Celebrity Lies Everyone Believed

We're all prone to lying every so often. Whether it's bluffing along as a pal talks about the most bingeworthy series of the year, or blaming traffic for arriving late to that important work meeting, none of us are immune to being just a tad too economical with the truth — and that includes celebrities. The nature of celebrity is, after all, largely based around artifice, so the odd white lie is to be expected from even the most beloved stars. But it's one thing for a celeb to lie about, say, their augmented pout (as Kylie Jenner knows all too well), but it's quite another to create falsehoods that will have serious ramifications. 

In the screenshot-happy age, there's no escaping the truth for mendacious megastars. As these fibbers found out the hard way, the public weren't too keen to pass the hydrant when they were caught with their pants on fire. 

It was Mark Twain who said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." Indeed, the further a person digs themselves into a web of lies, the harder it is to wriggle out. When it comes to being fast and loose with the truth, these stars are bound to be pulled over. Get ready for the lowdown on the celebrity lies everyone believed.

Brian Williams went from hero to villain

Former "NBC Nightly News" anchor and father of "Girls" star Allison Williams, Brian Williams was lauded for his brave journalistic efforts during the Iraq War. In his heyday, he watched the Berlin Wall fall, survived a rocket-propelled grenade attack, and flew into Baghdad with Navy Seals, per Business Insider. Or so we thought. It turns out that Williams lied about all of the above — and had everyone fooled.

In 2015, sleuths started to notice holes in Williams' tales of heroism. He had long recounted a story of witnessing a grenade attack on a helicopter when he was reporting on the Iraq War in 2003, per CNN. Over the years, his story began to change. The most notable modification occurred in 2007 when he suggested that he was actually flying in the helicopter that came under attack, as opposed to merely witnessing the onslaught. Then, in 2013, he appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and stated, "two of our four helicopters were hit by ground-fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47" (via CNN).

Contrary to his claims, Williams was in an entirely different helicopter, one that followed the target. Having been caught in a lie, he was forced to retract the story and apologize, per NBC News. "I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago," he said, before admitting that he was not in the helicopter that was targeted. He was suspended for six months as a result of his lies, per The New York Times.

Was Paul Newman really a one-woman man?

With his twinkly blue eyes and enigmatic smile, Hollywood veteran Paul Newman charmed his way into audiences' hearts, but he long maintained that his heart only belonged to his wife of half a century, Joanne Woodward. In an interview with Playboy (via Men's Journal), he claimed that he was utterly faithful to Woodward, famously declaring, "I have steak at home. Why go out for hamburger?" But Newman devotees had their hearts broken when it was revealed that he wasn't the wholesome family man he appeared to be.

According to the documentary "The Last Movie Stars," which explores Newman and Woodward's marriage, the former was far from faithful. Per the Daily Mail, the doc alleges that Woodward hated her husband's now iconic quote, believing that it reduced her to "a piece of meat." What's more, Woodward grew tired of Newman's womanizing. The actor reportedly cheated on his wife with alarming frequency. One of the actor's reported lovers was journalist Nancy Bacon, with whom he had an 18-month affair. 

All the while, Newman kept up the façade of being a monogamous, one-woman man, even as his pals joked that "Paul may not go out for hamburger, but he sure goes out for Bacon." The cheating was particularly hard on the actor's children. As his daughter Elinor recalled, "I found a book written by somebody he had an affair with ... in a drawer in the bathroom. There's a terrible moment there where you realize your dad is fallible."

Jussie Smollett faced major repercussions for his lies

With hate crimes on the rise in the United States, it seems an affront to all the victims of racist violence to fake a hate crime. When "Empire" star Jussie Smollett recalled his terrifying ordeal at the hands of Trump supporters in 2019, numerous celebs rallied in support. Per CNN, Smollett was supposedly attacked by two racists, who tied a rope around his neck and started "yelling out racial and homophobic slurs." In an interview with "Good Morning America," the actor appeared thoroughly convincing when recalling the horrific alleged attack. "Listen, if I tell the truth, then that's it, because it's the truth," he insisted. However, cracks began to show in Smollett's story. 

According to USA Today, the two men who supposedly attacked Smollett, brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, are in fact Black. This was the first major telltale sign that something didn't add up. Yet, the actor told police he was attacked by two white men. Accordingly, the city of Chicago filed a $130,000 lawsuit against the actor, claiming the crime was a hoax, something Smollett vehemently denied. "(Smollett) made this statement despite knowing that the Osundairo Brothers are not white-skinned," the lawsuit stated. "By providing this false description, (Smollett) purposely misled the CPD officers.... when, in fact, (Smollett) knew that his attackers were the Osundairo brothers."  In 2022, Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in jail after being found guilty of faking the hate crime, per The Guardian.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Lance Armstrong insisted he wasn't a cheat

At one time the most revered figure in professional cycling history, Lance Armstrong was an American hero. In addition to his athleticism, Armstrong was a cycling ambassador and charity fundraiser as founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, having survived late-stage testicular cancer in his youth, per Reuters.

