Celebrities are a lot like us. They have secrets, and sometimes they even have aspects of their lives that, for one reason of another, they keep hidden for years. But, in Hollywood, your secrets can only stay hidden for so long.
Joaquin Phoenix gained critical success for his role as rockabilly legend Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line. Phoenix shined as the “Man in Black,” even learning to play the guitar and mimic Cash’s dulcet vocals. In the process, Phoenix gained a reputation for his extreme commitment to character, to the point that his roles often spilled into the actor’s personal life.
In 2012, Phoenix again garnered praise for his role in The Master. In the film, Phoenix portrayed a war veteran lured into a cult by its charismatic leader, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. In preparation for the role, Phoenix drew from experience with a cult that he knew well—the one he lived with for many years.
As a child, Joaquin, along with his brother River, grew up in the controversial religious group called the Children of God. Phoenix’s family joined the group in the early 1970s and, during Joaquin’s formative years, traveled throughout South America with the church.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Phoenix explained his family’s infatuation with the group: “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such.”
Ultimately, the family left the Children of God after becoming disenchanted, and Joaquin has put the whole experience behind him in pursuit of his prolific acting career.
Dolph Lundgren, a Swedish-born male model, made a name for himself, early, as a hypermasculine ’80s action star. With a black belt in karate, Lundgren began his career as a competitive martial artist while moonlighting as a club bouncer. It was at a club that Lundgren met, and began a relationship with, model-actress Grace Jones. His tryst with Jones would lead to a chance encounter with writer-director Sylvester Stallone and to Lundgren’s breakout role as Ivan Drago, the Soviet-bred antagonist of Rocky IV. The rest is Hollywood history, but acting marked a sharp turn away from Lundgren’s first career choice: chemical engineer.
Despite his macho persona onscreen, Lundgren possesses a genius-level intellect, and before he ever stepped foot in the ring with the “Italian Stallion,” Lundgren was a promising and sought-after academic star.
The actor excelled at science from an early age and was even offered a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lundgren describes the day he rode his motorcycle to meet with university staff: “The professors are waiting for the star student from Sweden and then they see me ride past outside all decked out in leather. They probably didn’t know what was going on.” Thankfully, Lundgren abandoned his career in academia, and we can all enjoy his talents in not one, but three installments of The Expendables.
Rock Hudson came to fame in the 1956 classic Giant, starring alongside heavyweights Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Hudson’s looks coupled with his boundless charm made him an instant celebrity.
Actors with Hudson’s talent rarely stay single long, and in 1955, Hudson married actress Phyllis Gates. However, unknown to Gates, the marriage was arranged by her employer and Hudson’s agent Henry Wilson. The coupling was meant to keep up appearances as Hudson, the man coveted by women around the world, was gay.
Predictably, Hudson and Gate’s marriage ended quickly, but due to societal pressure, Hudson would remain in the closet for several more decades. In 1984, Hudson defied years of suppression to publicize his sexuality, becoming one of the first openly gay stars in Hollywood and a model for generations to come.
A year later, Hudson also revealed his diagnosis with AIDS. Hudson used his image and fame to bring public attention to the disease and helped spread awareness of its dangers. Sadly, Hudson died in October 1985. He was 59. As one of the first openly gay men in Hollywood, and an early advocate for AIDS victims, Hudson’s legacy lives on to this day.
Barris came to prominence in the 1960s working as an assistant to Dick Clark. With a loan of $20,000, from his father-in-law, Barris was able to develop his first television show The Dating Game, which became a huge success. Later, Barris created The Gong Show, an instant classic, that showcased contestants performing wacky talents.
For most people, the life of a successful TV producer would be enough, but not for Barris. He liked to keep busy, and while working on various projects, the producer claimed to have been very busy operating covertly as a spy for the United States government.
