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June 17, 2005 - AP/Baltimore Sun

Act Two Difficult for some Acquitted Celebs

By Derrik J. Lang

Associated Press Writer


Act 2 can be hard to do, even after an acquittal. Many people believe celebrities get away with heinous crimes thanks to their money and fame. So celebs who hear the words "not guilty" can still fall into a career limbo more difficult to escape than a cluster of paparazzi.

Michael Jackson, acquitted of all charges in his child molestation trial, could learn something from his celebrity brethren's post-trial tribulations -- going all the way back to 1922, when Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was acquitted.

After two hung juries, a third cleared Arbuckle of raping and murdering actress Virginia Rappe. Despite the verdict, he was seen as an archetype of Hollywood immorality and never regained fame.

"There is such a thing as bad publicity," psychologist Joyce Brothers told The Associated Press.

Hollywood playboy Errol Flynn's wild ways caught up to him when two teenagers accused the then 33-year-old actor of statutory rape in 1942. Unlike Arbuckle, Flynn didn't become a scapegoat for Hollywood decadence. The American Boys Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn, which included future conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. among its members, was founded to organize support for the actor.

"As a celebrity, you get a certain number of free passes," said Brothers. "You're actually in a better position if you're a celebrity because people care."

Flynn was cleared -- increasing his lothario reputation rather than killing his career. Although his alcohol abuse and hard partying never wavered, he went on to appear in such films as "William Tell" and "The Sun Also Rises."

His autobiography "My Wicked, Wicked Ways" was published shortly after his death in 1959.

Seven decades after Arbuckle, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in a trial that gripped the nation for most of 1994. He later lost a civil trial and was ordered to pay a $33.5 million settlement.

Before the murders, the former football player graced the C-list, appearing in two "Naked Gun" films and starring in the HBO series "1st & Ten" and the failed NBC pilot "Frogmen." He also was a Hertz pitchman and an NBC sportscaster. Following the Trial of the Century, Simpson has been unable to make another go at sports casting or acting.

Simpson earns $25,000 in monthly pensions from his NFL days, which is exempt from creditors. And Florida law states his $575,000 home in Miami can't be seized to pay off debts like the civil settlement. Last year, Simpson attempted to drum up interest in a "Punk'd" knockoff called "Juiced," but failed.

"As far as anyone can see," said Brothers, "O.J. has spent his life looking for the murderer on golf courses."

After a long legal battle in the '90s, Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus was acquitted of the shooting death of a rival gang member. The case became lyrical fodder on "Murder was the Case" and powered record sales of his debut album, "Doggystyle."

"There's the judicial system and then there's street justice," noted Morris Reid, a branding and political consultant in Washington, D.C.

Snoop once was the face of gangsta rap, but he's since undergone an extreme makeover. In 1997, he toured with the alternative music festival Lollapalooza. In 2002, Snoop abandoned marijuana -- for a little while, anyway -- and his gangsta ways, maintaining street cred while morphing into the friendly rapper-next-door.

Snoop recently appeared with Paris Hilton in a T-Mobile commercial, lent his voice to the kid flick "Racing Stripes" and played the pilot of "Soul Plane." Snoop's "izzle" slang has even integrated itself into the pop culture lexicon.

Much like Snoop, hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs also succeeded in the court of public opinion. In 2001, a jury cleared Combs of firing a weapon during a 1999 dispute at a Times Square nightspot that wounded three bystanders, and of bribing his chauffeur with money and bling to take the rap.

The trial didn't damage Puffy's urban empire -- only his love life at the time. Combs and then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, who was present during the shooting but didn't testify in court, called it quits.

Following the incident, Combs turned his attention to business and politics. He searched for new music acts in the MTV reality series "Making the Band," ran the New York City Marathon for charity, starred in "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway and urged young and minority voters to "Vote or Die!" during the 2004 presidential election.

His success stands in stark contrast to Robert Blake, best known for the 1970s TV series "Baretta." Blake's acquittal in March in the killing of his wife left him saying: "I'm broke. ... I need a job."

He still needs one.

Before the trial, he hadn't been seen since 1997's David Lynch movie "Lost Highway."

Daniel Castro, author of the upcoming book "Critical Choices That Change Lives: How Heroes Turn Tragedy into Triumph," says stars such as Blake and Jackson should devote their lives to humanity. And Marshall L. Hennington, a Beverly Hills-based clinical psychologist and jury consultant, believes that if celebs assemble the perfect team of publicists and advisers to craft a sound return strategy and dedicate their lives to charity, they can rise again.

"The public is a very forgiving public," said Hennington. "We love to have our celebrities go as high as possible and then see them fall. And then we love to build them back up again."

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