What Happens to Entertainers Who Do What Chris Brown Did?

When successful athletes, musicians, or actors commit acts of abuse, sometimes their careers are derailed—and sometimes they're barely interrupted.

Chris Brown appears in court on November 1, 2012. Brown is still on supervised probation for felony assault for his attack on Rihanna in 2009. (David McNew / AP Images)

The old, ugly Chris Brown question was resurrected this week after a nasty Twitter showdown earlier this week between Brown and comedy writer Jenny Johnson: Is the music-buying, news-consuming public turned off by Brown's history of verbal and physical violence? Johnson, a frequent critic of Brown's behavior, called him a "worthless piece of shit" and Brown retaliated in hateful, distastefully graphic fashion—raising the question anew.

It's impossible to know whether Brown's name will ever fully lose its association with brutality toward women, though his personal brand has clearly recovered enough to earn him two Billboard No. 1 albums and a Grammy in the years since. But with other public personalities like Johnson still very publicly denouncing Brown as an abuser more than three years after the fact, it's clear some consumers and audiences still think of Brown as the angry perpetrator who sent a battered Rihanna to the hospital with bruises, a split lip, and several bite marks.

Is history an indicator of what's to come for Brown? Maybe. Here's a look at a few other famous storylines that resemble Brown's: successful entertainers who put their own popularity in serious jeopardy with high-profile scandals involving violent, physical domestic abuse. Some careers recovered; others never did.

Sadly, this is just a tiny sampling of the many, many widely reported domestic-abuse cases among actors, athletes, and musicians.


In 1996, Charlie Sheen was arrested for alleged battery of his then-girlfriend, Brittany Ashland—whose subsequent lawsuit claimed that Sheen had grabbed her by the hair, slammed her onto the marble floor of his home, knocked her unconscious, then forced her to strip and dispose of her blood-stained clothes. Sheen also allegedly threatened to kill her if she spoke up about the attack. And in 2009, when Sheen was 44, he was arrested again on Christmas on charges of second-degree assault, menacing, and criminal mischief after a dispute with his then-wife, Brooke Mueller.

Sheen, in the years between 2000 and 2011, starred in two hit TV shows, first the final two seasons of Spin City, then eight seasons of Two and a Half Men. In 2010, he was the highest-paid actor on television. It wasn't until a series of bizarre, megalomaniacal interview appearances in 2011 that the actor's stock began to fall: In the coming months, after increasingly erratic behavior and offensive public remarks, he was fired from CBS's Two and a Half Men. In 2012, however, he landed a starring gig on FX's Anger Management, which has been renewed for 90 more episodes.


Singer Bobby Brown was in something of a career slump when he was arrested in 2003 for allegedly slapping his then-wife, singer Whitney Houston, across the face with his right hand, leaving her with a lip laceration and a bruised cheek. His latest album, 1997's Forever, had failed to garner sales anywhere close to those of his late-'80s efforts and his work with New Edition.

After his marriage to Houston ended in divorce in 2007, Brown saw a resurgence in productivity. In 2005, he had lent vocals to a Damian Marley track; by 2010, he was collaborating with Macy Gray. Earlier this year, his fifth album The Masterpiece peaked at No. 41 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart.


In 2000, Tonya Harding was attempting a return to professional figure skating after being banned for life in 1994. But that February, she was arrested on a charge of domestic violence against her live-in boyfriend, Darren Silver. According to police reports, Harding hit Silver with a hubcap and punched him repeatedly.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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