The Biggest Hollywood Scandals Of The 1970s That Couldn’t Stay Hidden


in the 1970s, the only thing outgrowing lapels and hairstyles was inflation. As Americans grew increasingly frustrated with our involvement in Vietnam, gas prices skyrocketed after an oil embargo. Tom Wolfe called the 1970s the Me decade as the only distraction people had from their journey of self-discovery was juicy celebrity gossip, and the 1970s had some of the most infamous Hollywood scandals to date.


1970s was a period of transition between the social change of the ’60s and the shameless consumerism of the Reagan years, but boy was it also a decade full of shocking scandals and tragic celebrity deaths, so let’s take a closer look at the biggest scandals of the 1970s year by year to make everything possible. Now it’s time to don our leisure suits and head to the disco!


1970: Paul McCartney leaves the Beatles

BEATLES, 1st appearance on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW, 2/9/64, Paul McCartney, Ed Sullivan, George Harrison, John Lennon & Ringo Starr / Everett Collection

Beatlemania was in full swing in early 1970 and the much-awaited studio album Let It Be was about to be released. But Paul McCartney shocked the world on April 10 with a press release announcing his departure from the Beatles.

RELATED: Forgotten Hollywood Scandals

It was no secret that the band members were going in different creative directions and numerous events, including the death of manager Brian Epstein and John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono turned out to be more than the Fab Four could handle. In terms of scandals of the 1970s, this would be one of the most definitive, whose ripple effects endured for years to come.

1971: Manson sentenced to death

The fallout related to Charles Manson was one of the most grizzly scandals of the 1970s / Everett Collection

The gruesome murder of Sharon Tate and four of her friends made national headlines in 1969. When police arrived, they found the telephones and electricity lines cut, and a break in the case led to the 1971 arrest of Charles Manson along with several members of his notorious family. In the 1970s, this scandal hit very close to home for many people.

Judge William Keane reluctantly granted Manson permission to act as his own attorney during the trial but changed his mind. Manson and his followers were convicted of nine counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

The nine-and-a-half-month-long Manson murder trial was the longest in American history and was dubbed the trial of the century but Charles Manson’s death sentence was never carried out and he died of natural causes in 2017 after serving more than 40 years in prison.

1972: Jane Fonda visits Vietnam

Jane Fonda caused a scandal in Hollywood in the early 1970s when she went to Vietnam / Wikimedia Commons

General William C West Westmoreland’s 1965 Vietnam War strategy was to force the North Vietnamese to surrender or negotiate through a war of attrition. Seven years later, the war was still raging on and in 1972 Jane Fonda joined a two-week media tour visiting North Vietnam.

When a picture of Fonda standing with North Vietnamese troops on an anti-aircraft machine gun was released she earned the infamous nickname Hanoi Jane. Jane Fonda claims she was tricked into posing for the photo and has repeatedly apologized to Vietnam vets but many still refused to accept her apology, including U.S Navy veteran Michael A Smith, who spat chewing tobacco in her face during a 2005 book signing in Kansas City Missouri.

1973: Death of the Dragon

ENTER THE DRAGON, Bruce Lee, 1973. ©Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

During the production of Enter the Dragon in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee began headaches and seizures after he collapsed on set he was rushed to the hospital and the doctors were unable to revive him. The autopsy revealed an excessive amount of painkillers and tranquilizers in his system, and it was ruled a death by misadventure.

However, new information suggests that Lee suffered an adrenal crisis due to overuse of cortisone and died of heat stroke. You see, Lee had his underarm sweat glands surgically removed because he didn’t want pit stains on film and some conspiracy theorists believe that his death was an act of retaliation made by the Chinese Triad. Some people also believe there was a curse on his family after his son Brandon was accidentally killed in ’94 while filming The Crow.

1974: Nixon resigns

Richard Nixon addressing his Cabinet and White House staff after his resignation of the Presidency. At left are Edward and Tricia Nixon Cox. Aug. 9 1974 / Everett Collection

President Richard Nixon got along better with foreign heads of state than many of his own constituents and Tricky Dick was well-known for outmaneuvering the press and his political rivals. But everything changed after his aides were arrested in 1972 for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Washington DC’s Watergate building.

Nixon subsequently resigned from the presidency on August 8, 1974. as he famously assured the American people that he was indeed Not a Crook.

1975: Splitsville for Sonny and Cher

Once a quintessential power couple, Cher and Sonny became the center of one of the biggest scandals of the 1970s / Roger Prigent / TV Guide / courtesy Everett Collection

Sunny and Cher made beautiful music together producing three studio albums and starring in two top 10 TV shows. But the duo’s popularity declined in the 1970s and their marriage began falling apart after several years of conflict and cheating allegations.

Sonny filed for separation in 1974 but Cher demanded a divorce and claimed their marriage was involuntary servitude during divorce proceedings. The song “I Got You Babe” took on a whole new meaning; according to their contract, Cher couldn’t legally sign any new deals without Sonny, and Cher was forced to perform in dozens more shows and appearances before he would release her from her contract. Their divorce was finalized on June 26, 1975.

1976: Scandals across the pond

It caused quite a stir when Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret, was spotted vacationing with 25-year-old Royal Garden designer Roddy Llewellyn in 1976. The couple had been seeing each other covertly for three years and the royal family did their best to keep their relationship a secret once the cat was out of the bag.

Margaret’s husband, the Earl of Snowden, informed a royal press secretary that their marriage was indeed over in December of 1976. The rock band Queen was forced to cancel their appearance on a British talk show and The Sex Pistols stepped in as guests at the last minute. Guitarist Steve Jones uttered a series of expletives on live TV after being taunted by host Bill Grundy and the incident got plenty of ink in both British and American tabloids.

1977: Elvis has left the building

The death of Elvis Presley would spawn scandals and conspiracies throughout the 1970s and well after / Everett Collection

Elvis Presley’s girlfriend Ginger Alton found the King unconscious on the bathroom floor at Graceland on August 16, 1977, and he died at the hospital after multiple attempts to revive him failed. When word got out that Elvis was dead, we had dozens of phone calls—so did the radio stations and the record stores, so a lot of activity too.

His death was officially ruled a heart failure, although he had percodan, codeine, Quaaludes, and more in his system. Three men attempted to steal the body nine days after Elvis’s internment in a Memphis mausoleum and the trio was quickly arrested but released due to a lack of evidence. Presley’s remains were reinterred at Graceland, but a popular urban legend claims that they only buried a wax figure in a weighted coffin.

1978: Studio 54 gets raided

Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager opened Studio 54 in April 1977 and it quickly became New York’s hottest nightclub. The club was packed, from stars and Manhattan elite to plenty of A-listers—and what happened at Studio 54 stayed at Studio 54.

But the IRS got suspicious when the owners claimed that the jam-packed nightclub only made seven million dollars in its first year of operation. Federal agents served a search warrant for the nightclub on December 14, 1978, and they seized six ounces of cocaine and three million dollars stashed in trash bags in the ceiling. Rubell and Schrager were charged with tax evasion and the nightclub closed with one final party on February 3, 1980.

1979: Willie Mays banned from MLB

Willie Mays as a San Francisco Giant ca. 1960s / Everett Collection

Paula Famer Willie Mays hit 660 home runs in his career. The guy won two MVPs and 12 Gold Gloves; baseball analysts overwhelmingly considered the Say Hey Kid the finest all-around player in history. So, it shocked the world when he got a lifetime ban from baseball in 1979.

Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City hired Mays as an ambassador but the MLB commissioner disapproved; it wasn’t a full-time job and Mays’ only responsibility was attending charity events and shaking hands with fans. But commissioner Kuhn said a casino is no place for a baseball hero and Hall of Famer, banning Mays from baseball. Fellow Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was also banned in 1983 taking a similar position at an Atlantic City casino. Peter Ueberroth reinstated Mays after taking over as the MLB commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1984, but all-time hits leader Pete Rose is still waiting by the phone.

Those were some great scandals and some sad deaths. So now it’s time to hear from you: which of these scandals was the biggest? Did we miss any huge 1970 scandals or deaths? Get in the comments and let us know!

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