Hoorah! It's almost Christmas. It's that time of the year when - no matter where you live - your drab town or village is given a dash of sparkle, a twinkle of light and a big dollop of notoriety, as one special person is chosen (from a list of literally thousands of d-list faces from "off the telly") to switch on the Christmas lights. Most famously, the Oxford Street and Regent Street Christmas - a firm fixture in the London calendar since as far back as 1981 ("oooh", I hear you Americans cry, "that far back") - which have been switched on by such luminaries as Jim Carrey, Robbie Williams, Terry Wogan, The Spice Girls and even Peter Andre. (Gasp).
But sometimes, many years later, a (seemingly innocent, but now wildly inappropriate) "celebrity" booking can come back to haunt each village or town, as a miserable little miser like me, compiles a list of inappropriate celebrities who switched on the Christmas lights. Enjoy!
Sir Jimmy Savile OBE KCSG* - In 2010, Jimmy Savile switched on the Bingley (West Yorkshire) Christmas lIghts. As reported in the local paper, the Telegraph & Argus, "Sir Jimmy Savile was guest of honour in Bingley... he proposed marriage to any of the town’s “marvellous ladies” who would have him... the 84-year-old bachelor had a look around the grotto where Santa handed out more than 400 presents to children".
In 2012, one year after his death, an ITV investigation implicated the TV celebrity (famous for BBC kid's shows Jim'll Fix It and Top of the Pops) in a series of sickening sex scandals involving vulnerable children - many whom were in hospital or care homes - spanning across six decades. Today, Savile is widely regarded as one of the UK's most prolific paedophiles, with 300+ known victims, including 28 children under the age of 10.
* yes, he's still an OBE & KCSG, as well as many other honours and awards, he is yet to be stripped of
Rolf Harris - In 2006, cartoonist Rolf Harris - famed for his popular kid's TV show Rolf's Cartoon Club, songs like "Tie M'Kangeroo Down Sport" as well as painting an official portrait of The Queen - switched on the Christmas Lights in Crawley (Surrey), as well as Regent Street in 1995 and Leeds in 1997. Since 2014, Rolf Harris has been in prison in HMP Stafford serving just five years and nine months for the indecent assault of 12 girls, all aged between 8-19.
* interestingly, (unlike Savile) many of Rolf Harris' honours and awards have been rescinded
Stuart Hall - In 2007, TV presenter Stuart Hall - famous for his infectious laugh during his popular 1980's BBC TV gameshow "It's a Knockout" (basically a kid's sportsday with inflatables) - switched on the Christmas Lights in Southport (Merseyside). In April 2013, Hall pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 13 girls aged between 9 and 17 years old, with an additional two charges added in 2014. He is currently out of prison and on licence having served half of his sentence.
* yet again, unlike Savile, Hall's OBE was stripped in October 2013.
Max Clifford - In 2011, celebrity publicist Max Clifford switched on the Christmas Lights in Weybridge (Surrey). One year later, Clifford was arrested by the Police as part of Operation Yewtree - a criminal investigation into allegations of child-abuse following Jimmy Savile inquiry - and was charged with 8 counts of indecent assault against girls aged between 14 and 19 and sentenced to 8 years in prison at HM Prison Littlehey.
Oddly, there's seems to be an unusual correlation between being a predatory paedofile or sex offender and a desire to switch on the Christmas Lights, as - hard as I've tried - I have struggled to find very few celebrities with dubious histories who have done the "switching on" duties. That said, here's a few others which also were inappropriate.