In his 1984 autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Barris alleges to have been an assassin for the CIA during the ’60s and ’70s. While the claims of the book are dubious, and Barris offers no evidence to back them up, his story was interesting enough for George Clooney to make a movie out of it in 2002. Barris has gone on to write many more books, including Della: a Memoir of My Daughter, in which he recounts the tragic loss of his only daughter to drug abuse.
The CIA officially denies all of Barris’s claims about his time as a spy—but then they would, wouldn’t they?
Bruce Jenner was born in 1949 in Mt. Kisco, New York. In high school, Jenner proved to be a gifted athlete, lettering in football as well as basketball. He once took up water skiing as a hobby and went on to become the East Coast All-Over Champion in 1966, 1969, and 1971.
After high school, Jenner attended Graceland College on a football scholarship, but he was sidelined by a knee injury that left him limited to basketball and track.
In 1971, Jenner participated in his first decathlon, and by 1972, Jenner was competing in the decathlon at the Munich Olympics, where he finished 10th overall in the event. In 1976, Jenner won the gold in the Men’s Decathlon at the Montreal Olympics and was declared, by the media, to be the “world’s greatest athlete.” Jenner accomplished all of this while living with a deep personal secret that wouldn’t emerge for another 40 years.
In 2014, Jenner announced his divorce from his longtime wife, Kris Jenner. A year later Jenner shocked the world when he revealed that he had undergone gender reassignment surgery. At the age of 65, Caitlyn Jenner, introduced herself to the world. In 2015, ESPN awarded Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and to this day, Caitlyn is one of the most prominent public figures to come out as transgender.
Sam Hurd was once a talented college football star at Northern Illinois who was known not only for his skills on the field but also for his friendly personality and devout Christian faith. In 2006, Hurd’s hard work paid off when he signed a contract to play for his favorite childhood team, the Dallas Cowboys. Hurd was handed a chance at NFL fame, but Sam had other ambitions in mind.
It was a mere five years later, in 2011, that Hurd was arrested outside of a Chicago steakhouse. Like so many others in the NFL, this arrest was drug-related, but Hurd wasn’t interested in scoring a few ounces of weed on a Saturday night. No, he was busted while trying to purchase a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover cop.
Hurd, allegedly, told the officer that he wanted to purchase an additional 5–10 kilos of coke a week, as well as 1,000 pounds of marijuana. He planned to distribute the drugs throughout Chicago in an operation that would have given Walter White a run for his money. On top of this, Hurd told the cop he was already selling 4 kilos of coke per week.
As if these confessions weren’t proof enough of Hurd’s poor judgment, consider that, at the time of his arrest, he had just signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears reported to be worth $5 million. Rather than collect his massive paycheck, Hurd found himself in a courtroom in November 2013, where he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on the charge of drug trafficking. Let Hurd’s story be a lesson for all: Sometimes people can really screw up a good thing. Don’t believe it? Just google Aaron Hernandez sometime.
Coco Chanel, a legendary Parisian designer, was born in Saumur, France in 1883. By the age of 27, Chanel owned a successful clothing shop, and within a decade, she had launched her first perfume line and introduced the world to her “little black dress,” revolutionizing the fashion industry.
Unfortunately, by the 1930s, Chanel witnessed her native France invaded by Hitler’s army. Although France was quickly overwhelmed by the scourge of Nazis, many French citizens chose to resist the Germans at every turn. Chanel, however, was less than resistant. During the war, Chanel began dating a Nazi officer named Hans Gunther von Dincklage. This relationship might have been written off as a harmless, if not regretful, tryst, but renowned journalist Hal Vaughan claims otherwise.
In his book Sleeping With The Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, Vaughan asserts that Chanel did not object to the Nazi occupation because she, herself, was an anti-Semite. Vaughan goes even further to claim that Chanel acted as a Nazi Intelligence operative. The journalist pens an intrigue-fueled story in which Chanel is portrayed as jet-setting across Europe, her Nazi boyfriend in tow, and acting as a celebrity ambassador for the Nazi regime.
