Five Amazing Celebrity Performers Whose Art Is So Good That Their Problematic Histories with Women Are Often Overlooked
I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, and if you’re an Atlanta Braves fan, Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox is as revered as Greg Maddux, Dale Murphy, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. I think Cox is one of the greatest (regular season) managers of all time, and yet, I always remember this disturbing incident in the back of my brain in 1995 where his wife called the cops because he punched her and called her a bitch.
That incident made headlines for about 18 hours, and then Bobby Cox said that it’d all been blown out of proportion, his wife dropped the charges, and no one really ever mentioned it again. Why? Because he was an amazing goddamn baseball manager, and we don’t like to think about the things that knock our heroes off their pedestals. We gloss over it, repress it, and we try to hold these men with high regard despite their troubling pasts, even if — as in Cox’s case — it was only an isolated incident (at least that we know of).
Likewise, we love Ben Affleck. He’s a two-time Oscar winner, great director, is a wonderful father, a great husband, he advocates for great causes, and he’s going to be Batman, for God’s sake. But still, whenever I think about Affleck the person, there’s that nagging moment I always remember, even while he’s speaking gracefully about Americna foreign policy on Bill Maher’s show. Granted, Affleck was very drunk in this interview, it came during a period in which he was drinking heavily, and he was younger, less mature, and making bad movies like Jersey Girl. But damn, he really could be kind of a slimy, drunken sleazeball, as this mostly forgotten interview from a decade ago attest.
Again, he was drunk, and even a little bit charming beneath all the sleaziness, but if nearly any other actor had tried to pull this, his PR people would’ve been all over it, he’d have ended up in rehab the next morning, and there would’ve been so many apologies.
David Letterman is my childhood idol. He’s from Indiana. He’s progressive, but he still has some of those Midwestern values. I looked up to no one more than I looked up to Letterman growing up, so it was devastating to find out that he’d been cheating on the mother of his child with multiple women, including two interns, at least, one of which was still a student at NYU.
In most workplaces, that will get you fired, but Worldwide Pants, Letterman’s own production company, did not prohibit sexual relationships between employees, not even subordinates. There was a big stink for a few weeks, we forgave him, and we mostly forgot about it. Letterman, while not the most popular in the ratings, is once again the most revered host in late night. We overlook the artist because of the art.
Ben Folds is one of my all-time favorite musicians, but the man is a hounddog. He’s been married four times (and he’s currently in a relationship with Alicia Witt, who plays Wendy Crowe on Justified). There’s nothing technically wrong with that, of course. Lots of people have a troubling history of marital problems, but the disturbing thing that always stuck with me about Folds is an interview he gave several years where spoke about writing Way to Normal about his divorce (that album, by the way, includes the song, “Bitch Went Nutz”) and the euphoria he felt when his divorce had finally freed him from this woman who gave birth to his two children, who he adores, who he has written songs about. He also said that several songs on his previous album had been inspired by problems with his then wife. Go back and listen to “Landed,” and you’ll understand why it was such a mean thing for him to say. And the thing about Folds is that, he’s such an amazing, talented, thoughtful, and introspective artist, that he often gets a pass for his casual sexism.
And then there’s Bill Murray, the most famous man on the Internet. We talk about how much we love his movies. We talk about his Zen-like philosophy. We talk about how awesome it was that he fired his agent (never mind that she was the one who connected him with Wes Anderson and got him the role in Lost in Translation, and gave him the second career that allowed him to be in a position to fire his agent), and we flip out whenever he randomly shows up at some college kid’s party. What do we not talk about? The reason why he and Harold Ramis had a falling out. The reason why Richard Dreyfuss despises Bill Murray. His reputation for being difficult. Or how horrible he was to Lucy Liu on the set of Charlie’s Angels. And we never talk about his ex-wife’s allegations in their divorce papers of Murray’s “adultery, addiction to marijuana and alcohol, abusive behavior, physical abuse, sexual addictions and frequent abandonment.” Or the fact that he allegedly threatened to kill his wife.
Why? Because he’s Bill f**king Murray, that’s why. He was in Stripes and Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters, so we let it go. We let the art elevate the man, and chalk it all up to the heat of the moment, right?
But here’s the most troubling one for me, if only because my knowledge of it is so recent (yesterday, in fact). I love Louis C.K. He’s the greatest stand-up comedian of our generation. There’s definitely a vocal minority that has issues with him and thinks that some of his stand-up bits are troubling. But I think they’re mostly funny, and wise, and thoughtful, and very frequently, they are astoundingly progressive. He’s got this recent bit that I love about how “there is no greater threat to women than men” that I thought was both insightful and hilarious, although a certain kind of feminist can read into a negative implication that’s not exactly woman-friendly. I’m not that person, but I get it.
But then I stumbled upon this old interview on the Opie and Anthony Show from several years ago, while Louis was still married. My guess is that his divorce came soon after this interview, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it played a role in it.
This is not a bit. This is not a “Oh, women are so crazy!” joke This is personal. And it is fucking cruel, and harsh, and there’s no way to listen to it without thinking that what he’s saying is incredibly shitty, and if you want to know what kind of environment this kind of conversation fosters, read the comments.
If you can’t watch, here’s a taste.
“I came home and I showed [my wife] all these offers, and you guys [Anthony and Opie, who were sponsoring his stand-up tour] are paying really good money, and like it’s, I don’t have a TV job right now, so that’s my income. And I showed it to her and she’s like [sarcastically], “Yeah, great. So, you’re going out of town, leaving me with the kids?” I’m like, fuck you, How much money do you make? Would you rather starve to death and let the kids get skinny, you ungrateful c*nt?” … The point is, is that I enjoy my job. She wishes I was doing a miserable job, and then she’d be proud of me for debasing myself for putting a roof over our head. But because of women’s liberation, because women have careers, we’re not allowed to say we’re ‘providers’ anymore, if you’re a man. But the fact is, my wife lives off my fucking work and doesn’t do shit … the fact is, she just eats food that I buy for her, and I’m not allowed to point that out or I’m a male chauvinist. I’m a pig.”
There’s more to it in the interview, and if you listen to it, it’s impossible to chalk up as a bit. Or a joke. Or in jest. It could’ve been that he was going through marital problems, and he just took out his frustrations on this radio show, but he did it in such a way that, well, it stung. It soured me on Louis C.K. a little.
But nobody remembers that interview. Nobody talks about it, because he wasn’t as famous at the time. It was the past (not that far in the past), so we forgive him. We love Louis C.K. because he has a brilliant sitcom. Because he was good on Saturday Night Live (where he’ll be hosting again this weekend). Or because he’s basically written commandments with which we can all live by. He’s Louis C.K., and the world is gonna give his blatant sexism a free pass.
Hell, I’m personally not going to stop enjoying the comedy of Louis C.K., but I’m sure that that interview, like the Affleck interview, like Murray’s domestic violence charges, and like Ben Folds’ writing cruel songs about his ex-wife, is going to stick with me in the back of my mind and color everything I hear from him from now on.