This time last year, Jonathan Majors was a star on the rise.

A graduate of Yale’s drama school, Majors had a handful of major credits to his name, including HBO’s Lovecraft Country, the blockbuster Rocky spinoff Creed III, and the critically acclaimed indie film The Last Black Man In San Francisco.

It was an impressive resume for a star in his early thirties — and the best was yet to come (at least from a monetary standpoint).

Majors made headlines when signed on to play Kang the Conqueror in a slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe projects.

It was a deal that had the potential to take him from “well off” to “private island wealthy.”

But in March of 2023, Majors’ life was instantly turned upside down.

Fans were horrified by the downfall of an artist whom many regarded as one of the great actors of our generation.

But many others believed they were witnessing the deserved comeuppance of a man who had behaved reprehensibly and would now serve as living proof that even the rich and famous are not above the law.

Society might never come to a consensus on the topic of Jonathan Majors, but there’s no denying that his story highlights some fascinating aspects of our collective fascination with wealthy and successful people who have fallen on hard times.

F. Scott Fitzgerald explored this topic in numerous novels and short stories, but we’re gonna try to cover just as much ground in a fraction of the time by looking at a handful of recent cases, beginning with …

Jonathan Majors

On March 25, 2023, Majors was arrested for allegedly assaulting girlfriend Grace Jabbari.

He insisted that not only was he innocent, he was actually the victim of a drunken assault by Jabbari.

The case resulted in a trial that quickly divided the public and sparked a debate that touched on topics relating to wealth, fame, race, and gender issues.

Majors was eventually convicted on charges of harassment and reckless assault in the 3rd degree.

He won’t be sentenced until April, but it seems unlikely that he’ll do prison time.

However, the conviction — and the fact that two more accusers have since come forward — should be enough to put the brakes on Majors’ acting career.

The irony is that between the trial coverage and his new relationship with actress Meagan Good, Majors is more famous than ever.

There are likely millions of people who had never heard Majors’ name before he was arrested but who now have very strong opinions about the actor — all of which have nothing to do with his work.

This situation disproves the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Just ask…

Johnny Depp

Yes, with the possible exception of Charlie Sheen, no top-tier star has had their unconventional lifestyle laid bare as publicly as Johnny Depp.

We won’t rehash his legal battles with ex-wife Amber Heard, as we’re sure you got your fill of the exes’ antics during the trial.

As with Majors, Depp made international headlines as a result of his very troubled relationship.

But there are some crucial differences between the two cases:

For one thing, Depp was already an A-lister, and there was a time when he might have been the best-known actor on the planet.

Possibly as a result of that stratospheric fame, Depp received a ton of support during his trial, while Heard, whom he had allegedly treated horrendously during their marriage, was roundly vilified.

Again, we’re not looking to reopen the case, but the images of Depp waving to adoring fans as he left the courthouse each day served as a powerful visual reminder that fame is its own currency, and it can buy things that money cannot.

But like money, fame can be squandered, and Depp might have used up the last of his goodwill points by suing Heard in a trial that put both of their worst impulses on display.

Depp may have won the trial, but in a way, they both lost. In fact, at this point, it seems unlikely that either Depp or Heard will ever star in another mainstream studio film.

Of course, while his days of private island wealth are well behind him, Depp is on much firmer financial footing than Heard, so he might be okay with entering early retirement.

Marilyn Manson

Depp’s situation could certainly be worse.

For example, he could be in the same boat as his buddy Marilyn Manson, who was once wildly famous, but whose downfall came years decades after the peak of his career.

Beginning in 2021, several of Manson’s exes publicly accused him of abuse, including his former fiancee, actress Evan Rachel Wood.

Other alleged victims and witnesses came forward, including Game of Thrones actress Esme Bianco and singer Phoebe Bridgers.

Manson has yet to be brought up on charges, but there’s a very good chance that civil suits will bleed him dry, and the damage to his reputation will prevent him from ever earning another dime from new music.

