Celebs Who Were Blackmailed
The vast majority of us are able to go about our everyday lives without having to worry about potential blackmail plots, but for the rich and famous, the threat of extortion comes with the territory. In fact, according to longtime Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, it’s happening all the time. “I don’t know any celebrity in America that isn’t shaken down for money, blackmailed, extorted,” Levine told ABC News. “A lot of them settle and pay off the blackmailer because it’s just not worth it to fight … The more veteran celebrities have just gotten used to this. It’s just a disgusting aspect of their lives.” They don’t always give in and hand over bundles of cash, however.
While some of the following celebs decided to meet the demands of the people extorting them, others stood their ground and used the full force of their fortunes to hit back at those who tried to mess with them. From Grammy-winning singers and aging rock legends to iconic supermodels and Hollywood A-listers, the following famous people have all been victims of blackmail attempts.
Jennifer Lopez claimed her driver tried blackmailing her for millions
She’s been nominated for two Grammys, two Golden Globes, and a Primetime Emmy over the course of her long career in show business, and while she didn’t win any of them, there’s no doubting that Jennifer Lopez is a bonafide A-lister. She took her first steps towards fame in 1990 when she auditioned to be a dancer on the Wayans family sketch show In Living Color. The Bronx native then transitioned into acting, earning plaudits for her performance as murdered singer Selena Quintanilla, and from there she set her sights on conquering the music world. J-Lo is a true triple threat, but when you’re as famous as she is, you need people around you that can be trusted. According to Lopez, that wasn’t the case with her former driver, Hakob Manoukian.
In 2012, her team filed a lawsuit against Manoukian that accused him of threatening to “disclose sensitive and personal information that he allegedly heard while driving Lopez,” per CNN. The suit alleged that the driver “became hostile and angry because he mistakenly and unreasonably believed he had the unqualified right to designate the security team” for one of the singer’s music videos. Manoukian sued for breach of contract over the incident, but J-Lo’s team slapped him with a countersuit, alleging extortion. According to her lawyers, Manoukian demanded a sum of $2.8 million to bury the sensitive info he’d supposedly acquired while working for Lopez. An out-of-court settlement was ultimately reached.
Kanye West's own cousin apparently blackmailed him with a sex tape
Being blackmailed by a trusted member of your team is one thing, but Kanye West had to deal with a member of his own family taking him for a ride. When his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo dropped in 2016, fans were left wondering if the last line in the song “Real Friends” was based on something that went down in real life. West rapped: “I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was f****** b****** on / Paid that n**** 250 thousand just to get it from him.” According to Lawrence Franklin, who is a cousin of West (though not the cousin referenced in the song), the incident actually played out exactly how it’s described — someone in their family extorted the star for a quarter of a million dollars.
The unnamed cousin reportedly came into possession of a laptop that had been gifted to another family member by West. What the rapper and gospel group leader didn’t realize is that there was footage of him “in clear view having sex with a fair-skinned Black woman” on said laptop, as Franklin explained to the Daily Mail. “Him and his attorney went after Kanye, and to show that they meant business they leaked a little information publicly to let it be know they indeed had the footage.” West being extorted by a family member is what “started his decline,” Franklin believes. “He stopped trusting people.”
Wedding photo thieves tried to make a mint off Tom Cruise
You’d think that stealing wedding photos from the notoriously private Tom Cruise would be an impossible mission, but when data recovery expert Marc Lewis Gittleman was asked to fix a hard drive containing approximately 7,600 images of Cruise’s nuptials to Katie Holmes, he believed he’d struck gold. Gittleman took his chance and made copies of the images, which he and a man named David Hans Schmidt (described by The Hollywood Reporter as someone “known for brokering deals involving compromising celebrity photos and videos”) threatened to release unless they were paid handsomely.
Court papers have revealed that Schmidt contacted Cruise’s people on several occasions, dangling some of the images in his possession as bait. He demanded as much as $1.3 million in a series of emails that were ultimately used against him — Cruise called the cops on Schmidt, who was charged with extortion. He agreed to plead guilty and was fitted with a monitor while he awaited a potential two-year prison stretch, but he would never get there. When Schmidt’s monitor started recording zero movement not long after his plea, authorities discovered him dead in his home by apparent suicide. “I think it’s a very sad thing that he elected to hang himself,” Bert Fields, one of Cruise’s attorneys, told NBC News. “Certainly no one wanted that despite what he did.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
A photographer tried to blackmail Cameron Diaz with topless pics
Like many in Hollywood, Cameron Diaz started out as a model before she got her chance to shine on the big screen. She was 19 when she did a shoot with a photographer named John Rutter, who snapped away as his subject “posed in leather boots and fishnet stockings in a warehouse,” according to The Guardian. “At one point she held a chain attached to a male model’s neck.” Rutter took some topless photos of Diaz during their session, but, while some of the images captured that day were printed in magazines over in Europe, the ones in which Diaz went sans shirt have never been published. It’s not through a lack of trying, however.
11 years after taking them, Rutter contacted Diaz about the topless photos. According to the actress, who was in between her two Charlie’s Angels movies at the time and was very much a huge star, the photographer attempted to blackmail her. Diaz claimed that Rutter gave her two days to cough up $3.5 million or he would sell to a gossip mag who would portray her as the “bad angel” in a damaging spread. He claimed in court that he was simply offering Diaz first refusal, but jurors weren’t buying it. Rutter went down for blackmail and forgery of Diaz’s signature. “Although I wish that this unfortunate situation hadn’t occurred in the first place, I am very gratified that justice has been served,” Diaz said.
Blackmailers in the Bahamas used the death of John Travolta's son against him
The sad case of John Travolta’s son Jett was made all the more heartbreaking by the drama that unfolded following the 16-year-old’s death in the Bahamas. Paramedics were called to the holiday home of Travolta and Kelly Preston (who died of breast cancer in 2020) when the autistic teen had a seizure, but they couldn’t save him. When the tabloids learned the circumstances surrounding Jett’s death, his Scientologist parents came in for criticism. “The Travoltas as Scientologists — and very prominent Scientologists — would never consult a doctor to deal with the treatment of autism,” Rick Alan Ross of the Cult Education Institute told the New York Post. “This child lived out his life without ever being evaluated or treated, in my opinion.”
Things got worse for Travolta when he received word that an ambulance driver was planning on releasing copies of the medical liability form that he’d signed that day. His reps were contacted by the blackmailer’s lawyer, who informed them that he would back down for no less than $25 million and “would give interviews claiming that Mr. Travolta had refused treatment for his son,” per the Independent. The two-time Oscar nominee vehemently denied this was the case. The driver and lawyer were charged with extortion, but concerns over the jury led to a retrial that Travolta chose not to follow through with, citing the “heavy emotional toll” the process had already taken on his family.
A male model tried to blackmail Cindy Crawford with a misleading picture of her daughter
She’s estimated to have a net worth of over $200 million (you can double that amount if you include her tequila entrepreneur husband Rande Gerber’s considerable fortune), which makes the sum that Cindy Crawford’s blackmailer asked for all the more baffling. In what sounds like the plot of a discarded Zoolander spin-off, a German model by the name of Eddie Kayalar decided to try and squeeze some money out of Crawford and her husband after he got his hands on a photograph of their daughter — and he came away with a thousand bucks.
The photo in question was of Crawford and Gerber’s then-seven-year-old girl tied to a chair. There was nothing untoward about the picture (it was actually snapped during a game of cops and robbers), but Kayalar figured that the supermodel would want to stop it from being sold to the gossip mags. He managed to get $1,000 out of Gerber in exchange for the original photograph according to the FBI (via the Independent), though he’d apparently made some copies first.
When he demanded a further $100,000, the couple got the authorities involved and Kayalar was charged with extortion. He carried on trying to blackmail the family even after he was deported to Germany, but Crawford’s attorney made it clear that she would take “all available legal action against anyone who aids the perpetrator in the distribution or sale of the photograph,” per the BBC.
Sylvester Stallone's half-sister took over $2 million from him in a 'shakedown'
To say Sylvester Stallone had a complicated relationship with his late half-sister Toni-Ann Filiti would be an understatement. He was among the biggest stars in Hollywood when Filiti accused him of historical abuse in the late 1980s, fronting the Rocky and Rambo franchises. The actor vehemently denied all the claims made by his half-sibling, and so did their mother. “This was nothing more than a shakedown,” Jacqueline Stallone told Page Six after it emerged that Sly had paid a $2 million settlement back in 1987. “Toni-Ann was on 65 Oxycontin pills a day, and she threatened Sylvester. A drug addict will do anything… At the time he was very hot, and his lawyers said, ‘Give her something just to shut her up.'”
The settlement came about after Filiti told Stallone that she would take him to court if he didn’t cough up, papers reveal. Not only did he hand over a lump sum of two million bucks, but the action star also agreed to pay “$16,666.66 per month for her lifetime, plus a trust with $50,000 per year for psychiatric and medical expenses,” Page Six was able to confirm. According to Stallone’s team, the payments were not an admission of guilt, but proof that he had been blackmailed. “Unfortunately, celebrities, politicians and athletes frequently find themselves the targets of blackmail efforts by family members and associates who fabricate claims in order to extort payments from them,” Stallone’s spokesperson said.
