25 Icons Who Sullied Their Careers With Sex Scandals

Tiger Woods wrecked his career with too many hole-in-ones. But he’s hardly the first person to fall from grace that way. Men and women of stature have been soiling their reputations by doing the naughty for time immemorial. Once the indiscretion is done, it’s only a question of when and who will discover it. And how dirty the deed really was.

There’s no limit to how low some respectable folks will go for a little love…

25. Pee-Wee Herman

Photo by Alan Light

Paul Reubens, who played Pee-Wee Herman in the manic 1980s children’s show, revealed himself in a very adult way when caught masturbating at a porn theater in Florida. Common enough, but media suicide if you happen to be a kid’s entertainer. Reubens, who was tired of the Pee-Wee character anyway, didn’t seem to perturbed by the incident. Maybe he had a license to sell hot dogs.

24. Ingrid Bergman


1940s Hollywood starlet Ingrid Bergman became famous for her on-screen portrayals of a good girl. Married to a dentist with one daughter, her personal life also fit a vanilla mold. But then director Roberto Rossellini came into the picture. While making the film Stromboli with him, Bergman fell in love with the Italian Stallion, who also impregnated her. America was scandalized that their Joan of Arc was actually the Whore of Babylon. According to Nerve,

Colorado Senator Edwin C. Johnson took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to denounce Bergman as “a powerful influence for evil.”

Two kids and a couple of decades later, America finally forgave Bergman.

23. David Vitter


Vitter, a Louisiana senator, built a platform on banning same-sex marriage and implementing abstinence education. But this married man never said much about prostitution. With good reason: His phone number was found on a list of clients for a company owned by “D.C. Madame” Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Vitter apologized a day after the media reported his indiscretions. Unlike his predecessor, Bob Livingston, Vitter didn’t resign for being an adulterer.

22. Moshe Katsav


When Katsav was elected Israeli President in 2000, he made history in several ways. He was the first candidate from the Likud party to hold office. He was the first president born in an Islamic country (Iran). And he was the first to be sworn in for a seven-year term.

But just two weeks before his term ended, Katsav resigned. After complaining to the Israeli Attorney General that one of his female employees was blackmailing him, Katsav sealed his own fate. An investigation showed that Katsav had not only raped that first employee, but had sexually harassed 10 others. A plea bargain kept him out of jail.

21. John Profumo


In the early 1960s, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan ruled over one of Britain’s most prosperous eras. However, his reign will always be shadowed by his Secretary of State for War’s showgirl fiasco.

The Secretary in question, John Profumo, had a fling with London showgirl Christine Keeler. Keeler had also slept with a Soviet naval attaché. During the Cold War, this was the rough equivalent of Defense Secretary Robert Gates cavorting with the wife of a Taliban leader. Then Profumo lied about the affair when questioned by the House of Commons. After the lie was revealed, Profumo went on to clean toilets at a London charity.

20. Lord John Browne

Image: Gabinete

BP CEO Lord John Browne was the poster child for corporate success. He’d joined BP in 1966 and worked his way to the top. Along the way, he was knighted, given 17 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, and become a director at Goldman Sachs.

Then allegations that he used company assets to support his Canadian boyfriend landed Browne in court. Browne said under oath that he’d met his boyfriend while jogging. In truth he’d met the man through a gay escort website. Once the lies were revealed, Browne stepped down from BP and Goldman.

19. Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples

Image: Biografie Online

As a prince, you can get any babe you want. That wasn’t enough for Vittorio Emanuele, who was involved in a crime ring that recruited prostitutes for a casino in Switzerland. After a week in jail and a few weeks of palace arrest, he was cleared of charges.

This was hardly the first incursion Emanuele had with the law. His Shakespearean history includes an unintentional homicide, punching someone in the face at a wedding, and unilaterally declaring himself the King of Italy.