Once again, we have a case in which wealth and fame are not the same thing, but they are inextricably intertwined.

Manson used the influence that he gained with his fame to get away with all sorts of unspeakable acts, but now he’ll be forced to pay with the wealth he gained as a well-known rockstar.

And the pleas of his accusers might have fallen on deaf ears — as happens all too often — were it not for the fact that they’re also famous.

Manson pretty much unequivocally deserves what’s coming to him, which makes his a more satisfying narrative than the more complex stories of Depp and Majors.

But it didn’t receive as much attention because, frankly, who cares about Marilyn Manson anymore?

Lori Loughlin

And then there are the celebs who become more famous than ever thanks to their brushes with scandal.

For examples, think of the stars who were involved in the college admissions scandals of 2019.

Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin might be well-known among fans of their respective TV shows, but they aren’t exactly household names.

At least they weren’t until they were both sentenced to prison amid allegations that they had used bribery to get their children admitted to the colleges of their choice.

The schadenfreude was strong in this situation, and Americans from all walks of life came together to point and laugh at rich celebs who apparently felt that being born into lives of profound wealth and privilege wasn’t enough of a leg up for their kids.

Most celebrity downfalls involve some sort of violence, addiction, or substance abuse.

But passing out bribes so that your kid can get into USC is a situation that provides all of the comedy with none of the victimhood and darkness.

People particularly seemed to enjoy the downfall of Loughlin.

The When Calls the Heart Star and wife of designer Mossimo Giannulli was regarded as the very face of wealthy white privilege.

Had she received a lengthy prison sentence, perhaps Loughlin might have earned some sympathy, but the two-month slap on the wrist she received all but guarantees that this scandal will follow her like a bad punchline for the rest of her career.

It’s easy for us to say this, as we’ll almost certainly never have to worry about being at the center of a tabloid-friendly scandal, but from a PR standpoint, it’s sometimes better to take one’s lumps, serve one’s sentence, and do a little groveling after paying one’s penance.

Insisting on your innocence, while tempting, only draws things out and keeps the scandalized celeb pilloried in the town square for even longer.

For examples of this phenomenon, look no further than …

Jussie Smollett

There are as many types of celeb scandal as there are types of celeb, and Jussie Smollett deserves credit for inventing a totally new kind of public humiliation.

Again, we’re not here to debate guilt or innocence, but more and more evidence seems to indicate that Smollett lied to police when he claimed that he became the victim of a hate crime in 2019.

In December of 2021, Smollett was convicted on disorderly conduct charges and sentenced to 150 days in jail.

He was paroled after just six days and released pending an appeal, but in December of 2023, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, meaning that Smollett will be required to complete his sentence.

So instead of putting this all behind him and getting to work on his tell-all memoir, Smollett is once again preparing to go to jail.

And because he continues to insist on his innocence, he won’t even receive the benefit of an apology tour.

Unlike the college admissions scandals, this controversy touched at some deep divisions within American society, and we’ll likely never see any sort of consensus with regard to exactly what Smollett did or how we should respond to his alleged crime.

In a way, this is the story that tells us the most about the effects of fame.

Unlike a celebrity who crashes his car while drunk or cheats on his famous wife, Smollett likely would never have considered orchestrating such a hoax were it not for the fact that he’s famous.

And if he were an A-lister, he never would’ve put his career at risk with such a stunt.

But Smollett was a D-lister with household name aspirations, and he assumed — correctly, we might add — that taking advantage of the political climate of the time by claiming to have been assaulted by two Trump supporters would put him at the center of a national conversation.

He was just wrong about the effect that that conversation would have on his career.

Interestingly, the detail that convinced many observers of Smollett’s dishonesty was the claim that the random bigots stalking the streets of Chicago recognized him from his role on Empire.

Smollett overestimated his own fame and it cost him everything.

It’s an American tragedy that could have come straight from the pen of one of our most revered authors — and our endless fascination with this sort of story might tell us more about our national character than we care to admit.

Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.

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