Throughout his career, Armstrong always stated with the utmost conviction that he abstained from performance-enhancing drugs and his mesmerizing athletic performance was attributable to his sporting prowess alone. In 2005, he appeared at a deposition to testify that he had never doped. "I've never taken performance-enhancing drugs," he asserted. But in 2012, Armstrong was banned for life by the global governing body of cycling and his Tour de France medals were all confiscated after an investigation concluded that he'd been cheating. The following year, he gave an interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted that his "mythic, perfect story" was "one big lie" (via USA Today).

However, investigators said that Armstrong had also outright lied to Winfrey when he claimed that he stopped doping in 2005, per ABC News. Investigations show that Armstrong was still doping from 2005 onwards. "Lance doesn't say, 'I'm sorry,'" Betsy Andre, wife of Frankie Andre, told the outlet. "Lance isn't used to telling the truth." By 2015, he came clean and admitted to doping, telling the BBC that given the opportunity, he'd likely cheat again. "If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again," he confessed.

Hilaria Baldwin's faux Spanish heritage

For years, Hilaria Baldwin really had us thinking she had Spanish heritage. A 2012 Vanity Fair Spain profile describes her as a native of Majorca who loves flamenco and paella, and whose family couldn't pronounce the name of her new husband, Alec Baldwin. "I had to repeat it to my family three times: 'Baldddwinnn,'" she asserted. As Page Six notes, Alec gave an interview with David Letterman in 2013 in which he imitated his wife's accent, claiming she was from Spain.

But by 2020, eagle-eyed (not to mention bat-eared) Twitter users started noticing discrepancies in her diction and backstory, per Vox. For instance, in early interviews she speaks with an American accent. It turns out that Hilaria is in fact Hillary Hayward-Thomas, who was born in Boston to Dr. Kathryn Haywards and David Thomas. Genealogist Dr. Adina Newman told the Daily Mail that she concluded that Hilaria doesn't have a trace of Spanish ancestry.

Eventually, Hilaria had to just come right out and say it: "Yes I am a white girl," per Vanity Fair. Speaking to The New York Times about the trickery, she said that the situation was far more nuanced than her simply faking her heritage, insisting that she absorbed the Spanish culture in which she was raised.

Steve Rannazzisi lied about surviving 9/11

Of all the things one can lie about, it doesn't get much lower than claiming to have survived 9/11. Comedic actor Steve Rannazzisi did just that. "I was there and then the first tower got hit and we were like jostled all over the place," he told Marc Maron in 2009 (via PBS), stating he was working at Merrill Lynch at the time.

While the public believed his tales of escaping certain death to be true, Rannazzisi stunned fans when he confessed that he'd made the whole thing up. The New York Times noticed inconsistencies in the actor's story and began an investigation. Soon, he had no choice but to come clean. "It wasn't true," he tweeted. "I was in Manhattan but working in a building in midtown and I was not at the Trade Center on that day."

At the time of his shocking confession, he was set to star in the Comedy Central special "Breaking Dad," but the network expressed their disappointment in the promising young comic's "misrepresentations" (via Variety). Rationalizing why he lied, Rannazzisi attributed his tall tales to immaturity. "More than anything, I have wished that, with silence, I could somehow erase a story told by an immature young man," he said, per The New York Times. "It only made me more ashamed."

Akon fabricated a criminal history

As true crime buffs know all too well, it's not uncommon for people to deny involvement in felonies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But why would someone with a clean slate lie about having a criminal history? Well, we'd have to ask Akon. No doubt he'd say, "Sorry, blame it on me."

It was long believed that the singer had an extensive rap sheet. He claimed to have been in jail for over three years and served as the "ringleader of a notorious car theft operation." However, an investigation by The Smoking Gun concluded that Akon had lied about his criminal past. Despite claiming to posses a criminal record that would make Tony Montana blush, he actually has just one conviction to his name (gun possession, for which he was sentenced to three years probation). 

As for being the leader of the car theft ring? Total fiction. Contrary to his claims, he was not in prison for three years — he wasn't even charged, let alone convicted, of the supposed car theft master plan. "Ah, this is bulls***. This guy is so phony. He's an arrogant SOB," said FBI agent Peter McFarlane. Yep, turns out Akon's criminal history was ... a con. Addressing his lies in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Akon said that he wanted his fabrications to give hope to the disaffected men he met during his extremely brief run-in with the law.

Belle Gibson faked being terminally ill

It's one thing to tell a little white lie at one's own discretion, but it's quite another matter entirely to lie about having a terminal illness — and to put other people's lives in danger in the process. Well, that's exactly what Australian health influencer Belle Gibson did.

