Domestic Violence Can Hurt Victims' Careers, Too

Hurting a spouse or partner can tarnish an entertainer's public image—and so can being hurt by a spouse or partner.

Denise Richards, former wife of actor Charlie Sheen, leaves the Los Angeles County courthouse in 2008 after a child-custody hearing. (Nick Ut/AP Images)

Last week, I took a look at what happens to the careers of entertainers who do what Chris Brown did—that is, get caught abusing a romantic partner. The surprising—and arguably dismaying—conclusion: a good number of domestic batterers have enjoyed long, rewarding careers in entertainment, their reputations remaining intact. (That principle came to mind all too painfully this week when a New York Times obituary for Jovan Belcher drew criticism for calling the NFL player, who shot the mother of his child and then himself over the weekend, a "family man.")

I realized later that there's an even more upsetting, other side to that phenomenon: Abuse can be pretty bad for the careers of famous victims. Some famous victims have seen their career successes decline afterward—whether as a result of the abuse scandal itself or for murkier, more complicated reasons. Others, by contrast, have seen their careers barely affected.

Below are a just few notable instances of domestic abuse inflicted on high-profile entertainers. Sadly, these make up just a tiny portion of the domestic abuse cases that have occurred among prominent entertainers in the past.


In February of 2009, singer Rihanna checked into the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles after an altercation with her boyfriend, fellow singer Chris Brown. Brown was found guilty of felony assault and sentenced to five years of probation and more than 1,400 hours of community service.

Brown's songs were pulled from some radio stations; his endorsement deals with Wrigley and the Milk Mustache campaign were suspended; and a 2007 episode of Sesame Street featuring Brown was removed from all future syndicated airings. After Brown and Rihanna reconciled in the wake of the arrest, some speculation swirled that Rihanna could lose endorsement deals as questions about her credibility as a role model arose—and that her record sales could also take a hit. But Rihanna lost no endorsement deals, and when she released the "therapeutic" Rated R nine months later, it was hailed as one of the best pop records of the year. Her next four albums all peaked within the top five slots on the Billboard 200, and she's won five Grammys since.

Earlier this year, the news that she and Brown were collaborating—and, as of late, back together—sparked some disapproving media backlash. Record sales, however, have been unaffected: Unapologetic, released last month, currently sits atop the Billboard 200 albums chart.


Actress Denise Richards, a onetime Bond girl who made a name for herself in the late 1990s and early 2000s with films like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Wild Things, divorced actor Charlie Sheen in 2006. Richards had already obtained a restraining order, claiming that Sheen had been abusive during their marriage—such as threatening to harm and even kill her, pushing her, and throwing chairs at her. Sheen called those allegations "a heinous document of fiction" intended to defame him.

Tabloids pounced soon afterward when Richards began dating Richie Sambora, the Bon Jovi drummer and the estranged husband (later ex-husband) of her friend Heather Locklear. Richards aimed to "set the record straight" by starring in a reality show called Denise Richards: It's Complicated, starting in 2008. Critics panned it, and the show was canceled after its second season. She then appeared on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars and appeared on two seasons of Blue Mountain State before it, too, was canceled.


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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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