The Ottumwa Courier

February 19, 2013

Tattered images fall from grace

A fall from grace Part III: The final Chapter

Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — The spectacular streak of light from a meteoroid, heated as it enters the planet’s atmosphere is called a meteor or “falling star.” The falling star that exploded over Russia’s Urals region last week was almost as blinding as Lance Armstrong’s fall.

Lately, we seem to have been having a meteor or “falling star” shower, with its dramatic display equaled by its sadness. If a meteoroid reaches the ground and survives impact ... or an Oprah interview ... then it is called a meteorite. We’ll see if an Armstrong meteorite survives the fall in public perception.

Oprah’s couch is waiting ...

A month ago I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger  and Mel Gibson on TV at the Golden Globes ceremonies, both trying to resurrect their careers. Their careers will probably never be the same after being two of the most powerful men in Hollywood.

Mel Gibson

Aka Mad Max

Gibson was rated just a few short years ago “the most powerful man in Hollywood.”  

The fall

But, then Mel was pulled over by police one night and went on a crazy anti-Semitic rant about “Jews being responsible for all the wars.” That’s not a real career booster in Hollywood. He’s also had allegations of domestic violence in a scorned relationship with Oksana Grigorieva, where she secretly recorded him during a “Mad Max-like” rant.

Maybe he wasn’t acting as much as we thought he was during his “Mad Max” and over-the-edge “Lethal Weapon” scenes.

His career doesn’t appear to have a chance to come back to any great degree. In a recent movie that flopped, a co-star of his was a puppet beaver.


Rags to riches

Now Schwarzenegger was the top-paid actor and action hero in Hollywood for a time. His rags-to-riches story was unparalleled. Growing up with nothing in Austria, somehow getting to America, speaking broken English, he muscled into California, becoming the most iconic bodybuilder of all time.

Despite all the barriers to Hollywood with an awkward accent, huge body and no acting skills to start out with, Arnold had big visions that could overcome anything. Breaking in with “Conan,” Arnold began pumping out movies like “Terminator,” “Predator,” “True Lies” and “Twins.”

In the end, it wasn’t the striations in his triceps, an undefined cut in the deltoids or imperfection in any other muscle group that brought him down. He had meticulous attention to detail. His infidelity proved to be his Achilles’ heel.

The fall

Then the fall from grace. Arnold’s Hollywood, politician and bodybuilding womanizing ways must have never left his system. It was revealed in 2011 that he had fathered a son with the housekeeper 14 years earlier, and wife Maria Shriver was in the dark until she noticed a boy with a resemblance to Arnold. This wasn’t a fall from grace — this was a Luge ride right to the bottom. Maria deserves better, no question. She comes from a Kennedy family where the men are known for promiscuity that would make Hugh Hefner blush, so perhaps some red flags should have gone up when choosing Arnold. When the Kennedys got in trouble, an extraction team of lawyers and problem-solvers showed up that would rival SEAL Team Six. But, Arnold’s actions were reprehensible. It’s hard to see how he rehabilitates his image to any great degree. His latest movie comeback, “The Last Stand” just bombed on its release.

Tiger was a tiger

Adored, dominating

Tiger Woods is another one to fall from grace. Once clearly on pace to become the greatest golfer of all time, with jaw-dropping dominance over his competition, he appeared to have the perfect marriage, family, life. Adored by fans and the media, feared by his competitors, he was the highest-paid athlete in the world for several years.

Watch out for that fire hydrant and tree!

Then on Nov. 25, 2009, it came out that Woods had an extramarital affair with a New York City nightclub manager. Two days later, Woods had his Cadillac Escalade SUV collide with a fire hydrant and a tree. Following treatment for some facial lacerations and a ticket, he released a statement it was a private matter and credited his wife for helping him escape from the car while smashing out a window — with a golf club no less.

The dreaded pile on

After more than a dozen allegations of indiscretions, Woods held a press conference saying he was sorry and was getting help. His mom was in attendance. Never had Tiger Woods looked so small from the giant he used to be. His endorsements dried up.

