7 Celebrities Who Lost Major Endorsement Deals
By Joel Stice
One of the most alluring things about being a celebrity has to be the lucrative endorsement deals. Appear in a few TV commercials and print ads, say how “product X” is the only one for you, and collect a fat check at the end of the day. It’s not a bad gig for a celebrity, so long as they don’t screw it up.
Celebrities lose their endorsement deals for all sorts of bad behavior. Sometimes an endorsement deal can go up in smoke simply because a celebrity had a loose tongue. Here’s a rundown of celebrities who took a pay cut after failing to choose their words a little more carefully.
1. SHARON STONE // CHRISTIAN DIOR
If ever there was a case of terrible timing, Sharon Stone found it in 2008. Over 69,000 people lost their lives when a massive earthquake hit southwest China on May 12 of that year. The Basic Instinct actress took the news as an odd opportunity to get political, suggesting that the earthquake was "karma" because of Beijing's treatment of Tibet. Stone later apologized, but it was too late. The backlash against the actress led luxury retailer Christian Dior to cancel Stone’s makeup modeling contract, with a spokesperson saying, “We don’t support any type of commentary that will hurt the feelings of our customers.”
2. GILBERT GOTTFRIED // AFLAC
Something about celebrities and natural disasters seems to be a recipe for public gaffes. For years, comedian Gilbert Gottfried lent his squawky voice to insurance company Aflac as the voice of their duck mascot. Gottfried’s voiceover work with the company came to an end in March of 2011 though, after he made a string of jokes on Twitter referencing a massive tsunami that had hit Japan. The dark humor didn’t sit well with Aflac, which reportedly does 75 percent of its business in Japan, and Gottfried’s contract quickly was put on the chopping block.
A day after he was fired, the comedian did apologize for his jokes, though he later claimed that the insurer profited from the controversy. “They fired me, got loads of free publicity out of it, and then hired a guy to imitate my voice for less money, thus bringing closure to a horrible tragedy,” Gottfried told Bloomberg TV.
3. HANK WILLIAMS JR. // ESPN’S MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
“Are you ready for some football?!!!” is not a phrase Hank Williams Jr. likely ever wants to hear again. The country music singer had sung the intro for Monday Night Football—an adaptation of his song “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”—since 1989, but found himself permanently sidelined in 2011 over remarks he made about President Obama. While appearing on the morning show Fox & Friends, the singer criticized the then-president about a round of golf he played with Speaker of the House John Boehner, saying it would be like “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.”
Comparing Adolf Hitler to anything or anyone is always a bad move and ESPN called a penalty on Williams and dropped the song from its broadcasts of NFL games almost immediately. But it appears that time is able to heal wounds, and bans; in June, it was announced that Williams' tune will be back to serving as Monday Night Football's opening night tune. "I’m feeling at home and it’s a real good thing,” Williams told The Tennessean of its return. “I hope there will be some happy people on Monday night again.”
4. WHOOPI GOLDBERG // SLIMFAST
Celebrities have the right to a political opinion, just like everybody else, but things can get dicey when they’re representing a brand and don’t filter themselves. Comedian Whoopi Goldberg found that out the hard way when she shared her opinion of President George W. Bush in 2004. While speaking at a Democratic fundraiser at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the comic delivered a rather crude sexual zinger at the president. SlimFast, who she was a spokesperson for, expressed that they were "disappointed” with Goldberg’s remarks and deemed them too offensive to continue using her in their advertisements.
The comedian said she understood their decision, telling Bloomberg that, "While I can appreciate what the SlimFast people need to do in order to protect their business, I must also do what I need to do as an artist, as a writer and as an American, not to mention as a comic," adding that, "I've done material on every president in the past 20 years, from Reagan to Carter, from Clinton to Bush. It seems now that people from the other side are using this to further their own agenda."
5. CYBILL SHEPHERD // THE AMERICAN BEEF INDUSTRY
If you’re going to sign a contract agreeing to be a spokesperson for a product, it’s probably not a good idea to confess that you avoid that very product while giving an interview. Actress Cybill Shepherd made that mistake when she agreed to endorse the American Beef Industry in 1987 in a series of radio and TV commercials. All was going well until the actress confessed in a Family Circle magazine interview that part of her beauty regime was not eating red meat. Shepherd was adamant that she had been misquoted in the article and said that quotes given to the magazine by her publicist were to blame. The interview blunder understandably didn’t sit well with the beef industry and they moved away from using the actress in further campaigns.
6. MANNY PACQUIAO // NIKE
Title-winning boxer Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao had enjoyed the perks of a lucrative endorsement deal for nearly eight years before he made homophobic remarks in an interview with a Filipino TV station in 2016. The controversy quickly picked up steam in the sports press and Pacquiao apologized within hours of his interview. "Please forgive me for those I hurt," Pacquiao pleaded on Instagram. Nike made no excuses for Pacquiao’s remarks and issued a statement that noted, "We find Manny Pacquiao's comments abhorrent. Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community. We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao."
This wasn’t the first time the boxer had run into trouble with Nike over his words either. Similar comments landed him in hot water with the company back in 2012, only this time Nike had had enough and his endorsement was KO’d for good.
7. RYAN LOCHTE // MULTIPLE SPONSORS
It really doesn’t matter how good you look in a Speedo or how many gold medals you have around your neck: if you make your entire country look bad at the Olympics, it’s a safe bet that any endorsement deals you have won’t be hanging around for long. Ryan Lochte played a crucial role in the success of the U.S. swim team at the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro, but when he admitted to "exaggerating" a story that he and three of his teammates had been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station, there was little he could do to save face. Ralph Lauren, Speedo, Airweave, and Gentle Hair Removal all made the decision to terminate Lochte’s endorsement deals in the wake of the scandal.
“We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience,” Speedo said in a statement to the press. The company later donated $50,000 of Lochte’s earnings to the Save the Children charity to help underprivileged youths in Brazil.
Oddly enough, the swimmer later picked up a new endorsement deal from a company called Robocopp—a product aimed at helping to prevent crime while traveling.