6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

It turns out some of our most beloved actors, singers, and reality TV stars actually started out as hardened criminals.
6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

We generally assume that most celebrities are morally questionable pseudo-people who have gone criminally insane with fame. But while the impression may be that they've been twisted and warped by the impossible hedonism of the limelight, sometimes your most beloved actors, singers, and reality TV stars in fact started out as hardened criminals, and then spun their crimes into stardom.

Mark Wahlberg Committed Several Hate Crimes

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Valerie Macon/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Growing up in a poor area of Boston, Mark Wahlberg was already a coke-addled drug dealer whose favorite pastime was stealing cars by age 13. According to him, he actually stole the same car 10 or 15 times. If that makes him sound like a kind of adorable little scamp, know that he was also really, really racist. And not Paula Deen racist, either. More like American History X racist.

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John Clarke Russ/Daily Mail

The only difference being that Edward Norton didn't take 30 years to say "Sorry."

At 15, he and a group of friends were known for patrolling the streets of their neighborhood and physically attacking black people on sight, including a group of schoolchildren and their teacher. The crime that landed him a felony stint in prison was robbing a Vietnamese man and beating him unconscious. Wahlberg had his Hollywood-style epiphany moment when he was fleeing the police and another Vietnamese man offered him sanctuary. If this were a movie, this would have been the part where he learned that we're all just people, and he would have later helped the man open a Pho shop. This was not a movie, so Wahlberg called him a gook and smashed his face.

Prison scared the shit out of Wahlberg. He was a five-foot-three, 16-year-old kid who weighed about 125 pounds, surrounded by people who could probably fold him in half. It was during this time that he started working out for self protection, beginning to build the body that would make him a famous rapper -- because, c'mon, it's not like he was famous for the music.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Interscope Records

Unless you somehow agree with him that his vibrations are "good like Sunkist."

When he was released 45 days later, his brother Donnie helped him put together Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Their first album went platinum, and he had his first number-one hit with "Good Vibrations." A few years later, he got his acclaimed film role in Boogie Nights, dropped the nickname and the music career, and (as far as we can tell) hasn't committed a hate crime since. Unless you count Entourage.

A hundred minutes of bullshit with a payoff of "Watch my restaurant's reality show, assholes."

Snoop From The Wire Basically Played Herself

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson plays a Baltimore gangster also nicknamed "Snoop" in seasons three through five of The Wire. She was so convincing in her role that Stephen King called her "perhaps the most terrifying female villain ever to appear in a television series." But her authenticity has nothing to do with her acting skills. The creators of The Wire put a real terrifying Baltimore gangster in front of the camera without changing so much as her name.

A mere four years before she started work on the show, Snoop was serving real time in prison on a second-degree murder charge. According to Pearson herself, she started selling drugs at 12, and pistol-whipped people for $100 a pop. Shit, we didn't start pistol-whipping people for money until we were at least 18.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

"You definitely misspelled that word."

The murder rap came after she fatally shot another girl during a brawl. Snoop argued that it was self-defense (the other girl was coming at her with a metal baseball bat), but wound up in prison anyway. Typically, a 14-year-old girl in grown-up prison isn't going to have a good time, but the gangster worthy of Stephen King's nightmares found a way to make it work.


We already know she's good with a nail gun -- it's simply a matter of getting it past the guards.

She was sentenced to serve eight years, but got out within four. Shortly afterward, she was celebrating in a nightclub when she was spotted by Michael Kenneth Williams, who played Omar on the show. Snoop was preparing to kick Williams' ass for staring at her, not giving one single fuck that he's a big guy with a facial scar to rival that of a Bond villain (and no, that's not makeup.) Instead, he wound up convincing her to try out for a role they had open on The Wire. She so closely matched what they were looking for that they gave her the part.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

Reminder: If this guy hadn't come bearing work, his scar might've suddenly extended all the way to his dick.

The experience didn't immediately reform her, though, because that's unfortunately not how things work in real life. In 2011, she pleaded guilty for heroin distribution, though she only received probation. Maybe because the judge believed her plea that she was trying to change, or maybe it was because The Wire is just so good.

"Dog The Bounty Hunter" Was In An Outlaw Biker Gang

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

You'd probably assume that Dog's persona is about as fake as the guys from Duck Dynasty. But as a young man, Dog (real name Duane Chapman) was a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang called the Devils Diciples (the misspellings are intentional). It's believed that Dog committed at least 18 armed robberies during this time.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Devils Diciples

Not to be confused with the Devils Diciples Knitting & Pottery Club UK.

In the '70s, Dog wound up in prison for first-degree murder. Though in his defense, he didn't do the deed himself -- according to his story, anyway. He says he was waiting in his car for a buddy to score some weed, but his friend acted outside of traditional drug deal etiquette and murdered the dealer. Nevertheless, Dog got stitched up for the crime as well.

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Pampa Police Department

He deserved it for inspiring Joe Dirt, anyway.

When he was released from prison (after only serving 18 months of his sentence), Dog ended up in court over thousands of dollars of unpaid child support. The judge, operating on comic book justice theory, offered to take some money off Dog's bill if he was prepared to go out and catch a bail jumper. This turned out to be Dog the Bounty Hunter's first bounty, and also the point at which America's legal system seems to have jumped the shark.