After the war, Chanel absconded to Switzerland (not a suspicious move at all), but in later years, she was able to reestablish herself in France with the backing of the wealthy Wertheimer family. The Wertheimers still hold majority control the Chanel brand to this day but are reluctant to speak on Chanel’s wartime activities.
Heavy Metal frontman Alice Cooper always had a flair for the dramatic. Performing with his band of the same name, Cooper pioneered the art of Shock Rock, a stage performance that drew its style from the macabre and horror genres. He developed a stage-persona that capitalized on the band’s outlandish music, makeup, and behavior. In one of his more bizarre stunts, Cooper once threw a live chicken off stage, not knowing that the bird couldn’t fly. Cooper watched in horror as a rabid crowd tore the animal apart. With that stunt, Cooper may have cornered the market on shock, but few fans know his most shocking persona—that of a self-described “prodigal son.”
Cooper grew up in a strictly religious house, and both his father and grandfather preached the gospel as Evangelical pastors. After living for decades as a typical hard-drinking rock star, Cooper had a change of heart. The rock star finally saw the light, and for the past several years, he has lived as a devout Born-again Christian. Cooper hasn’t quit rocking, though, and he hasn’t completely abandoned his onstage antics, but now he views himself more as an actor playing a character when onstage. He has, however, removed the live poultry from his act.
Patty Hearst was born lucky. As the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst—think the 19th-century Rupert Murdoch—she was the heir to the fortune her family built through a media empire that thrives to this day. Yet, by the age of 19, it seemed that Hearst’s luck may have finally run out.
The world was shocked when, as a freshman at Berkeley University, Hearst was kidnapped from her dorm room by members of a homegrown terrorist group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. The urban terrorists abducted Hearst with the goal of extorting a ransom from Heart’s wealthy family. The plan may have worked too, but sometimes plans, and allegiances, can change.
Two months into her abduction, Hearst again shocked everyone by announcing her full-fledged allegiance to her captors via released audiotapes. Some believed that Hearst was pressured into supporting the group, but all myths were dispelled when Hearst was caught, on camera, taking part in a bank robbery along with the SLA. Hearst was also culpable in extorting an estimated $2 million from her father, during her abduction.
In 1975 Hearst was arrested by the FBI, convicted of bank robbery, and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Her sentence was subsequently commuted by President Jimmy Carter, and Hearst was released in 1979. Many have questioned Hearst’s actions during her abduction, and some have chalked up her behavior to Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim begins to identify with their captors overtime. Maybe Hearst, scared and young, was desperate to cope with her circumstances in any way possible. We may never know. As for her part, Hearst has remained tight-lipped about her time with the SLA.
Vin Diesel is known as a tough guy, and his roles in movies like The Fast and the Furious, Pitch Black, and xXx have done little to dispel that macho persona. But this tough guy might have the darkest secret of all. A secret so dark, so cloaked in mystery that Diesel has kept it locked away in the dungeon of his past for years. Until, during promotion for his movie The Last Witch Hunter, Diesel was forced to reveal his long-hidden truth.
Vin Diesel is . . . a closet Dungeons and Dragons player.
Actually, maybe not quite closeted. Diesel has given plenty of hints to his love for the role playing game throughout his career. Take, for instance, his role of Xander Cage in xXx. Diesel insisted that the character of Cage have the name “Melkor” tattooed on his chest. Melkor just so happens to be the name of Diesel’s real-life Dungeons and Dragons character.
Another nod to Diesel’s fandom came in 2004 when he wrote the foreword to 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons and Dragons. And then there was the time that Diesel posted a video, on his own YouTube channel, that featured him, and others, playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons that ended with Diesel declaring, “I just played a game of Dungeons and Dragons . . . and I had so much fun!”
Kerr lives in Texas, where he works as a high school English teacher by day and a freelance writer by night. He recently had his short story “Prospectors” published in Helios Quarterly.