For the most part, celebrities are unrepentant narcissists who invent likable personas solely to trick us out of our money. You know what? Maybe that's generally true about everybody. But like the rest of humanity, celebrities can also be caring, generous, and genuinely helpful. Especially when the person on the receiving end of their kindness happens to be another celebrity. That leads to some stories that are definitely heartwarming, even if some of the people involved are, uh, complicated.
In 1997, Guillermo del Toro was 33 and still living in his hometown of Guadalajara in Mexico. He had directed one feature film, Chronos, and recently got the greenlight for a bigger-profile Hollywood movie, Mimic. Things were looking up. But as a horror director, he should have known that any period of sustained happiness is nothing but a setup for an out-of-nowhere attack by previously unseen monsters. The family got a call that Guillermo's father, Federico, had been kidnapped.
They had orders not to call the police, and if they disobeyed, Federico would be buried in several separate holes in the desert. Guillermo had no idea what to do. He didn't have any money to deal with the kidnappers. He'd spent it all on movies, supplementing Mimic's budget with his own savings. What he did have, though, was at least one powerful friend: James Cameron, whom he'd met five years earlier at a Fourth of July barbecue.
When del Toro called Cameron up and asked for advice, Cameron went ahead and hired a kidnapping negotiator, which is a very real position in Mexico, where some 99% of kidnappings are never reported and are handled without involving the police. The fee for just the negotiator was $250,000, which Cameron covered. Ultimately a ransom was paid, Federico was returned after 72 days in captivity, and the whole family got the hell out of Mexico, vowing never to move back. Del Toro, of course, went on to become an award-winning director, but things weren't so great for a while, and Hollywood kind of screwed him over during the filming of Mimic. Cameron would later brag about calling Harvey Weinstein out at the 1999 Academy Awards for mistreating del Toro and nearly clobbering the guy with his own newly won statue.
By the early 2000s, Robert Downey Jr. had been arrested many times for drug use. After a period of struggle, he got his chance to return to Hollywood's good graces by way of a big comeback: The Singing Detective. While this particular movie may not have left a lasting mark on pop culture, trade publications really do credit it with starting his career rebound. And yet at first, The Singing Detective refused to hire Downey, because the insurance premium on him was too high.
Downey finally did end up as the lead in this strange musical only because costar Mel Gibson paid for his insurance personally. Gibson had actually tried to bail Downey out a couple other times; this was just the one that stuck. In 2000, he'd tried to stage a production of Hamlet starring a down-on-his-luck Downey, but had to shelve it because Downey was otherwise occupied ... behind bars. And when the two starred together in 1990's Air America, Downey was yet again considered an unstable risk, but Gibson cast him anyway.
So it makes sense then that when Gibson himself became a pariah over, well, everything (racist rants, generally looking like he'd tie a damsel to a railroad track), Downey pushed for Hollywood to forgive him. No one is without sin, Downey argued -- "If you are, you are in the wrong fucking industry!" And everyone laughed and applauded, despite the insanely dark implications of this, because Downey is just that charming.
Eminem famously performed "Stan" with Elton John at the 2001 Grammys, even though Slim Shady was known for being homophobic and Elton John was known for being Elton John. Afterward, the two became real friends. Then Eminem fell into major drug addiction following the death of his best friend, culminating in a near-death experience wherein he was rushed to the hospital after overdosing on methadone. Looking for help getting clean afterward, Eminem needed someone who'd had experience with substance abuse. He actually knew a lot of people like that. Most of them, unfortunately, were at the time still abusing substances on the regular.
Elton John, on the other hand, had a cocaine overdose on his resume, but had been sober for decades. So for a year and a half, Elton served as Eminem's unofficial sponsor. He kept checking in by phone and in person, and Marshal Mathers and Elton John are both sober today. They remain good friends, if this interview exchange is anything to go by:
John: Hi, Marshall.
Eminem: How are you doing, cunt?
John: I'm very well, you old bastard.
Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King had four children: Yolanda, Dexter, Bernice, and Martin III. All of them ended up becoming activists of some kind, but as a kid, Yolanda wanted to be an actress. She went ahead and wrote her first play at age eight, and her parents enrolled her in a children's acting school. It was run by Walter and Betty Roberts, future parents of one Julia Roberts.
When you imagine a children's acting school run by Julia Roberts' parents, you're probably picturing some stupidly elite place full of celebrity and entitlement. But no, their acting workshop was Atlanta's first to be racially integrated, and it was always short on cash. The Robertses put a lot of effort into fundraising (the Kings were donors, as were MLK's parents), but still struggled to afford costumes and rent.
The Roberts also struggled financially in their own lives. They had barely any money to spare, and Betty worked right up to the end of her pregnancy. When she gave birth to Julia in October 1967, they weren't able to pay the hospital bill. Coretta Scott King came in and paid it for them. Which was good, because I can only imagine what hospitals do when you don't pay your bill for giving birth. Surely the child is chained in the basement to turn a wheel like Conan the Barbarian until their 18th birthday.
Sadly, MLK was assassinated only six months after Julia's birth. Yolanda did wind up becoming an actress, amongst other things, and has appeared in films and on TV. Julia Roberts went on to do some movies too. Inexplicably, the two never acted alongside each other, really making you wonder if Hollywood is good for anything.
Back in 1993, Dennis Rodman was in dire need of some inspiration. His team had failed to make the playoffs (after winning the championship just three years earlier), he felt like a professional failure, and was bitter over being separated from his closest teammates and coach Chuck Daly. His personal life was even worse. His marriage had fallen apart and he'd lost custody of his daughter. He kept a gun in his trunk and had decided to kill himself, but he fell asleep before going through with it. A couple cops woke him up and sent him on his way.
Still resolved to go through with it, he stuck the gun in his pocket, though first he decided to hit up The Landing Strip, a Detroit strip club. Might as well, right? You can't take those wadded-up singles with you. There he spied a familiar face: sportscaster Craig Sager. He convinced Rodman that suicide was a stupid idea. Why not just try to make some changes and see if he could kick-start his life anew? Besides, Sager said, if his career was in a rut, he could always just demand to be traded. Rodman ended up doing exactly that and went to the Spurs, and then to the '95-'98 Chicago Bulls, maybe the best team of all time.
When Sager died of cancer in 2016, Rodman thanked him publicly for saving his life. And after his death, it was revealed that Sager had cut his children out of his will on the very day that they'd donated stem cells to keep him alive. This sure made him look like an asshole to a lot of people, but that's the lesson for today: Even an asshole can save a life.
For more, check out 6 Celebrities That Can't Figure Out Basic Human Activities - The Spit Take:
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How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.
Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.