* this seems to be a curse; one year after all of the above switched on the Christmas Lights, their life turns to shit
If you "enjoyed" this, you may also like my blog - Celebrities Who Have Killed.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
When you hear the name O. J. Simpson, most people tend not to remember him as the running back for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers, where he earned the much coveted title of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player of 1973, or as a much-loved actor in Roots, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun trilogy. No. When you think of O. J. Simpson, you think of murder. He’s the man who (many people believe) was wrongly acquitted of the brutal murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. But it wasn't the brutality of the murder which made the case so infamous, it was that as a sports star and film actor O.J. Simpson had been embraced as hero and welcomed into our lives and - it's because of that - that most people refused to accept his guilt. No-one believed that a "celebrity" could be involved in someone's death. And yet, as high profile as the case was, O. J. Simpson wasn't the first celebrity to be involved in someone's death, and he won't be the last. Here's a handful of "celebities who have killed" which you may or may not remember.
Mathew Broderick. In 1987, Ferris Bueller star Mathew Broderick was holidaying in Enniskillen (Northern Ireland) with his girlfriend and Bueller co-star Jennifer Grey, when he mistakenly drove his rented BMV onto the wrong side of the road, hitting an oncoming Volvo and killing Anna Gallagher (29) and her mother Margaret Doherty (63). Broderick – who suffered multiple fractures, a collapsed lung and concussion – was charged with death by dangerous driving and faced five years in prison, but this charge was later lessened to careless driving and he was fined just £175.
Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. In February 2015, on the Malibu section of the Pacific Coast Highway, Jenner’s SUV was involved a multiple car collision, which killed Kim Howe, an animal rights activist, and injured three others. Although the details of the incident (how it happened, who was injured) have varied, with Jenner claiming he was being chased by the paparazzi– which cannot be verified by the police – all but one of the subsequent lawsuits against Jenner have been financially settled out of court.
Snoop Dogg (born Cordozar Calvin Broadus Junior). On 25th August 1993, Snoop Dogg – who was affiliated, although he claimed never to have joined the infamous Rollin' 20 Crips gang of the Eastside of Long Beach – was riding with his friends McKinley Lee and Sean Abrams, when they got into a petty argument with a rival gang member. Philip Woldemariam (of By Yerself Hustlers crew) was shot and killed. Snoop Dogg was later acquitted of murder after many lengthy court battles. His defence attorney was none other than Johnny Cochran, O. J. Simpson’s lawyer.
Keith Moon (his real name is actually Keith Moon); on 4th January 1970, The Who’s infamous drummer was drinking at The Red Lion pub in Hatfield (Herts) with his friend and bodyguard Neil Boland. Following a fracas, leading to some of the pub’s regular harassing and attacking Moon’s Bentley, he tried to escape, but being heavily intoxicated, Moon accidentally ran over Boland, killing him. Although the death was ruled as an accident, Moon pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, and the death of his friend haunted him with nightmares until he died in 1978.
William S Burroughs, cult author of Naked Lunch, was drinking with friends at the Bounty Bar in Mexico City when he pulled a revolver from his bag and exclaimed to his girlfriend “it’s time for our William Tell act” (Tell famously shot an apple off his son’s head). With William and his girlfriend Joan Vollmer being incapably drunk and suffering from heroine withdrawal, Vollmer placed a nigh-ball glass on her head, Burroughs shot and missed, shooting her in the forehead and killing her instantly. Having bribed Mexican officials, Burroughs “skipped town”, returned to the USA and was convicted in his absence of murder and given a palty two-year suspended sentence.
Sid Vicious (born John Simon Richie), bassist for the Sex Pistols, stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death on the bathroom floor of the Hotel Chelsea (Manhattan, NY) on 12th October 1978, using a “007” flip-knife. She’d suffered a single stab to the abdomen and died of blood loss. Ten days later, Vicious attempted suicide by slitting his wrists with a broken light-bulb, and whilst hospitalised at the infamous Bellevue Hospital, he tried jumping out of a high window, all the while screaming “I want to be with my Nancy”. But it was whilst on bail for Nancy’s murder that Sid Vicious overdosed on heroine on 1st February 1979 and died. It is unclear if this was suicide.