18. Mark Sanford


Image: South Carolina Governor’s Office

South Carolina governor Mark Sanford once said that “it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives his life.” Sanford must have had a lot of faith in his ability to lie. In June 2009, Sanford disappeared for six days, leaving staff with the notion that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. On day six, a reporter caught Sanford at the airport, forcing him to admit he’d actually flown to Argentina to hang out with his mistress. Sanford lost his wife after the indiscretion, but his job remains intact.

17. Dwight Yorke and Mark Bosnich

Image: In the Stands

Dwight “Smiling Assassin” Yorke and rebel Aussie Mark Bosnich both enjoyed successful careers as footballers in England’s Premier League. But that’s not all that gave the former Aston Villa teammates pleasure. In 1998, the two recorded an orgy with four women on hidden cameras, including footage of Bosnich being whipped while wearing a skirt. Brilliantly, they threw the video into the trash outside of Yorke’s home, where someone snagged it. Their exploits ended up on the cover of a national newspaper.

16. John Edwards


Clean-cut, friendly North Carolina Senator John Edwards thrived off his untarnished image. In 2006, when he hired filmmaker Rielle Hunter to create some behind-the-scenes campaign footage, an affair took root. Rumors of the affair and a love child circulated for two years before the mainstream media covered it. When the public finally became aware of the scandal, Edwards admitted to it and apologized, though he denied paternity of the child. Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, continues to stand by his side.

15. Warren Harding


Warren Harding’s presidency was cut short in 1923 when he died of a mysterious heart attack. His infidelity may be one reason why. Besides being married, Harding enjoyed a 15-year relationship with a friend’s wife, whom the Republican National Committee paid a monthly fee not to talk about Harding’s indiscretions. When Harding was elected president, he also had a fling with a woman 30 years younger, with whom he bore a love child. A couple of years later, he died—poisoned by his wife, perhaps?

14. Strom Thurmond


Known racist and civil rights opponent Strom Thurmond stuck to his segregationist guns until he passed away in 2003. After his death, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a black woman, came out as Thurmond’s secret daughter. The senator had slept with his black maid in the 1920s, resulting in Williams, who he supported financially for many years. The caveat was that Williams had to keep the agreement, and her parentage, a secret. It seems Thurmond was color-blind after all–but only in the bedroom.

13. Jeremy Thorpe


Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe’s mild eccentricities made him popular in 1970s Britain. Though married with a child, Thorpe was rumored to enjoy a homosexual lifestyle on the side.

In 1971, former stable hand and male model named Norman Scott publicly claimed to have had relations with Thorpe in the early 1960s, when homosexuality was illegal in England. Thorpe denied the claims, but Scott was persistent.

In 1975, an armed man killed Scott’s dog and narrowly missed killing him on a walk. Scott and the would-be killer ended up in court, where Scott said Thorpe had threatened to kill him if he talked about the affair. The would-be killer added to the scandal by saying he was hired as a hit man. In 1977, Thorpe lost his parliamentary seat. He was later acquitted of charges, but resigned from public life.

12. James McDermott

Image: Crain’s

The former chairman and CEO of New York investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods found an unusual way to thank his mistress, Canadian adult film star Marylin Star, for her loving. He offered her inside information on six deals, making Star at least $88,000 in profits. You figure out how much that was per hour. Once caught, Star went to jail, and McDermott lost his career.

11. Michael Vick

Image: Dietrich Thrall

Before dogfighting, before drug trafficking in his car, there was herpes. Ron Mexico’s herpes. Ron Mexico, an alias Michael Vick was using to get his herpes treated at clinics, failed to identify his condition to former girlfriend Sonya Elliott, with whom he had unprotected sex. Elliott sued Vick for knowingly giving her an STD. Vick settled for an undisclosed sum.

Then, as we all know, his troubles really began.

