur Anthropologist: The Las Vegas bookie turned national sports commentator built his career on accurate prognostications and controversy. Jimmy is credited with making sports betting mainstream, most notably providing his weekly picks on CBS’s The NFL Today alongside an all-star cast consisting of Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Phyllis George. The high school dropout possessed excellent street smarts that enabled him to ascend to a position of fame, but his lack of education became most apparent when he offered his views on anthropology. Infamously, he told a Washington DC television reporter on Martin Luther King Day in 1988 that "During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he could have a big black kid — that’s where it all started." He was immediately fired by CBS and spent the remaining years of his life in relative obscurity.
  4. Don Imus Talks Street: Much like Jimmy the Greek, candor is the reason Imus’s career both burgeoned and collapsed. Known for his irreverent Billy Sol Hargus character and general propensity to offend, Imus became nationally relevant after Imus in the Morning was syndicated in the early 1990s. He came under fire in 2007 when he made what he thought was an innocuous comment, referring to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" while discussing the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The conversation had devolved to making fun of their appearances, particularly their tattoos, and contrasting them to the perceived "innocent" look of the Tennessee Vols, one of Rutgers’ competitors. Despite his best efforts to undo the damage, sponsors pulled their ads, MSNBC dropped its simulcast and CBS canceled the program. Imus in the Morning returned shortly thereafter, but on a much smaller stage.
  5. Pee Wee’s Porn Adventure: By the time the 1990s rolled around, Paul Reubens had grown tired of being Pee Wee Herman, even after the success of The Pee Wee Herman Show, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. So when he was arrested in 1991 for masturbating in a Sarasota, Florida, adult movie theater, and consequently suffered backlash that included the removal Playhouse from CBS, Reubens experienced somewhat of a catharsis, no longer being a slave to the character. But that didn’t make the episode any less traumatic. He was ravaged by the media, including late-night talkshow hosts who he considered his friends, and refused to speak about it for years, essentially retreating from public view. Reubens has reprised the character in recent years, but it’s obvious that Pee Wee is well-past his prime.
  6. Milli Vanilli Lip Syncs, Returns Grammy: The music-buying public was swindled by Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, the pair who superficially comprised Milli Vanilli. Their U.S. debut album Girl You Know It’s True went six times platinum and each of their next three singles topped the charts. Ironically, it was during their live MTV performance of the song "Girl You Know It’s True" in 1989 hat their lip-syncing became public knowledge, when the recording repeated "Girl, you know it’s" several times, causing their downward spiral to begin. Charles Shaw, one of the three real singers on their debut album, later disclosed his involvement and Frank Farian, the architect of the group, admitted that Pilatus and Morvan didn’t actually sing. As a result, the duo’s Grammy was revoked and numerous lawsuits related to consumer fraud protection were filed. Their attempts to come back failed and sadly, Rob Pilatus battled drug addiction until he died in 1998.
  7. Ashlee Simpson Lip Syncs, Sinks Career: Ashlee may have been riding her sister’s coattails, but she cultivated a nice little career for herself in 2003 and 2004. Her debut album Autobiography went triple platinum, the best-selling of any female artist in 2004, and she starred in her own show, The Ashlee Simpson Show, which followed Jessica’s popular show, Newlyweds, on MTV. Considered by critics as just your typical manufactured female pop star, she did little to disprove their assertion, purporting to be content with her identity. Rightly or wrongly, that criticism worsened after her Saturday Night Live lip-syncing fiasco, in which the vocals for "Pieces of Me" played instead of the song "Autobiography." Ashlee awkwardly danced and left the stage, apologizing at the conclusion of the show. She later explained that she was advised by her doctor not to sing due to her severe acid reflux disease and opted to use a vocal guide track. The public reaction was encapsulated during her performance in the 2005 Orange Bowl, when she was resoundingly booed by the crowd of more than 72,000. Her next album I Am Me debuted at No. 1, but since 2005, she has only released one album, which was far less successful.
  8. Howard Dean’s Bloodcurdling Scream: It was the death knell of his already foundering campaign. Dean, who entered the 2004 Democratic primary as the favorite due to his remarkable grassroots and fundraising efforts, disappointingly finished third in the Iowa Caucus behind Jon Kerry and John Edwards. In an effort to rally his supporters, he delivered the now infamous Dean Scream Speech. Battling the flu, he struggled to shout above the raucous crowd of Deaniacs. Television viewers, however, could hear him loud and clear, which is why he seemed like a raving lunatic to the rest of the country. His bloated, sweaty and red-faced appearance didn’t help either. The media had a field day with the "Dean Scream," dancing on his campaign’s grave weeks after it had essentially ended.
  9. George O’Leary Lies: Although the job has lost some of its prestige in recent years, many still aspire to be the head football coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It’s an honor to hold a position previously occupied by all-time greats such as Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Certainly the program is worthy of hiring a coach who’s secure with his accomplishments. O’Leary, at least earlier in his career, wasn’t. After he was hired away from Georgia Tech, where he compiled a 52-33 record in eight seasons, by Notre Dame in 2001, falsities were found on his resume. He claimed that he had lettered three times at the University of New Hampshire, which the school denied. He also claimed that he attained a master’s degree from NYU-Stony Brook University, a place that doesn’t exist. Once it was discovered that he falsified academic credentials, he was fired. The embarrassing episode didn’t completely kill O’Leary’s career — he landed the head coaching gig at the University of Central Florida in 2004 and has since enjoyed moderate success. But UCF ain’t Notre Dame. It’s not even Georgia Tech.
  10. Dan’s Rather Large Oversight: "Memogate" effectively forced Dan Rather, who anchored CBS Evening News for almost a quarter century, into an early retirement. The blunder occurred two months before the 2004 presidential election during an airing of 60 Minutes Wednesday, in which documents critical of President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard were displayed. They were said to have been discovered in the files of Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s former commanding officer. Once the documents became accessible on the internet, Republicans and other skeptics questioned their authenticity as their typography wasn’t consistent with the style used by typewriters in the 1970s. After claiming the documents had been authenticated by experts, CBS retracted the story, fired four producers and, for all intents and purposes, made Rather irrelevant on the national news scene. Gone from the anchor’s desk were those folksy Ratherisms, such as "When the going gets weird, anchor men punt."

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