6 Surprising Ways Celebrities Changed The Law
Some celebrities make movies, some make music, and others just make for a very weird Wikipedia page. And then there are the rarest breed: Those who actually changed the world in a meaningful way. No, not because of a particularly influential work or some schmaltzy charity concert. We're talking about celebrities who led lives so extraordinary that entirely new laws had to be created because of them. Such as ...
John Lennon's Desire To Stay In America Revolutionized Immigration Law
In the early '70s, President Nixon had a lot on his plate. So you might be surprised to learn that he spent a decent chunk of his rapidly dwindling time in office trying to get John Lennon deported. The story is that he wasn't too keen on the idea of an English pinko holding such sway over the American people. And much to everyone's surprise, Lennon had a drug charge on his record from a 1968 arrest in England, so it seemed like an easy win.
However, being the most powerful man in the free world -- we're talking about Lennon, not Nixon -- he could afford some really great legal representation. They came up with a host of objections to the deportation. The cannabis resin he'd been charged with possessing had been planted by an officer who had it out for the Beatles (George Harrison testified that the same officer had previously planted drugs on him as well), cannabis resin wasn't even mentioned in the relevant laws, and Lennon was being unfairly targeted, since the government chose not to prosecute around 1,800 similar deportation cases. It was one of the few times being a rich white man was a disadvantage.
Lennon won his case and set a precedent that would be crucial to U.S. immigration law in the coming decades. In fact, it was on the basis of that decision that President Obama later proposed the DREAM Act and eventually implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, paving the way for many immigrants to stay in America ... and for many journalists to make "You may say he's a DREAMer" puns.
Related: 4 Celebrities Who Got Blacklisted For Doing The Right Thing
Oprah Is Part Of The Reason There's A Registry Of Child Abusers
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, Oprah vowed to protect others like her when she came into her thunderous and immutable power. And she followed through. In 1991, she hired lawyers to support a bill that created a national registry of convicted child abusers. Honestly, it's scary that such a law wasn't already in place. In the six states that had already created their own registries, 6,200 convicted abusers were found trying to get jobs in childcare just that year. "Yikes" doesn't cover it.
Still, it was an uphill battle, marred by lurid tabloid stories about Oprah's history of abuse, because some things never change. The bill was finally passed in 1993 after Oprah testified before the Senate. After all, even back then, turning down Oprah was like urinating into a hurricane -- you're not going to hurt the storm, you're only going to end up covered in your own pee. And possibly dead.
Related: 7 Celebrities Who Invented Amazing Things On The Side
Hugh Jackman And Deborra-Lee Furness Changed Adoption Laws In Australia
Adopting orphans from impoverished countries is a hotter celebrity trend than healing crystals, and Hugh Jackman and his actress wife Deborra-Lee Furness wanted in on the action. Unfortunately, they're Australian, and Australia has incredibly strict laws about adopting from overseas. Yes, even if you're a celebrity. In some cases it can take up to ten years. After a lot of frustration, Jackman and Furness just decided to bypass Australia completely and use Furness' U.S. green card to adopt from an unconventional impoverished nation: America.
Still, their experience left them determined to do something about the whole mess. Furness set up an adoption lobby group, fighting to cut through all the red tape, while Jackman spoke to the press about how Australian law was discouraging anyone from adopting. In the end, the dang prime minister got involved, announcing that the law would change to make it easier to adopt from certain countries. Just between us, we suspect he only wanted to be in a picture with Hugh Jackman.
Related: 7 Huge Acts Of Generosity By Celebrities You'd Least Expect
"Peter Falk's Law" Ensures Family Can Visit Their Dying Relatives
Toward the end of his life, Peter Falk was suffering from Alzheimer's, and as his legal guardian, his wife got to choose pretty much everything -- whether to let his children or other members of his family visit, or even if they should be informed when his condition got worse. You probably already know what she chose. She didn't even tell them about his funeral. It must have been a tough guest list.
Falk's daughter, Catherine, only managed to see him right before he passed away by going to probate court. She was understandably irritated about it, so she fought to pass "Peter Falk's Law" to prevent anyone from going on this kind of power trip again. Now, when a judge appoints a guardian for a sick person, they also determine who gets visitation rights and notice of their death. Fairy tale stepmothers across the land shook their poisoned apples in rage.
Related: 5 Heartwarming Stories To Restore Your Faith In Celebrities
Rebecca Shaeffer's Death Made Stalking A Crime
In the 1980s, young sitcom star Rebecca Schaeffer received an uncomfortable volume of letters from a fan named Robert Bardo, who soon escalated to harassing her agent for information and showing up to the set of her show, My Sister Sam. Eventually he found her address, went to her door, and shot her.
Bardo confessed to his sister that he had "an obsession with the unattainable ... I have to eliminate I cannot obtain." Which is really just a creepier way of saying "If I can't have you, no one can." He even carried a copy of The Catcher In The Rye. If he was a fictional character, we'd call that hacky. There were so many obvious signs of what was coming that it seems incredible that no one was like, "Hey, this guy is obviously dangerous, maybe arrest him."
But the thing is, nothing he'd done before the murder was illegal. In fact, the private investigator Bardo hired got Schaeffer's address right from the DMV, for a fee of about $4. California went ahead and addressed that insane practice, then enacted the country's first anti-stalking law the year after Schaeffer's murder. Hey, hindsight is 20/20, you know?
Related: 19 Widely Despised Celebrities That Are Oddly Inspirational
Jayne Mansfield's Death Changed How Trucks Are Built
Jayne Mansfield was an icon of the '50s and '60s, known more for her breasts than her comedic ability. She's often compared to Marilyn Monroe, and sadly, that includes suffering a tragic death. If you're not aware of what happened -- or you are, but mostly from urban legends -- Mansfield's boyfriend was driving her, three of her children, and her lawyer to a hotel when they suffered a fatal collision.
He didn't see a slow-moving tractor-trailer ahead because a cloud of anti-mosquito spray obscured his view. The car slid under the trailer, instantly killing the three front passengers. You can see why the story became conspiracy fodder. How does a car simply go under a tractor-trailer like that? That's a Hollywood-level stunt right there. Something shady must be going on, right? It was Big Mosquito again, wasn't it? The bastards! First they got James Dean, now this!
The reality, as always, is far more boring and sad. Today, trucks are built in such a way to prevent this exact thing from occurring, but back then, nobody had even considered that they might need to be. That changed after people, horrified by Mansfield's death, called for trucks and trailers to have some kind of rear bar to stop cars from going under in the event of a collision. In 1998, rear underside bars -- commonly known as Mansfield bars -- finally became part of federal law. Her death was tragic, but it's also weirdly inspiring. May we all die so spectacularly that whole new safety equipment must be invented in our names.
Sarah is a freelance writer and copywriter. You can find her on Twitter or check out her blog on books.
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