We’ve seen it so many times. A well-respected figure leads a successful and accomplished life, only to end up as a villain in the eyes of the public. For many people, reputation is everything, and it can take decades to build a good one. All it takes is one ignorant comment or a stupid mistake to have those reputations shattered. Once you live your life in the eyes of the public, every little thing you do can be scrutinized, and one false step can destroy you. Oftentimes, for better or worse, these men are held to a higher standard than the rest of us, which makes it easier for them to slip. Sadly for them, the public loves to see well-respected men fall from grace.
The men on this list have highly varied backgrounds. They come from the world of sports, entertainment, politics, science, and some have been dead for over a century. But the one thing they all have in common is this: they made for themselves a substantial and respected reputation, then let their own mistakes destroy that reputation. Some of their mistakes were minor, some merely made ignorant comments, and some of them destroyed lives. But all of them are filled with regret, and if they were given the chance to die at an earlier age, they just might have saved the embarrassment that comes with having their names.
15. Pete Rose
Pete Rose was an absolute dominant force in the world of baseball. To this day, Rose is the league-leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), and at-bats (14,053). He won three World Series, three batting titles, an MVP, and made 17 All-Star Appearances. If Rose had the opportunity to die following his record-breaking career, he would be forever remembered as perhaps the all-time greatest player to have played the game of baseball and would have his very own section in the Hall of Fame. But instead, Rose stayed alive, and is now known for being the greatest player to not be in the Hall of Fame. Rose had been gambling on baseball for a major portion of his career, a big no-no in professional sports. He is banned from all Major League Baseball operations. Rose also served time for tax evasion in the early 90s.
14. Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman)
Paul Reubens was a member of the LA-based comedy improv group The Groundlings when he came up with the character of Pee-Wee Herman, which gained enormous popularity as a stage show before being picked up as a special by HBO in 1981. Pee-Wee went on to have two feature films in the 1980s and later starred in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on CBS from 1986 to 1991. If Reubens had been tragically run over by a bus, we would have idolized his memory as a man who could entertain children and adults in equally satisfying ways. But no bus ever ran Reubens over, and in 1991 he was arrested for masturbating in public in an adult movie theater. The incident nearly destroyed his career, and Reubens has had to slowly rebuild his image as a trustworthy entertainer.
13. Charlie Sheen
Winning! If Charlie had managed to get himself killed before the whole tiger blood fiasco, then ‘winning’ is exactly how we would’ve described Charlie and his career. The son of actor Martin Sheen, Charlie was destined for Hollywood greatness. And he had it. Starring in films like Platoon, Wall Street, and a hit TV show in Two And A Half Men, Charlie was huge. So huge, in fact, that his ego couldn’t be contained. Sheen’s meltdown was one for the ages. Consistently drunk and on drugs, America watched as Charlie claimed he had tiger blood and that his life was so awesome he was “winning!” He was anything but, though. He was in serious legal trouble for assault, clearly in the depths of an uncontrollable drug addiction, and in 2015 it was discovered that he was HIV positive. Such a shame.
12. Jerry Falwell
Jerry Falwell was one of America’s most well known religious leaders. An Evangelical Southern Baptist pastor, Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church right after he graduated college, along with the Old Time Gospel Hour, which became a nationally syndicated radio and television ministry. He later founded The Moral Majority, a Christian lobbying group that helped Ronald Reagan win the White House in 1980. Too bad for Falwell that God didn’t strike him dead. As Falwell grew older, his outspoken stances got the best of his holy reputation. He seriously questioned the sexuality of one of the Teletubbies and urged parents not to let their kids watch it. He said that gays and feminists were partly to blame for 9/11. And he pissed off 1.6 billion Muslims when he called the prophet Mohammed a terrorist. Why are God’s staunchest representatives always the worst people?
11. Mel Gibson
Martin Riggs. William Wallace. Mad Max Rockatansky. Mel Gibson has made a career out of playing some of Hollywood’s most iconic roles. He not only starred in the 1995 Best Picture Winning film Braveheart, he directed it and won the Oscar for Best Director as well. Mel Gibson is one of those Hollywood actors with actual talent, not some overpaid tool who gets paid millions to spit out lines. If Mel had been tragically killed on the set of one of those movies, that’s exactly what we’d remember him as, one of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Mel, however, never died on the set of any of his movies, and is known just as well for his drunken behavior and anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic statements as he is for his awesome movie roles.
10. Donald Sterling
It is true that Donald Sterling had dealt with some serious lawsuits (for racist practices and sexual harassment) before his infamous recorded phone call, but if Donald had been murdered by an angry employee sometime before his 80th birthday, we would perhaps look back on his life and consider it as one well-lived. Unfortunately for Donald, nobody killed him. His girlfriend had been recording their telephone conversations and when she released one to the public in which Donald implored her not to take any more Instagram photos with black people, his racism was thrust into the national spotlight. Donald became forever known as that bigoted LA clippers owner. The NBA immediately fined him $2.5 million and banned him from the league, while we witnessed a man screw himself over with old-age idiocy.
9. David Petraeus
David Petraeus‘ record in the United States Military is about as impressive as it gets. A West Point graduate, Petraeus served 37 years in the military and as a four-star General commanded all U.S. troops in Iraq before commanding all U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In 2011, Petraeus was voted in as the Director of the CIA. If Petraeus had stepped on an IED and died in Iraq, this legacy of his would go down as one of the best in modern American history. But Petraeus kept himself safe and being such an important and interesting figure, he was having a biography written about him. It was later revealed that Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, were having an affair. Not only that, but Petraeus had to step down as CIA director and enter into a plea deal with the justice department after confirming he had shared classified information with Broadwell. What a dunce.
8. Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr was a U.S. Senator before becoming the third Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson. Having served as a Continental Army Officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr was a respected member of the newly built American Political arena. At the end of his Vice Presidency, Burr did what he is infamously known for: he challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel— and killed him. But that isn’t the worst of it. If Burr had been killed by Hamilton instead, then Burr would never have been charged for treason, which is what happened in 1807. Burr had led a military charge against Spanish territory and was suspected of trying to separate territories from the U.S.. Burr was acquitted, but his reputation thereafter was finished.
7. James Watson
James Watson, along with his partner Francis Crick, discovered the double-helix structure in DNA, earning them The Nobel Prize and putting them in contention for the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century. Without Watson, the science revolving around DNA (genetics, biology, etc) wouldn’t be as advanced as it is today. If Watson had somehow managed to blow himself to smithereens while experimenting in a lab, then he would be indisputably considered one of the greatest scientists— and men— of the past century. Unfortunately, Watson never blew himself up. As Watson grew older, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Watson exposed himself to be a racist, a hater of fat people and stupid people, and in favor of genetic testing to weed out the stupid and ugly among us. In 2007, when funds were becoming tight for Watson, he auctioned off his Nobel Prize, the only living recipient of the prize to do so.
6. John Edwards
A U.S. Senator in North Carolina from 1999 to 2005, John Edwards was best known as the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, or at least that’s what we would remember him for if Edwards had been assassinated during that time. In the 2008 race, Edwards ran his own campaign for president. After reports of an extramarital affair began popping up, Edwards admitted to what he had done. His wife, Elizabeth, was battling breast cancer, and she bravely stood by his side despite Edwards’ admission. However in 2010, Edwards went the extra mile and confessed to fathering his mistress’ child. Elizabeth, whose cancer was in stage IV, legally separated from him (she passed away in December 2010). Edwards is now known as the politician who fathered a child with a former campaign worker while his wife was battling breast cancer. Ouch.
5. Benedict Arnold
Here is a name forever associated with betrayal. “What a Benedict Arnold,” is frequently heard when someone complains about another person being a traitor. If only Benny had managed to take a bayonet to the chest when fighting the British, then this wouldn’t be the case. Born in Connecticut in 1741, Arnold was a legitimate and respected member of the American Revolution. A member of the Sons of Liberty, he became a General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. But then Arnold orchestrated the surrender of West Point in order to help and switch sides to the British. The plot was discovered and Arnold escaped to England, but his reputation as America’s biggest traitor was already cemented.
4. Michael Jackson
Few would argue with labeling M.J. as the greatest pop star this planet has ever seen. Storming onto the music scene with The Jackson 5, a band consisting of Michael and his family, Michael would move on to one of the most accomplished solo music careers in history. After The Beatles andElvis, Michael has sold more music than any other musician or band in history. If a crazy fan had somehow managed to get to Michael and gun him down in cold blood, then Michael’s legacy would be universally adored. However, nobody ever shot Michael. Highly erratic behavior and mounting allegations of child molestation haunted Michael in his final years, before he passed away at 50 years old in 2009.
3. Richard Nixon
Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, was elected in 1968, a tumultuous time in the country’s history. The very unpopular Vietnam War and the fight for civil rights were causing protests and riots everywhere you looked. For his part, Nixon was able to end the U.S.’ involvement in the war, bringing troops home in 1973. Unfortunately for Dick, not a single protestor was able to kill him during that contentious early period in his presidency. If they had, Richard wouldn’t now be known as the only American president who was forced to resign. Investigated by the now infamous Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, it was found out that members of Nixon’s white house had broken into the Democratic National Election Headquarters in an attempt to sabotage his political rivals. Nixon denied any involvement, but after incriminating transcripts were released, it was clear that Dick Nixon really was a crook.
2. Bernie Madoff
Bernard L. Madoff Investments, LLC was a wildly successful investment firm on Wall Street. It was known for its consistent annual returns of ten percent or more, plus its celebrity client list including Steven Spielberg andKevin Bacon. By the end of the 1980s, the firm was handling more than five percent of the trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange. The founder and head of the firm, Bernie Madoff, would eventually serve as the NASDAQ chairman for three one-year terms. If Bernie had only managed to swallow some rat poison by mistake, then they might not have investigated his firm. But he didn’t swallow rat poison and they did investigate him and found out that it was all a Ponzi scheme. Bernie’s entire firm was one big fat lie and he was sentenced to 150 years in prison while the rest of us got to witness one of Wall Street’s biggest scammers getting the justice he deserves.
1. Phil Spector
Phil Spector is a legend in the recording industry. He recorded his first hit song while still in High School with a group called The Teddy Bears, and went on to produce dozens of hit songs. Spector came in and worked with The Beatles towards the end of their run, producing the album Let It Be, and working on the solo albums of John Lennon and George Harrison. If Mark David Chapman had been wise enough to gun down Spector instead of Lennon, the world would be a much better place, especially for actress Lana Clarkson— and Spector wouldn’t be spending the rest of his life rotting in jail. In 2003, Clarkson had been discovered shot to death in Spector’s mansion, and Spector was convicted of her murder. This, along with his increasingly bizarre behavior, proved that while the first half of his life should be celebrated, the second half proved ruinous for everyone involved.