In a gripping new true crime series, Marcia Clark – the lead prosecutor in the OJ Simpson murder trial – is delving into some of the most notorious homicides of modern times. Among them is the case of Robert Blake, a Hollywood star who was tried for the murder of his wife in in 2005. But, other than OJ Simpson and Robert Blake, what other celebrities have found themselves accused of heinous crimes?
One of the most influential music producers of all time, Phil Spector was a prodigy who turned the music studio into an instrument in its own right, and created a rich, complex style known as the “wall of sound”. His trailblazing career saw him work with legends like the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles and the Ramones, and he should now be an esteemed elder statesman in the music industry. Instead, he languishes in a prison cell, serving a decades-long sentence for murder.
His victim was an actress named Lana Clarkson, who in 2003 was found dead in Spector’s palatial home with a gunshot wound to her mouth. Spector claimed it was a suicide, and several years passed before he was brought to trial. After an initial hung jury, Spector was found guilty in a retrial in 2009. The prosecutor described the once-acclaimed maestro as “a very dangerous man” with a history of threatening women with guns.
Despite being a later addition to the Sex Pistols line-up, and barely even featuring on their only studio album, Sid Vicious remains arguably the most iconic figure of the punk era. With his jagged black mane and snarling, cocky-aloof demeanor, he was the living embodiment of the punk attitude and aesthetic – and this was reflected in his turbulent, drug-addled relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
The story of Sid and Nancy has become the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll mythology, though the reality – punctuated with domestic violence – was as ugly as it was glamorous. It all culminated in Nancy’s savage death in New York’s bohemian Hotel Chelsea. Sid Vicious was arrested on suspicion of stabbing her, but would himself die from an overdose while on bail. While some firmly believe he was the culprit, others speculate the real killer was a drug dealer or would-be robber who entered their room while Vicious was out cold from using drugs. The riddle will likely never be solved for sure.
Then, aged just 14, she was convicted of second degree murder. It happened during a confrontation with another teenager, Okia Toomer, during which Pearson fired a fatal shot.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” is how Felicia Pearson later summed up the situation. “Somebody came after me and I shot them in self defense… That was the worst day of my life and I regret it each and every day.” She served several years in prison before her release, and a chance meeting with a cast member of The Wire later led to her turning her life around and becoming an actor.
He was the ultimate feel-good success story in sports: the man who overcame disability to become a renowned, gold medal-garlanded athlete dubbed the “Blade Runner”, and the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics rather than the Paralympics.
Rich, handsome, adored, Pistorius had the world in the palm of his hand – until the night in 2013 when he shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his home.
So began one of the most shocking and confusing murder cases in living memory. Why had the hero athlete committed such an inexplicable act? He claimed he’d mistaken her for an intruder, shooting at her through the closed door of the bathroom. And the judge did indeed accept this version of events, finding him guilty of “culpable homicide” rather than murder. However, this was overturned on appeal, and Pistorius was found guilty of murder after all. He will be in prison until at least 2023.
With his shock of silver-black hair and extravagant personality, Don King has been an iconic figure in boxing for many decades. The promoter helped organize the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974, and has worked with other boxing greats like Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. Yet, controversy has always dogged him, with boxers accusing him of fraud and Tyson himself calling him “slimy”, “repitilian” and a “bad man”.
He has also been implicated in two separate killings. In 1954, he shot a man called Hillary Brown in the back – but this was decided to be a “justifiable homicide” as Brown was robbing one of King’s gambling dens at the time. Then, in 1966, King literally stomped an employee called Sam Garrett to death over a gambling debt. After serving less than four years in prison, he reinvented himself as one of the most successful promoters in sport. As he himself put it in his characteristically ornate verbal style, “My life is a living testimony and is an incongruity and a contradiction to what America has hitherto here asked for success.”