7 Celebrities Who Lost Major Endorsement Deals

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

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


Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Comedy Central

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


Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYCWFF

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


Chris Hyde/Getty Images

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.

How Much Would It Cost to Insure Star Wars’s Millennium Falcon?

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

In the Star Wars movies, we learn that Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon in a card game against Lando Calrissian. That sounds like a good deal—until you consider the cost of insuring one of the fastest starships in the galaxy. Ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20, 2019, InsuretheGap.com has estimated the annual insurance payments for the Millennium Falcon.

To calculate the interstellar vehicle's value, the insurance company considered a number of factors, including size, weight, modifications, and owner details. It concluded that Han would have had to pay $544,339 a year to fly his ship safely across the galaxy.

The occupational hazards that come with his work are the main reasons for the high number. InsuretheGap.com lists Han Solo as a smuggler and a Rebel, which means that he's more likely to use his vehicle to flee Imperial starships than take a leisurely cruise. The question remains whether Han is the type of owner who would worry about insurance in the first place, but if he were a responsible pilot, the fee he charges Luke and Obi-Wan for passage to Alderaan would only cover a fraction of the annual bill. You can check out the full breakdown in the graphic below.

Infographic showing insurance costs of Millennium Falcon.
InsuretheGap.com

The Star Wars universe is filled with spacecraft that would take an impressive amount of credits to maintain. The Death Star may be the most expensive piece of technology in the franchise. In 2016, a math professor at Dartmouth College determined that operating the structure would cost the Empire £6.2 octillion a day.

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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