Howard Hughes; the billionaire owner of Transworld Airlines, director of the ludicrously expensive feature film Hell’s Angels and the inventor of the infamous “Spruce Goose” (a plane so big it barely flew) struck and killed a pedestrian – Gabriel Meyer – on 11th July 1936. Hughes, an obsessive compulsive with a long history of pain related issues, had been drinking and driving erratically when he mounted the kerb killing Meyer, but following a lengthy legal dispute, the witness changed their testimony and corroborated with Hughes’ statement that “I was driving slowly and a man stepped out of the darkness in front of me”. Hughes was never charged.
Duane Lee "Dog" Chapman I (of TV series Dog the Bounty Hunter). In 1976, Chapman was sat in a car outside of the home of 69 year old pimp and drug-dealer Jerry Oliver, as his friend bought cannabis. An altercation occurred and Dog’s friend shot and killed Jerry Oliver. Dog was convicted of first degree murder and served 18 months of a five year sentence in Texas State Penitentiary.
Vince Neil (Vincent Neil Wharton), frontman of Motley Crue, after hours of partying with Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley the drummer of Hanoi Rocks, he drove to a liquor store, lost control of the Pantera and hit an oncoming car. Dingley was killed, the occupants of the other car suffered severe brain damage. Neil was found guilty of dangerous driving, was jailed for 30 days, ordered to pay $2.6million in restitution costs to the victims as well as serving 200 hours of community service, but because of his good behaviour, he was out of jail after just 15 days.
Phil Spector (Harvey Phillip Spector). On 3rd February 2003, at his mansion known as “The Pyrenees Castle" in Alhambra, California, legendary record producer and song-writer Phil Spector shot and killed bit-part actress Lana Clarkson in what Spector would call an “accidental suicide” as she “kissed the gun”, even though he was heard exclaiming “I think I killed someone”. She’d been found slumped in an armchair, a single bullet wound to her mouth and her teeth scattered across the carpet. After a successful retrial, Spector was found guilty of second degree murder and illegally discharging a weapon and was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Currently 75 years old, he will be eligible for parole when he’s 88 years old.
US Senator Ted Kennedy, On the 18th July 1969, on Chappaquiddick Island in Martha’s Vineyard (MA), following a party given for the “Boiler Room Girls” – the administrative team who’d worked on his brother Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign – Ted drove 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne home in his 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88, and (it is unsure why) drove off Dike Bridge and into the Poucha Pond inlet. Mary Jo drowned, and although Ted claimed to have tried to save her, he waited 9 hours before alerting the Police. He was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to two month in jail – suspended.
Don King. In 1966, at the Manhattan Tap Room boxing promoter Don King beat to death a former employee – Sam Garrett – by repeatedly stamping on his head, over a debt for $600. He pleaded self-defence and served less than four years in prison. Former World Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson described King as “…a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherf**ker. This is supposed to be my black brother, right? He's just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He's ruthless, he's deplorable, he's greedy and he doesn't know how to love anybody”.
John Landis (director of Blues Brothers, American Werewolf in London). On 23rd July 1982, whilst filming a stunt sequence in Indian Dunes, California for Twilight Zone: The Movie, actor Vic Morrow and two child extras Myca Dinh Le (7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (6) were decapitated by the blades of an out-of-control helicopter, owing to unsafe pyrotechnics, even though Landis had been repeatedly warned about the proximity of the explosions to helicopter rotors. Landis and four other crew were charged with involuntary manslaughter, but Landis was later acquitted of the charge and paid $2million to the families of each of the children who died.
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (silent film star) was charged with the rape and manslaughter of Virginia Rappe, following a private party in Suite 1221 at the St Francis hotel in San Francisco on 5th September 1921. It is claimed that, having consumed high quantities of illegal alcohol, Arbuckle raped the intoxicated starlet and his enormous bulk caused her bladder to rupture. Although many witnesses in the room stated that the attack had not taken place (it was later proved that alcohol had exacerbated her chronic cystitis, owing to an infection following a botched abortion) Arbuckle was tried three times for the rape and murder he didn’t commit. The first two trials were hung juries and the third jury acquitted him after just six minutes of deliberation, five minutes of which they spent writing a formal apology to Rosco Arbuckle for his mistreatment.
