Reality TV stars who destroyed their careers in a matter of seconds

A celebrity’s reputation is fragile — even more so in recent years because cancel culture puts public figures in a constantly-precarious position. Simply put, one wrong move and you’re persona non grata in a split second. Fans who once cheered start to jeer and any remaining goodwill with the public is further eroded with subsequent untruths, cover-ups, and mistakes. Celebrity scandals have ended scores of careers, but fans of reality stars are especially fickle because what they stan isn’t a star’s talent, but their personality.

Just like everyday people, some stars are self-destructive by nature. They have demons that haunt them and contribute to reckless or dangerous behavior, or they’re simply overconfident in their perceived invincibility. It doesn’t matter if the transgression occurred yesterday or yesteryear — when a celeb’s poor decisions come to light, the mob mentality caused by a simple Twitter trend can easily “cancel” that person’s career. Roseanne Barr, for example, likely never considered she could be fired from her own show, or that the show would be canceled due to a racist tweet. Thanks to countless archives, the internet is forever. With today’s lightning-fast, 24-hour news cycle, a person’s reputation can be ruined between breakfast and lunch –- and you can’t put the cat back in the bag. Here are some reality TV stars who destroyed their careers in a matter of seconds.

This queen lost a big slice of the Drag Race pie

While VH1 audiences relish the lighthearted, campy nature of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 12 was weighed down by a heavy accusation. Joey Guglielmelli, a.k.a. Sherry Pie was disqualified from the show for allegedly catfishing her previous classmates and colleagues. One of her alleged victims, Ben Shimkus, shared his story on Facebook about a week after the season premiered.

A Buzzfeed piece the following day detailed Shimkus’ experience, as well as those of other alleged victims, and they were nearly identical. Guglielmelli had given them contact information for casting agent Allison Mossey, who was purportedly seeking audition tapes of the men in risqué situations — but neither Mossey nor the acting gig existed. Instead, they had unknowingly been communicating with Sherry Pie the whole time. The celeb then took to Facebook to apologize, admitting the behavior and saying she was “horribly embarrassed and disgusted” with herself.

With filming for all episodes but the finale complete, producers found themselves in a pickle, as Sherry Pie had won multiple challenges and could not easily be edited out of the season. VH1 and the RPDR production company World of Wonder released a joint statement announcing Guglielmelli had been disqualified but that the season would air as planned to honor the work of the other queens. Producers have scrubbed most footage of Sherry Pie, giving her minimal screen time.

Lamar Odom couldn't keep up with this family

In 2015, former NBA player Lamar Odom overdosed at a Nevada brothel called the Love Ranch and fell into a coma from which he almost did not awaken. In his memoir, Darkness to Light, Odom described the experience. “There [was] an unholy concoction of cocaine, cognac, and cannabis coursing through my veins.” As he horrifyingly went on, “My heart stopped twice. I had twelve seizures and six strokes. My lungs collapsed and my kidneys ruptured … I was on life support. Everyone I’d ever loved was looking at me through bleary eyes.”

He was surprised to see ex-wife Khloe Kardashian by his side when he awakened. Odom and Kardashian famously wed one month after meeting in 2009, with their relationship chronicled on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Khloe and Lamar. Things got messy when the basketball star admitted to infidelity and drug addiction during their marriage, causing Kardashian to file for divorce in 2013. As Odom told Us Weekly, this was when his drug use went to “another level.”

The two-time NBA champion wrote in The Players’ Tribune about the hold cocaine had on him. “I didn’t think I had a problem. But then I woke up in a bed with tubes coming out of my mouth — and it was real.” Odom bounced from team to team throughout his basketball career, always rebounding after setbacks, but he never signed another NBA deal after the 2015 overdose.

Josh Duggar dug his own grave

The Duggar family made a career out of promoting their brand of heavily-restrictive family values on TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. Part of the Independent Baptist community, this clan prided themselves on being morally upstanding role models for their ultra-conservative religion.

