So let's say it's 1990 and you're a white Vietnam War veteran with several communications degrees and some seriously aggressive social skills. You also, somehow, need to land a job.
Instead of buying a fake wheelchair, tucking his arms into his coat, and begging for money on the street, Ward Churchill did the only-slightly-less-questionable move of pretending he was American Indian to get a job as a professor.
In terms of flipping race for profit, every single celebrity we've listed makes Ward Churchill look lazy. Churchill's solution to changing his honky heritage was to put on a pair of sunglasses.
Native American. The glasses add persecution.
When questioned about his heritage, Churchill mentions he was a member of a tribe called the United Keetoowah Band. It turns out this a tribe who gives out cards to many non-native celebs, including Bill Clinton.
The University of Colorado, where Churchill taught, found itself in a bind. The hiring of Ward based on Indian heritage was hush-hush, so firing him for not being American Indian posed many problems. In fact, they bypassed the usual six-year probationary period and Ph.D. requirement in order to "snap up" Churchill, making them look like fast-acting idiots.
Then, things began looking extra grim for the university when Churchill published a paper comparing 2001 WTC employees to the orchestrators of the Holocaust.
Ward Churchill was paid nearly $100,000 every year for 17 years, mostly to spout off aggressive rhetoric about "his" people, the Native Americans.
And even that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if it hadn't come out that most of it wasn't true. By the time anyone figured it out, Ward had published 14 books on the subject.
Notice his glasses are on. He's in full Indian mode.
In the end, Churchill was canned. He sued the school for wrongful termination. The court agreed with Churchill, but also agreed that he was a complete douchesack, awarding him the jerk-anointing sum of $1.
Everyone who grew up in the 80s remembers the series of PSAs starring "Chief" Iron Eyes Cody. Your trashing of the environment brought a sad tear to the old chief's eyes, as you white kids were destroying the very land his noble people had held stewardship over for eons.
Now let's talk about a man by the name of Espera de Corti, the son of Sicilian immigrants. Trying his hand at acting, Corti got a few bit parts, but couldn't break onto the big screen. Showing the blind faith seen in most A-List Hollywood talent, Corty moved to Hollywood anyway.
Eschewing plastic surgery in favor of balls-out bullshitting, Espera changed his name to Tony Cody, and claimed he was an American Indian (or Injun, as they would have said back then). After this began landing him a few paying roles, Tony said "fuck it," changed his name to Iron Eyes Cody, and completely denied his Sicilian heritage.
Iron Eyes married an American Indian woman and adopted two American Indian sons. Cody stuck by his lie, even when a New Orleans newspaper ran a full story exposing his non-native background.
He actually just stole those feathers from a pillow.
Cody played an "Indian" in over 200 films.
But his most notable spot was in the aforementioned "Crying Indian" anti-litter commercials. Nothing says, "Hey, please pick up that Funyuns wrapper" like "Hey, you raped our ancestors."
Cody passed away in 1999, but not before a life-capping performance in Ernest Goes to Camp. His people would be proud.
For more humble celebrity beginnings, check out 6 Inspiring Rags to Riches Stories (That Are Bullshit) and 7 Celebrity Careers That Launched by Accident.
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to see how we used to be a gay porn site (it's how we discovered Swaim and Bucholz).