From boardrooms to courtrooms, sudden stumbles to drawn downfalls, 2018 saw more than a few high-profile careers completely collapse. Here are, in our judgment, the year’s biggest career crashes of all, arranged in alphabetical order.
Roseanne Barr has never been a stranger to controversy, but until this year, no scandal—neither performing an intentionally crude rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” nor adopting Adolf Hitler’s likeness for a photo shoot—produced enough backlash to put a stop to the actress’ career. In the early hours of May 29, though, just two months after ABC had revived her namesake sitcom, Barr, known for being an outspoken alt-right advocate and conspiracy theorist, went on a wild Twitter tirade. Among her targets were Chelsea Clinton, George Soros and Obama-era White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, about whom she tweeted, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” A few hours later, she apologized, vowing to leave Twitter (a pledge that didn’t even last the day), but the damage was done: ABC had pulled the plug on Roseanne. In October, the network premiered a spin-off with most of the same cast titled The Conners—and killed off Barr’s character, the mordant matriarch, with an opioid overdose before it even began.
It’s been a tumultuous decade for Michael Cohen. After joining the Trump Organization in 2007, the attorney proved himself to be the Donald’s greatest defender. But the “pit bull,” as he was once known, has been deep in the doghouse since January, when the Wall Street Journal reported that ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election he had arranged a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump 10 years prior. Four months later, Cohen became a focus of the Mueller investigation, with FBI agents raiding his office, hotel room and home, seizing millions of documents, including emails, tax records, tapes of conversations with Trump and evidence of the Stormy Daniels hush money. One week later, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that he was under criminal investigation for fraud and violations of campaign finance law. In June the president confirmed that he had severed ties with Cohen, and by August the lawyer had surrendered to the FBI, pleading guilty to eight criminal charges, including tax fraud, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful corporate contributions and excessive campaign contributions. But rock-bottom was still a ways off: On November 29 the disgraced attorney pleaded guilty to lying to Congressabout his involvement with Russians and a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow, which was discussed as recently as the summer of 2016. He was sentenced to three years in prison on December 12.
Roseanne Barr wasn’t the only celebrity whose tweets proved the catalyst for a career crash this year. On May 29, The Ringer published an investigationinto Bryan Colangelo, the former president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, alleging that he had been using five fake Twitter accounts to disparage league players and some of his colleagues, both past and present. One day later, the 76ers organization announced that they had launched an official investigation into the matter, and on June 7, Colangelo, who initially dismissed the claims, resigned. As it turns out, though, his denial wasn’t a complete lie: His wife, Barbara Bottini, admitted to creating and managing the Twitter accounts. Still, Colangelo was her source of information, per the 76ers’ investigation.
After 40 years in the auto industry, culminating at the helm of not one but three major carmakers, Carlos Ghosn’s career came to a screeching halt on November 19, when he was arrested in Tokyo following an internal investigation at Nissan that alleged misconduct including understating his salary to evade taxes and misusing company assets for years. Within the week, he had been ousted from his chairmanship at both Nissan and Mitsubishi. On December 10, Tokyo prosecutors charged Ghosn with underreporting his Nissan compensation by about $5 million over the course of five fiscal years through March 2015 and rearrested him for allegedly misstating his pay for an additional three fiscal years until March 2018. A court date has yet to be determined, but if found guilty, Ghosn—who has maintained his innocence and managed to retain his standing as CEO and chairman of Renault—could face as many as 10 years behind bars.
If you thought that Theranos’ shuttering of its lab and laying off of 43% of its workforce in October 2016 marked the end of Elizabeth Holmes’ fall from entrepreneur superstardom, you weren’t alone—we believed the same exact thing when we included her on our list of career crashes two years ago. But in March 2018, the SEC charged the 34-year-old company founder, as well as Sunny Balwani, then president of Theranos, with defrauding investors, and it became clear that her professional plummet was far from over. Three months later, on June 15, she stepped down as CEO as federal prosecutors charged her and Balwani with alleged wire fraud, claiming “Holmes and Balwani engaged in a multi-million-dollar scheme to defraud investors, and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients.” At her June 16 arraignment, she pleaded “not guilty,” but in September, the once $9 billion company officially closed shop in what would appear to be the final chapter of Holmes’ career. All that’s left is her day in court, in limbo until the prosecution has concluded its investigation.
When Megyn Kelly left Fox News for NBC, in 2017, the former face of the The Kelly File explained the motivation behind her move on The Ellen Show, saying, “I didn’t want to be in the snake pit—I just wanted to cover the news.” Little did she know that only 13 months after the premiere of Megyn Kelly Today, she would be the news. During an October 23 segment on Halloween costumes, she defended blackface, stating, “What is racist? You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay as long as you were dressing up as a character.” The backlash, from NBC viewers and staffers alike, was immediate, and Kelly’s apology, delivered at the top of the next day’s episode, wasn’t enough. By Friday, Megyn Kelly Today had been canceled, leaving its former host and network in negotiations over Kelly’s $69 million contract. NBC is trying not to pay her anything more.