Unfortunately, one of the family’s 19 children, Josh Duggar (now an adult father of six), has irreparably sullied the family name. In 2015, In Touch broke the news that Josh had molested several young girls as a teen — including some of his sisters. According to the police report, Josh, who was 14 at the time in 2002, had reportedly admitted to his father, Jim Bob, that he fondled a female while she was asleep. Similar reports to Jim Bob brought additional abuse to light the following year, with several underage girls alleging Josh had fondled them.

In 2006, the Duggars were set to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, yet never made it to her stage as Josh’s actions were made public when Harpo Studios received an email tip about the abuse allegations. As In Touch reported, “Harpo Studios faxed the letter to the Department of Human Services hotline,” yet no criminal charges were filed because “the [then] three-year statute of limitations had expired.” TLC ultimately canceled the show after the news broke, and the nail in Josh’s coffin came three months later when Gawker unearthed his account on Ashley Madison, and he was forced to admit his infidelity and porn addiction.

Renee Alway blames 'reality TV stigma'

America’s Next Top Model cycle eight third-place contestant Renee Alway went from the runway in 2007 to living like a runaway in 2013. Homeless and drug-addicted, Alway was arrested in June 2013 and pleaded guilty to felony burglary, vehicle theft, firearms charges, and misdemeanor charges from a prior arrest. She received a 12-year prison sentence, of which she served five years.

TMZ first reported the former model’s release from prison in 2018, as well as the arrest in 2019 that put her back behind bars. Alway was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon (not a firearm), two counts of infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, terrorist threats, a prior felony conviction, and a violation of parole.”

Alway spoke with ABC News affiliate KESQ in 2015 — while still in prison — revealing, “I felt like a failure [after ANTM] because I couldn’t get past the reality TV stigma that had been put on me … and then there’s the pressure of the fans. ‘Where are you?’ ‘What happened?’ It’s almost like a setup for failure…There are plenty of girls who were eliminated and they’re doing just fine so, obviously, I made choices that brought me here as well.” To this day, what happened with Alway is still one of the biggest scandals to plague America’s Next Top Model.

Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania destroys you?

In 2015, Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea), saw what was left of his career go down in flames when a racist rant he made on tape became public. In a joint investigation by Radar Online and National Enquirer, sources dished that Hogan’s hateful tirade was over his daughter’s purported relationship with a black man. He’s quoted as saying, “If she was going to f*ck some n*gger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n*gger worth a hundred million dollars!” along with a string of similarly offensive remarks. Naturally, the WWE immediately fired him. However, that was not the only crushing revelation from the tape in question.

The WWE Hall of Famer had already been publicly humiliated by Gawker in 2012, when the publication leaked a since-deleted sex tape showing him getting it on with Heather Cole, the wife of his friend, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem (formerly known as Todd Alan Clem), apparently at Clem’s request. The romp was surreptitiously recorded by Clem’s security camera. Hogan sued Clem and Cole, the man who leaked the tape, and Gawker. His invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker ultimately brought an end to the publication, and the two parties settled for $31 million.

The Hogan Knows Best star has made sparse appearances since the WWE terminated his contract. According to Wrestling Inc, Hogan was rumored to be making a public appearance at the 2020 WrestleMania, but the event was canceled due to COVID-19.

Anna Nicole Smith was once a lovable train-wreck

The final year of Anna Nicole Smith’s life was cloaked in darkness as she mourned the loss of her 20-year-old son, Daniel, to a drug overdose in 2006. Smith, whose birth name was Vickie Lynn Hogan, had substance abuse issues of her own that were apparent on E!’s The Anna Nicole Show, which aired from 2002 to 2004. The show often exhibited the former Playboy model as sluggish and confused.

Three days before Daniel’s death, Smith gave birth to a baby girl, Dannielynn. Not only was she mourning the loss of her son during the child’s first few months of life, but she was also fighting a paternity suit filed by photographer Larry Birkhead, her ex-boyfriend, who wanted paternal rights to the child. As revealed by Daily Mail, Birkhead claimed Dannielynn was his daughter, but Howard K. Stern, Smith’s attorney and frequent companion, claimed he was the child’s father.