Tiger has come back to some degree — TV ratings go up when he’s in contention. But, he’ll never approach the height of his public image before his fall from grace. His game and reputation faces a 100-stroke penalty to return to its previous dominance.

Ray Lewis’ image bounced back

Another case of a rehabilitated image: Ray Lewis, one of the greatest linebackers of all time, played his last game leading the Baltimore Ravens to a victory in this year’s Super Bowl.

His image was quite different a number of years ago. After a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta Jan. 31, 2000, Lewis and his crew got into a fight with another group, ending in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis and companions Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley were questioned and later indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges. Charges were later dropped on Lewis despite a missing white suit he wore that night.

Lewis was shunned by Disney for its post-game commercial: The 2001 Super Bowl MVP wasn’t allowed to say to the camera, “We just won the Super Bowl, now I’m going to Disney World!” Disney doesn’t like double-murder charges. But now, Ray Lewis just signed a huge deal with ESPN, which is owned by Disney.

Ray Lewis rehabilitated himself, while the NFL’s Ryan Leaf and Art Schlichter’s unforgiving addictions keep them in prison. Tony Mandarich, Lawrence Phillips and Brian Bosworth disappeared into obscurity.

Rehabilitations of images rare

For every successful rehabilitation like Kobe Bryant or George Foreman, you’ve got 10 who don’t recover. The sad list goes on from track stars Marion Jones and Ben Johnson getting caught with PEDs; to Suzy Favor Hamilton being discovered as a $600 an hour Vegas call girl; to Michael Vick for dog fighting; to Tanya Harding’s linked attack on Nancy Kerrigan;  to Michael Richards, who played Seinfeld’s lovable Kramer, going off on a racist rant at a comedy show. Fuzzy Zoeller’s off-color remarks about Tiger Woods defined his career’s limits, as did Don Imus’ off-the-cuff remarks about the Rutger’s women’s basketball team. Just recently, the “blade runner,” double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a national hero in South Africa who captured so many hearts at the London Olympics, has been charged with murdering his girlfriend.

Leave Sweetness and Sugar alone

A posthumous, tell-all book about Walter Payton came out, digging up all kind of negatives on the guy known as “Sweetness” — not just for his moves, but because he was such a sweet guy. Heck, we had a dog named Sweetness. Friends and relatives said people close to Payton were never interviewed and blasted the author. Stories have come out about Sugar Ray Leonard and his drug use and problems. There are plenty of fallen stars in boxing to target like Mike Tyson without bringing Sugar Ray down. I was talking to the sports guys at work, and we were just saying, you know, at some point, we just don’t want to know anything else about our heroes. You want to just put your hands over your ears and say, “I don’t want to hear any more!” Let us have some inspiration in our lives without all of the negative follow-ups. Can we leave the theater happy, just once?

Put yourself in their shoes

These celebrities probably have more faults than normal folks because once they’ve reached the top, they’re not grounded by the simple realities of life — putting food on the table, savoring family and friends, just surviving. These celebrities have so much power, money, temptation of attractive people throwing themselves at them and live in a bubble where their adoring fans and everyone surrounding them are telling them how wonderful they are.

How would we handle it?

It’s hard to imagine how the rest of us would handle that fame. Hopefully with the grace of Iowa natives Kurt Warner and Zack Johnson. Those two are empowering examples of faith and higher purpose. Don’t lose faith in our stars — there’s plenty to look up to: Hank Aaron, Dan Gable, Roger Staubach, Arnold Palmer and Stan “The Man” Musial in sports, just to name a few. Devoted to family, out of a fabric of a higher purpose, they’re people to stabilize what we look up to as examples. My column isn’t to depress, but to review.

In the meantime, Oprah’s got a new career in rehabilitation.

To co-worker Tracy Goldizen who helped me brainstorm: no Tracy, I couldn’t include Twilight’s Kristen  Stewart, I just couldn’t.