When Paul Manafort joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016, it wasn’t his first time on the trail; he had worked for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush during their own White House races. It will, however, go down in history as his last. Just two months after he succeeded Corey Lewandowski as campaign chairman in June of that year, an August 12 article in The New York Times revealed that he had been paid $12.7 million by the political party of Ukraine’s former, and pro-Russian, president Viktor F. Yanukovych, for whom he had been a senior adviser. Manafort denied having received the alleged payments, but three days later, he was replaced by Steve Bannon and shortly thereafter resigned from the campaign altogether. In June of this year, special counsel Robert Mueller charged him with obstruction of justice and witness tampering, and in August he was found guilty of eight financial crimes. He negotiated a plea bargain with Mueller—cooperation in exchange for a sentence lighter than the maximum 80 years in prison—but that deal fell apart in November in light of allegations that he had repeatedly lied to the prosecutors he had agreed to work with and had his lawyer brief Trump’s lawyer on discussions with investigators. Now, Mueller’s team is reportedly considering bringing additional criminal charges against Manafort—yet another nail in the coffin of his career.
For decades, Les Moonves was one of the most powerful executives in television, having played a key role in the development of hit series such as ER and Friends before moving to CBS where, over the past 13 years, he was credited with revitalizing the once lackluster network. He was also known as a proponent of the #MeToo movement, even helping to form the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace in December 2017. But all that proved to be but a façade when in August of this year The New Yorker published a piece detailing six women’s accounts of alleged sexual harassment and assault by Moonves. He stepped down as CEO and chairman in September, and when more women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, he denied all of the allegations. For a while it looked as though he might manage to make his exit with every cent of his $120 million severance package. Then in early December, a 59-page report by lawyers for the CBS board charged that the media mogul had been obstructing their investigation, destroying evidence and intentionally lying to investigators in an attempt to minimize the misconduct and save his severance. The document also divulged new allegations of nonconsensual, “transactional” sex, all of which he has responded to by permitting a lawyer of his to tell The New York Times that he “denies having any nonconsensual sexual relation.” If the report’s findings are true, they could be grounds for CBS to withhold all of Moonves’ millions.
John Schnatter kicked off 2017 on top of the world: Papa John’s was thriving, propelling his fortune into the billions, and he had become a household name, thanks, in part, to a sponsorship deal with the NFL. But that would all go up in flames by November, when, after months of slowing sales at Papa John’s, he weighed in on the national anthem protests, blaming the league’s tolerance of them for his company’s slipping stock. By the end of last year, Schnatter had stepped down as CEO, though he retained his position as chairman of the company he founded. Then in July 2018, Forbes reported that he had used the N-word during a conference call two months prior. On the call, a discussion of how to prevent further public relations catastrophes, Schnatter complained that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n——-s,” and KFC never faced repercussions. Hours later, he apologized for his language and denounced racism, but it didn’t help—he resigned as chairman that evening. Two weeks later, he filed a lawsuit against Papa John’s, alleging that the board had treated him in a “heavy-handed way,” and walked back his confession, allowing a lawyer of his to say, “John quoted the word and did not use the word.” In October, he took the stand, testifying against the pizza chain he built. The case is still ongoing, but his reputation is in tatters.
Like Les Moonves, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a vocal advocate of the #MeToo movement. He sued Harvey Weinstein and his namesake company to ensure victims received restitution for the sexual harassment and assault they said they had endured. But on May 7, The New Yorker, which had earlier brought the charges against Weinstein to light, revealed claims against Schneiderman, too, recounting allegations of sexual misconduct accusations from four women. Schneiderman, who has denied the allegations, resigned from his position the next day, but he won’t face criminal charges: After a six-month investigation into the allegations against him, it was determined that the statute of limitations for all of them had passed.
After a celebrated career in comedy and two Emmy wins for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman on Transparent, November 2017 saw Jeffrey Tambor come under investigation for sexual harassment. His accusers—Van Barnes, Tambor’s former assistant, and Trace Lysette, who plays Shea on Transparent—are both transgender women. Despite being fired from the hit Amazon Studios show in February 2018, he did reprise his role as George Bluth Sr. on Netflix’s Arrested Development in May. That same month, Jessica Walter, Tambor’s Arrested Development co-star and on-screen wife, told The New York Times that he had verbally abused her on set. Tambor has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct, but he has acknowledged and apologized for his behavior toward Walter. While he doesn’t appear to be working on any film or television projects at this time, he is still slated to appear in Disney’s Magic Camp, to be released in 2019.
After nearly two decades spent building a casino empire, and with it much of the iconic Las Vegas strip, Steve Wynn’s house of cards came tumbling down in January, when The Wall Street Journal published an investigation into numerous allegations against him of sexual misconduct. The billionaire has vehemently denied the accusations, calling them “preposterous” and part of a smear campaign led by Elaine Wynn, his ex-wife and Wynn Resorts cofounder, but he stepped down as CEO and chairman in February, and sold his shares of the company in March. Seven months after cashing out, he filed a lawsuit against his former company and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, alleging that Wynn Resorts had improperly provided investigators with his private communications and attempting to block the release of documents related to the firm’s investigation. A hearing on those documents’ possible release is expected on December 20.
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