Like so many stars before her passing and since, Smith died of an accidental drug overdose in February 2007 – a year after her son. Two months after Smith’s death, a DNA test revealed Birkhead was the girl’s father, and he has been raising Dannielynn as a single dad in Kentucky since Smith’s death in 2007. While an overdose ended her career, her fans remain loyal to the late reality TV starlet — and we’re all rooting for Birkhead and Dannielynn.

Chad Johnson isn't getting a rose anytime soon

While the destinations on The Bachelorette are utterly dreamy, the franchise’s alum, Chad Johnson, found himself in a bleak reality in February of 2020. According to TMZJohnson was arrested on robbery and felony domestic charges against girlfriend Annalise Mishler. The robbery charge reportedly stemmed from his taking Mishler’s cell phone from her when she tried to call for help. Johnson admitted the charges are probably true but said he didn’t remember the evening due to being inebriated. As the reality TV alum told Toofab after the incident, “I’m super sorry to any girl that has seen my girlfriend’s story; to any girl that has watched that and felt that emotion that triggers all these bad emotions to people, of the bad things that they’ve had happen. I am sorry. I never meant to make anybody think all of these things. I’m just sorry for my actions.”

It sounds like Johnson understands the gravity of his actions, and that he only exhibits this behavior when drunk, but getting physical with a partner once, regardless of the circumstances, is one too many times. Everybody loves a comeback, but if you become a public figure by dating on television and you are arrested for domestic violence, you are probably never going to make a comeback on a dating show. It’s safe to say Johnson has been canceled, at least as far as The Bachelor franchise goes.

Kathy Griffin lost everything and then made a comeback

In 2017, comedian Kathy Griffin famously posed for a photo leaked by TMZ and taken by Tyler Shields with what appeared to be the bloody, severed head of Donald Trump. Things got heavy after that, and her career swiftly fell apart. Griffin told fans in a YouTube video following the photo’s release, “I just want you guys to know, when I get home, I do not have one single day of paid work in front of me.” She had messed up, and she knew it, but she felt the punishment did not fit the crime.

Not only did she lose all of her paying gigs in the United States, but she told Daily Beast she was also being investigated for “conspiracy to assassinate the president of the United States.” As she told NPR, “I was detained at every single airport,” adding that she even had her phone and SIM card taken away twice.

While some disgraced public figures never find redemption, others’ mistakes are determined, in hindsight, not to be career-ending. Scrappy and hungry stars often find a way to claw their way back into the hearts and minds of fans. Cancel culture almost got the My Life on the D-List starlet, but it seems she might have a few remaining lives on that list. Griffin has been booking stand-up performances in large venues again, including a Carnegie Hall appearance that sold out in 24 hours.

David and Jason Benham demolished their careers

In 2014, twin brothers David and Jason Benham were all set to star in the new HGTV show, Flip it Forward. According to the program’s press release, the show would follow the twins as they help families purchase fixer-uppers and turn those modest abodes into dream homes. Alas, the show was not meant to be.

Homophobic comments the Benham brothers made were brought to light by Right Wing Watch one month after HGTC had announced Flip it Forward as part of their lineup. It was also revealed the twins had ties to extremist groups. A video emerged of David leading a group of protesters outside an abortion clinic, praising them for their anti-choice determination at “the gates of hell.” The twins’ father, Flip Benham, was the leader of the organization that sent protesters to abortion clinics, Operation Save America. Disturbingly enough, Flip has led similar protests at mosques, where he has been seen yelling at worshippers. 

After public outcry over the twins’ entanglements with extremist views and organizations, HGTV announced via Twitter that they would not move forward with the Benhams’ show, which was in week four of production at the time. The Benhams released a statement (via CNN) that read, in part, “If our faith costs us a television show then so be it.” Yikes. It wasn’t really faith that caused them to be canceled; it was hate.

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