James George / Pacific Business News

Now he lives in a gated community with his face on the gate,
in case you were still wondering whether crime pays or not.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds

Charles S. Dutton Discovered Acting While In Prison For Murder

Mireya Acierto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Charles S. Dutton's most famous role was in Alien 3, in which he played the character Dillon -- the one who gives an inspirational speech that culminates in "I ain't much for begging ... so I say fuck that thing, let's fight it."

Had he repeated that line in Rudy, it'd either be the most violent or the most erotic football film ever made.

Oddly enough, Dutton himself kind of mirrors his Alien 3 character, as a guy who had an epiphany in prison and vowed to change his ways. Before he became an actor, Dutton was serving time in Maryland State Penitentiary after he killed a knife-wielding man in a street fight. He was sentenced to five years for manslaughter -- however, after a series of prison fights and bad behavior, his sentence was upped to over nine years. One day, after attacking a guard, he was hauled off to solitary.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Justin Ennis

See that comfy bed and toilet? His cell didn't even have those.

Knowing the drill, he quickly grabbed a book to occupy his time, but although his personal library was full of revolutionary Marxist material, he wound up accidentally grabbing a book of plays that his girlfriend had sent him. Dutton was forced to spend his time in the hole reading a bunch of fruity Shakespeare shit. But somewhere along the way, he grew to love it, and decided that being an actor might be a more worthwhile career pursuit than "general prison badass."

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Paramount Pictures

Thank god for his thespian expertise. Otherwise, Crocodile Dundee 2 might've turned out totally stupid and pointless.

When he got out of solitary, he begged the warden to let him put on a play, to which he agreed. According to Dutton, the play went great and the audience loved it -- a fellow inmate stabbed him in the neck with an ice pick afterward, but hey, there will always be critics. After he was released, Dutton got into Yale and channeled all that prison rage into becoming the legit actor you kind of recognize from a bunch of movies today.

Blues Musician Leadbelly Literally Sung His Way Out Of Prison (Twice)

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
William Gottlieb

Leadbelly was one of the greatest blues musicians of all time, responsible for probably half the songs on your iPod -- even though you think they were by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nirvana, The Animals, or Ram Jam. In 1915, Leadbelly (real name William Huddie Ledbetter) was arrested for carrying a pistol, and sentenced to serve 30 days on a chain gang. He waited until the guard wasn't looking and simply ran away, dodging bullets and guard dogs. He went to jail again in 1917, this time for killing a family member in a fight over a woman, and was sentenced to seven to 35 years. He didn't try escaping again; at least, not by conventional means. After serving the minimum seven years, he wrote a song for the governor asking if he could be released ...

It was a pretty good song, and apparently prison sentences are much more of a whimsical thing than we ever imagined, because it worked and they released him. Leadbelly wound up back in the slammer five years later, for getting into a knife fight with a group of white dudes. Granted, the white guys started it when they pulled a knife on him, but Leadbelly sure as hell finished it. He got six to 10 years for attempted murder.

NYC Police Department

"Goodnight, Aryan."

Leadbelly figured that if something ain't broke, don't fix it, so he wrote another song asking for release. Unfortunately, the governor he addressed it to was a hardass who had sworn never to pardon a man while he was in charge. He goddamn did, though. That's how good Leadbelly was: His music overrode personal conviction, the legal system, and centuries of hardened racism, all in one twangy hook. The scene was reenacted for a newsreel some years later, with Leadbelly playing himself. We'd like to apologize in advance for the embarrassing old-timey racism:

Which is absolutely more of an apology than any of the white people in this film ever offered.

Don King Ran A Gambling Empire And Got Away With Murder

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Don King is already kind of known as a criminal, what with all the accusations of fight fixing and money laundering. However, before he was a big name in the boxing world, King ran a crime empire that would rival that of a Marvel villain. From an early age, he was able to memorize huge amounts of numerical information, a talent that he used to work as a gambling scammer. Soon, he had illegal gambling dens all over Cleveland, and earned nicknames like "The Numbers Czar" and "Kingpin."

Cleveland Police Department

"Ol' Troll Doll Hair" came later.

In 1954, a man named Hillary Brown supposedly tried to rob one of King's gambling dens. There was a shootout, and King killed the man. He was tried for the crime, but the judge ruled that King had killed in self-defense. However, in 1966, King got into another altercation, this time with a young drug addict named Sam Garrett, over the matter of an unsettled debt, and he beat the man to death.

King was tried again, but he spent a fortune bribing witnesses, and nobody showed up at the trial to testify against him. The jury returned a verdict of second-degree murder, but the judge quickly announced that he was reducing it to manslaughter. He presumably left the courthouse carrying a comically large bag with a dollar sign on it.

6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds
Premier Estate Properties

Poor guy probably had to downsize from three mansions to two to afford all that justice.

According to King, prison provided him with the education he'd missed out on all his life. He said, "I didn't serve time; I made time serve me!" When he got out, King went "straight," which is the most relative way that term has ever been used.

Aaron Short is a freelance writer currently studying at Napier University, which is waaaay better than Edinburgh University. Honest.

Not surprisingly, Hollywood is loaded with plenty of "reformed" criminals. Like Chuck Berry's habit of recording women in the bathroom, which you can read about in 21 Beloved Famous People Everyone Forgets Did Awful Things. Or the time Johnny Cash almost erased an entire species from existence. See what we mean in 7 Beloved Celebrities And The Awful Shit You Forgot They Did.

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