10. Eliot Spitzer


The Sheriff of Wall Street. The first Jewish president, potentially. Client No. 9. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has been called all three, but only Client No. 9 will stick as his eternal legacy. Feds first caught wind of Spitzer’s indiscretions when he transferred money from his bank to a front for the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring. They later revealed the Crusader of the Year had spent more than $80,000 on prostitutes since his Attorney General days. Spitzer resigned in shame in 2008.

9. Marv Albert


Sports announcer Marv Albert hardly looks like a vampire. But in 1997, he proved his proclivity for human flesh by biting a woman 15 times on a Ritz-Carlton bed—before sodomizing her and forcing her to orally pleasure him. NBC temporarily fired Albert after the scandal, but soon got him back behind the desk. Today, he’s back full force, with such familiar phrases as “Oh! A facial!”

8. David Letterman


Image: Richard Lobell/Rubenstein/Flickr

Funnyman David Letterman is known as a bit of a gunslinger. But that image went a step further after a CBS employee threatened to write a book and screenplay about Letterman’s underground sexcapades—unless Letterman paid him $2 million. After the extortion threat, the 62-year-old Letterman admitted that he had “sex with women who work with me on this show.” Apparently, it was part of the Letterman culture that if you worked for him, you might do stupid sex tricks with him, too.

7. ND Tiwari


Not every 86-year-old can attest to being caught in bed with three women. But that’s exactly what happened to Andhra Pradesh governor ND Tiwari. He was caught cavorting with the three lasses after a disgruntled woman set him up (she’d been promised, but never received, a mining lease). After footage of his orgiastic adventure aired, he resigned on “health grounds.”

6. Roman Polanski

Image: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

He may have directed Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist, but for all his critical acclaim, Roman Polanski has still done some very dirty things. Like sedating and sodomizing a thirteen-year-old, then fleeing the country before his sentencing. Although this happened in the 1978, Polanski will always remain a film protege–and a guy who rapes little girls.

5. Larry Craig

larry craig

28 years in Congress and induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame made Idaho senator Larry Craig a respected man. Heck, he even successfully hid years of gay trysts. One fateful day, that was all undone. Craig entered a stall in the St. Paul-Minneapolis airport and tapped his foot in a special code that told his neighbor he wanted some love. Unfortunately, that bathroom neighbor happened to be an undercover agent. Craig was caught red-footed and redfaced.

4. Mark Foley


Congressional pages have always tempted American politicians. In Mark Foley’s case, the jailbait was a 16-year-old boy, perfect for the old guy who chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. Foley had a decade-long history of sexual misconduct, some of it hushed by his partymates, under his belt. But when someone uncovered his dirty instant messages to the page, it was all over:

how my favorite young stud doing
good so your getting horny
did you spank it this weekend yourself
well I have a totally stiff wood now
we may need to drink at my house so we dont get busted


3. Tiger Woods

Image: Keith Allison/Wikimedia

Mr. Integrity was swinging more than a golf club during his time in the spotlight. Tiger issued a PR-appropriate denial after National Enquirer claimed he had an affair with a nightclub manager. But then he went and crashed his car into a tree. The next morning, his mother-in-law was rushed to the hospital. Then, one by one, fourteen lucky ladies came forward to catch Tiger by the tail. He apologized and took a hiatus from golf. The rest is history in the making.

2. Ted Haggard


National Association of Evangelicals president and megachurch founder Ted Haggard preached against sins like gay marriage. But receiving massages, meth and back-door services from a gay prostitute? That’s something he never specifically addressed in public, until he was ratted out by his lover. Later, it also came out that Haggard, who had a close relationship with GW Bush, had masturbated in front of a juvenile boy. Haggard retreated to Phoenix, where religious counselors converted him back into a heterosexual man “with issues.” He’s back in the pulpit now, claiming to be reformed.

1. Bill Clinton


He helped build a federal surplus and a balanced budget. His reign was one of economic prosperity. But he really stands out for one reason: The stains on a blue dress. We all know what happened after Billy Boy claimed that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The mess that ensued made him go down in history as the president who scored most in office.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.