Mariah Carey's assistant recorded her in secret
Mariah Carey remained relatively quiet about her difficult upbringing for decades, but that all changed when she dropped her long-awaited memoir in 2020. The five-time Grammy winner made some explosive revelations in New York Times best-seller The Meaning of Mariah Carey, and they didn’t go down well with certain members of her family. Her sister, Alison Carey, sued the singer because of the “emotional distress” the book caused (via People), and her brother, Morgan Carey, filed his own lawsuit “over passages that, he says, imply he tried to extort money from Mariah after she became successful,” according to the BBC.
The way Mariah tells it, people have been trying to get their hands on her sizable fortune (as of this writing, she’s worth a whopping $320 million) her whole life. She had to deal with another apparent extortion attempt as recently as 2019 when she discovered that her executive assistant Lianna Azarian (real name Shakhnazarian) had betrayed her trust by taking secret videos of her in private moments. “Confronted with the fact that she recorded Mariah without her knowledge or consent, Arzarian did not apologize,” the lawsuit launched against the former assistant states (per ET). “Instead, Azarian threatened to release the videos, and other sensitive, private information, unless Mariah provided her $8 million. This is blackmail.” Azarian filed a bombshell countersuit the next day, accusing Mariah of wrongful termination and even battery.
Bruce Willis' childhood friend reportedly demanded money and a car
He got blackmailed by the mafia and the CIA as the titular cat burglar in the film Hudson Hawk, but in real life, Bruce Willis had to deal with an apparent extortion attempt by someone a lot closer to home. Court documents unearthed by TMZ reveal that, in 2006, the actor filed a lawsuit against longtime friend Bruce DiMattia, whom he had employed to “organize private family photographs, videotapes, DVDs and films depicting Willis and his family members,” the papers state. DiMattia is said to have “acquired knowledge of certain highly personal, private and confidential information” during the four years he worked for Willis, and he apparently wanted to turn that knowledge into hard cash by writing his own book.
The lawsuit claimed that DiMattia was working on a damaging tell-all about his childhood pal, and had “threatened to unlawfully exploit private family photographs and memorabilia belonging to Mr. Willis” unless his demands were met — he apparently wanted the movie star “to pay him over $100,000 and buy him a car.” It looked like the two Bruces would no longer be buddies, but a few months later, news broke that the extortion suit had been settled. Willis’ lawyers claimed that DiMattia “was overcome by greed and jealous of his former friend’s success” in their original complaint, but they turned around and said that it had all been “based on a regrettable misunderstanding” in a statement (via the East Bay Times).
Steven Seagal vs. The Mafia
Almost every news outlet that reported on Steven Seagal’s blackmail case back in the early ’00s remarked how it sounded like the plot of one of his movies; a tale of mafia families, death threats, and, of course, extortion. It all came about when Seagal decided to become a Buddhist and stop making films about mindless violence. His longtime friend and business partner Julius Nasso, who had been producing films with Seagal since 1990’s Marked for Death, didn’t take kindly to this decision. Nasso claimed that Seagal was contracted to four more pictures and threatened legal action if he didn’t make them. When he didn’t budge, the producer tried illegal action instead.
Court documents state that Nasso arranged for Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, a member of the Gambino crime family, to lean on Seagal. Efforts to extort what prosecutors (per the Independent) say was “millions of dollars” from the actor began in 2000, but things really started to heat up in January 2001 when Nasso and Ciccone whisked Seagal away to a Brooklyn restaurant. “He was petrified,” feds recorded Ciccone saying (via the New York Daily News), while Nasso’s brother, Vincent, who was also present, said: “It was like right out of the movies.” The authorities also had Ciccone on tape admitting that he’d made threats on Seagal’s life, and he was ultimately convicted for racketeering alongside Peter Gotti as part of a bigger trial. Nasso pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and was also sent down.
The same sex tape has been haunting Gene Simmons for years
Kiss frontman Gene Simmons claims to have slept with approximately 4,800 women over the years, but there’s one encounter that has come back to haunt him on numerous occasions. In 2008, a clip that appeared to show Simmons with an Austrian model found its way online. The rocker not only confirmed that it was indeed him in the video with his response, but he also revealed that the people who released it (whom he refers to as an “entity”) had already tried to blackmail him with it on numerous occasions. When he refused to hand over any money, they made the footage available to purchase online.
“You should know for the record, the garbage was recorded without my knowledge and is a page from my past,” Simmons said in a statement posted to his official website (via Digital Spy). “This is not the first time the entity has tried to blackmail and extort us. We have always refused and we will continue to refuse.” The timing of the video’s release was certainly no coincidence — Simmons and his family were starring in the A&E reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels at the time. The whole thing was doubly awkward because Simmons had been with baby mama and co-star Shannon Tweed since the mid-80s, which is likely why he was quick to clarify that the footage was “decades old.” He added: “It happened and there’s nothing I can do to repair that.”
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