Michael Massee (actor). On 31st March 1993, on a soundstage in Wilmington, North Carolina, whilst filming The Crow, Michael Massee accidentally shot actor Brandon Lee. A previous scene has required Massee to fire a .44 Magnum with dummy rounds at Lee, but when a later shot required blank rounds to be used, the props crew were unaware that a dummy round was lodged in the barrel and when the blank round was fired it dislodged the dummy round and Brandon Lee was shot in the abdomen, from just 12 feet away. He died a few hours later. Michael Massee quit acting for a year and still says he has nightmares about that day.
Mark Wahlberg (of Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, and… erm… actor?). In 1987, following two separate incidents of racially abusing African American children, Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder after he beat Vietnamese man Thanh Lam unconscious with a wooden stick whilst screaming at him “Vietnam f**king shit” and – later that same day – attacked a second Vietnamese man Hoa Trinh by beating him so hard, he lost an eye. Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder, pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to two years in Suffolk County House of Correction, of which he served only 45 days.
John Holmes (porn star). Following a botched robbery at the home of nightclub owner Chris Coxx which was masterminded by John Holmes - the legendary porn star whose celebrity status was declining just as his drug-addiction was increasing – Coxx blackmailed Holmes into murdering the leaders of the Wonderland Gang as revenge. At 4am, on the 1st July 1981, at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, Holmes and three unidentified assailants bludgeoned to death Ron Launius, Joy Miller, Billy DeVerell and David Lind, using hammers and metal pipes, only Susan Lind survived, but only just. John Holmes was charged with four counts of murder, but following a successful defence (and unwilling to testify against anyone else), the four murder charges were dropped and Holmes was sentenced to 110 days in prison for contempt of court.
Oscar Pistorius. In the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, the four-time Paralympic gold medal winner shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, by firing three shots through the bathroom door, believing her to be an intruder. Pistorius received a five year sentence for culpable homicide and an additional three year suspended sentence for reckless endangerment of life for firing his gun out of the sunroof of his car. He was released on 19th October 2015.
Laura Bush (former First Lady of America, wife of George W Bush). On 6th November 1963, Laura Welch (later Bush) ran through a stop sign, collided with another car, and her friend Michael Dutton Douglas was killed. Although one death is comparatively low compared to how many innocent people her future husband would go on to kill.
Other celebrities who have famously spent time in prison for other crimes and violations include: Dustin Diamond (Skreetch from Saved By The Bell) was sentenced to four months in prison following a bar-fight involving a knife. Home Improvements star Tim Allen was sentenced to 3-7 years in prison for trafficking 1.42lbs of cocaine in 1978. 50 Cent spent six months in a correctional boot camp for multiple drug charges. Jamie Waylett who played Vincent Crabbe in the Harry Potter films has been charged with receiving stolen goods, growing cannabis, possessing a Molotov cocktail whilst trying to loot a chemists and was sentenced to two years in prison for taking part in the London riots. Shelley Malil (actor in The 40 Year Old Virgin) is currently serving a life sentence for the attempted murder of his girlfriend, during the attack both her lungs collapsed and she lost half of her blood. AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd has been charged with hiring a hitman to kill two people. Actor Nick Nolte once received a “suspended” 45 year prison sentence for counterfeiting. Randy Quaid has been charged with burglary, conspiracy and fraud. Wesley Snipes served three years in prison for income tax evasion. Leslie Grantham (aka "Dirty Den" in Eastenders was convicted in 1966 of the murder of a West German taxi-driver. And Jeffrey Jones (Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) was convicted in 2002 of making child pornography. He is now a registered sex offender.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, podcaster, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 18 murderers, 3 serial killers, across 21 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
Subscribe to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast