With magazines like the National Inquirer sitting on grocery line checkout stands, the celebrity rumor mill has seen more alien abductions, cancer diagnoses, deathbed confessions, and plain horse pucky than any factual event since the creation of Hollywood. Here are some of our favorites, some of which are based on true events and some that are complete fantasy.
1. Monica Lewinsky
At 21, Lewinsky was just a White House Intern for Leon Panetta, President Bill Clinton’s then Chief of Staff. By the end of 1995, she was tabloid fodder of the highest order because of her relationship with the 42nd President of the United States.
One netizen said this about the woman. “Everything ever written or said about Monica Lewinsky. Contrary to public opinion, especially back then, she’s a fantastic person. I mean just a truly stellar individual. She somehow weathered it all and persevered.”
2. Richard Gere
He might be known as one of Hollywood’s most attractive actors, but Richard Gere hasn’t been free from the gossip mill despite his relatively quiet private life. In the early 90s, just after Pretty Woman’s release, an anonymous prankster smeared Gere with an accusation of abusing a gerbil. According to the bizarre rumor, Gere shoved the gerbil where the sun doesn’t shine.
He said this about the infamous story, “I stopped reading the press a long time ago. Lots of crazy things came up about me at first, especially from the tabloids. There is an infamous ‘Gere stuck a hamster up his bum’ urban myth.” For clarity, hamsters and gerbils are rodents, but a gerbil is closer to a mouse than a hamster, not that it matters much to Gere at this point.
3. Paul Reubens
Famous for his original character, Pee-wee Herman, Reubens became synonymous with childhood entertainment in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, Reubens got caught up in a police sting involving an adult theater. Many fans and critics believe the media wrongfully vilified Reubens. CBS and Disney immediately canceled him, while Toys-R-Us pulled every Pee-wee Herman doll off their store shelves. Eventually, he was able to revive his acting career, but never to what it was as Pee-wee Herman.
4. Britney Spears
With the release of her memoir, The Woman in Me (2023), Britney has thrown herself into the spotlight and dragged a few unwilling participants into the light with her. Most notably, Justin Timberlake dated Britney from 1999 to 2002 before ending the relationship in a messy breakup.
It’s no surprise, given the misogynistic attitude that still pervades Hollywood and the music industry, that Timberlake got a nice career boost. At the same time, Britney was the subject of ridicule after their split and for years to come, but now the tables are finally turning. Finally able to tell her story, Spears may find a much larger audience than she did twenty years ago.
5. Mother Teresa
While much of the world views Mother Teresa as a saint, several people with personal experience will tell you she was anything but. Christopher Hudgens, a British journalist, was curious enough about “Saint” Mother Teresa to do a little digging and found that Teresa held some interesting viewpoints on the suffering of poor people. She revealed, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”
Grunge also reports that despite the millions in donations to her Missionaries of Charity fund, Teresa offered “a significant lack of hygiene, … unfit conditions, [and] a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.” Being poor might have been beautiful to this woman, but when she suffered heart trouble, she checked herself into only the best clinics and hospitals for treatment, no matter the cost.
6. Jessica Simpson
Singer, actress, and entrepreneur Jessica Simpson hasn’t always been the recipient of flattering press. Before reality TV was everywhere, Simpson and her then-husband 98 Degrees singer, Nick Lachey, did one of the first, Newlyweds. However, the pair eventually divorced, and Simpson’s personal life exploded in tabloid papers.
One massive rumor was that she cheated on Nick by hooking up with Bam Margera, a former reality TV star, skateboarder, and stuntman. Bam confirmed the rendezvous on an episode with Howard Stern, but there is no report that Simpson admitted to an affair or one-night stand.
7. Katherine Heigl
Heigl was blacklisted from Hollywood after criticizing her 2007 movie, Knocked Up and leaving Grey’s Anatomy abruptly. Labeled “difficult” and “unprofessional,’ Heigl suffered severe damage to her career for a long time by Hollywood standards. Spiraling mentally, Heigl eventually sought therapy for her increasing anxiety over her career situation. “The more I said I was sorry, the more they wanted it. The more terrified and scared I was of doing something wrong, the more I came across like I had really done something horribly wrong.”
8. Jada Pinkett Smith
With Jada Pinkett Smith coming out publicly to reveal that she and her husband, Will Smith, have been separated since 2016, the idea of their loving relationship strikes plenty of people the wrong way. Having been divorced before, Will Smith said, “Divorce can’t be an option. With Jada, I stood up in front of God and said, ‘Til death do us part. So, there are two possible outcomes. One, we are going to be together ’til death, or two, I am dead.” Pinkett-Smith has also said, “I made a promise that there will never be a reason for us to get a divorce. We will work through whatever. And I just haven’t been able to break that promise.”
9. Dax Shepard
Dax Shepard has been open about his issues with addiction and relapse, admitting during an episode of his “Armchair Expert” podcast in 2020 that he was recently sober after a relapse on the opioid painkiller Vicodin after 16 years of sobriety. Fighting a losing battle since around 2012, Shepard realized he had a problem when he lied to his podcast co-host, Monica Padman. He later came clean to her and his wife, actress Kristen Bell.
One truth Shepard wanted to share with anyone struggling is this: “The only thing I would hope people would hear is that, at least in my case, the outcome wasn’t anything like I feared it would be. The secrets are so much more painful than whatever the fallout from owning my secrets was.”
10. Double Standard
You don’t have to look far in the world of superstars to see the double standard that still runs through the thread of Western society when it comes to the personal lives of men and women. No one bats an eye if a man has a slew of girlfriends and talks publicly about them. But if a woman has a slew of boyfriends and speaks publicly about them, people consider her “loose”, to put it mildly.
Take, for instance, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. Styles shot to stardom as part of the boy band One Direction, eventually having a massively successful solo career. Taylor shot onto the music scene in 2006 with the release of “Tim McGraw” and hasn’t slowed down since, becoming the only female singer-songwriter to amass a billion-dollar fortune solely from music. But her dating life is often criticized because her love songs tend to lean toward past boyfriends with wild speculation, an achievement we don’t afford her male counterparts.
Swift had this to say about those songs. “I don’t talk about my personal life in great detail. I write about it in my songs, and I feel like you can share enough about your life in your music to let people know what you’re going through.”
If It Feels Odd
When it comes to celebrities, the rumor mill will work endlessly, churning out entertainment fodder for anyone with five minutes of free time to scroll through an article. But if something feels off or odd about a story, the best way to kill the rumor mill is to do your research and stop spreading the lie. Don’t retweet or otherwise share information on a celebrity that you can’t prove in court, and some of these salacious harbingers will die before they can take off and fly.