Skip to content

The 6 Most Explosive Celebrity Scandals of the '70s

From grave-robbing to months-long benders.

These days, celebrity scandals fly past with the speed of a social media post, and it's hard to keep track of who is being lambasted for doing what to whom. But five decades ago, the tumultuous lives of the world's biggest celebrities loomed larger, and a juicy affair or a salacious rumor would stick around a lot longer—to the point that many became legends of a sort, still repeated to this day. Read on for all the need-to-know details of six of the most explosive celebrity scandals of the '70s.

RELATED: The 7 Biggest Celebrity Scandals of the '80s.

Patty Hearst's Kidnapping and the Aftermath

Patty Hearst with machine gun in 1974
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

On Feb. 4, 1974, newspaper heiress and 19-year-old college student Patty Hearst was kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Over the following months, she underwent a stunning transformation, appearing in a shocking video released to the media announcing that she had adopted the name "Tania" and had chosen to stay with the group and fight for "the freedom of all oppressed people," according to CNN.

Hearst went on to participate in criminal activities, including a bank robbery and carjacking, with the SLA. She was arrested in September 1975, and, at her trial two years later, the young woman claimed she had been coerced. Hearst was found guilty of the robbery and a firearm charge, but her seven-year sentence was ultimately commuted by then-President Jimmy Carter.

John Lennon's "Lost Weekend"

John Lennon and May Pang in 1971
Art Zelin/Getty Images

Even more gossip-worthy than the 1970 breakup of the Beatles was John Lennon's "lost weekend," which actually stretched across 18 months, from 1973 to 1975. Separating from Yoko Ono to embark on an affair she set up with their personal assistant, a 22-year-old May Pang, the period was reportedly marked by the singer-songwriter's excessive drinking and partying in Los Angeles, culminating in two notorious 1974 incidents in which Lennon was kicked out of a club for rowdy behavior, according to The Guardian.

While tumultuous, this phase saw Lennon re-establish his friendship with Paul McCartney, reunite with son Julian, and engage in collaborations with artists like David Bowie and Harry Nilsson. Eventually, he reconciled with Ono and returned to his family, marking the end of the wild chapter.

RELATED: Yoko Ono Called John Lennon 15 Times a Day When They Were Broken Up, His Ex Says.

Roman Polanski Flees the Country

Roman Polanski speaking to reporters at the Santa Monica Courthouse in 1977
Saxon/IMAGES/Getty Images

Revered as the director of films including Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby and having earned the sympathy of a nation as the widower of actor Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 by the Manson family, Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski was one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the '60s and '70s. That made his arrest in 1977 for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl all the more shocking, and the details of the crime (which occurred at the home of Jack Nicholson, who was not present at the time) were splashed across the headlines.

Polanski arranged a plea bargain that would have seen him avoid a prison sentence, but when he learned the judge presiding over the case, Laurence J. Rittenband, planned to reject the deal and put him behind bars, the filmmaker fled the United States. He travel first to London, and then to France, where he was a citizen. The country refused to extradite him, and, fearing arrest, he has never returned to the U.S. Thirty years later, the crime and the resulting scandal were the basis of the 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body

Charlie Chaplin in 1957
AFP via Getty Images

Iconic silent film star Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas day 1977 at the age of 88. Months later, two mechanics dug up Chaplin's coffin and body from the Swiss cemetery where he was interred and tried to extort $600,000 from Chaplin's widow, Oona. They eventually revealed its location in a nearby cornfield after police traced their calls, and Chaplin's body was returned to its resting place, albeit with a concrete barrier.

For more nostalgia sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Bruce Lee's Mysterious Death

Bruce Lee in 1970
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee tragically passed away in 1973 at the height of his fame. Although it was formally attributed to a cerebral edema he had previously been diagnosed with, his death at age 32 sparked numerous conspiracy theories about the cause, including murder by greedy business partners and a family curse—a theory that would sadly gain further traction with the 1993 accidental shooting death of his son Brandon Lee during filming of The Crow.

RELATED: 7 Hit '70s Songs That Are Offensive by Today's Standards.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Rollercoaster Romance

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1978
Tom Wargacki/WireImage

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were both married when they began the affair on the set of 1963's Antony and Cleopatra dubbed "le scandale" and condemned by the Vatican for "erotic vagrancy. After divorcing their respective spouses and marrying each other on March 15, 1964, they spent the next decade indulging in press attention and lavish spending before divorcing for the first time in 1974 due to infidelity and respective addictions to painkillers and alcohol. However, their love rekindled, and they remarried in 1975, only to divorce again less than a year later in 1976.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
Filed Under