For years, the blogger purported that she was diagnosed with late-stage terminal brain cancer, but miraculously managed to cure the disease through healthy eating, per the BBC. She developed a huge Instagram following with her pseudoscientific claims and even wrote a book, "The Whole Pantry." Cancer patient and Belle devotee Kylie said, "Chemo wasn't working for me. [I said] I should come off and try clean eating." She added, "[Belle] was saying what she was doing was curing her cancer, it was making it better." So, in 2013, Kylie decided to emulate her idol, ditching chemo and embracing the concept of "wellness."

There was just one problem: Gibson was a fraud. In 2015, journalists Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano began doing some digging into Gibson's background and discovered that she'd never had cancer at all and even lied about donating proceeds from her book to charity, per news.com.au. Eventually, she confessed to Australian Women's Weekly (via Sydney Morning Herald), "No ... None of it's true." In 2017, she was fined $410,000 for her pernicious con, per The Guardian.

Was ageism to blame for Rebel Wilson's fib?

When Rebel Wilson first waltzed onto the cinematic landscape, she was a breath of fresh air: confident, funny, and unashamedly authentic. Or so we thought. It turns out that Wilson was not only lying about her age, but her background.

In 2015, Woman's Day published an exposé into Wilson's various supposed fabrications. The outlet alleged that Wilson lied about being several years younger than she is (at the time, she claimed to be 29; she was actually 36), and also falsified tales of an eccentric, impoverished background when she in fact had a privileged childhood. An ex-classmate claimed that Wilson enjoyed a "very normal, upper-middle-class upbringing ... She's clearly got a vivid imagination. Maybe you have to tell stories to make it in Hollywood!"

Subsequently, Wilson launched a lawsuit against the outlet in 2017, claiming that they purposely sought to sabotage her career by publishing the story to coincide with the release of "Pitch Perfect 2," per The Guardian. She alleged that an obsessed former classmate spilled the deets to publicly shame her. The court eventually awarded Wilson $3.6 million. Regarding her decision to lie about her age, Wilson told Who (via the Daily Mail) that ageism was to blame: "Being an actress it affects women more than men in terms of ageism and sexism so to be called out by the press on something most sensible business-minded people would have done in my position, it was a bit hurtful."

The White Stripes had us all fooled — and then confused

One could be forgiven for believing Jack and Meg White were siblings: the jet-black hair, the pallid complexions, and the twinning wardrobes. For years, fans thought Jack and Meg were brother and sister, because that's the very image that the musical duo projected. As The Cut notes, Jack would often refer to Meg as his sister during live performances. However, fans began to notice that the pair had an unusual rapport and suspect onstage chemistry, suggesting that something was surely awry with the red-topped twosome.

Soon enough, it was revealed that the pair were in fact ex-spouses. In 2001, NME disclosed that Jack and Meg had been married for four years, though the duo insisted that they were brother and sister when contacted for comment.

They eventually came clean, however. Rationalizing the sibling myth, Jack told Rolling Stone in 2005 that he felt the duo wouldn't be taken seriously if people knew the truth. "When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think. 'Oh, I see ...' When they're brother and sister, you go, 'Oh, that's interesting,'" he mused. "You care more about the music, not the relationship — whether they're trying to save their relationship by being in a band. You don't think about that with a brother and sister." He also scoffed at the notion that he and Meg were deliberately trying to "come up with these intricate lies to trick people."

Britney Spears lied for fear of damaging her image

When Britney Spears first burst onto the music scene in the late '90s, she had long maintained that she was a virgin. At the time, the songstress was in a highly publicized relationship with fellow popster Justin Timberlake, and asserted that the pair had never had sex. Spears once said that "good morals mean waiting to have sex until after you've been married," per E! She reiterated this stance, albeit coyly, during an appearance on the British talk show "The Frank Skinner Show" in 2002. 

Timberlake had a lot to say about Spears' virginity assertion. Speaking to radio show "Star and Buc Wild" (via The New York Times), he declared that he and Britney did engage in pre-marital intimacy.

This led Spears to backtrack on her past purity claims. In an interview with W Magazine (via People) in 2003, she confirmed that she and Timberlake had sex. "I've only slept with one person my whole life," she said. "It was two years into my relationship with Justin, and I thought he was the one ... But I was wrong!" Considering that Spears was a vulnerable young girl thrust into the spotlight to project an image of wholesome Christianity, it's understandable why she lied.

Is Tyga straight outta Compton or the Valley?

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Tyga's backstory is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a reality show. Back in 2008, Tyga appeared on the game show "Bustas," which never aired, and claimed that he'd lied about his tough Compton upbringing, per the Los Angeles Times. He boasted about growing up in the Valley, surrounded by wealth and fancy cars. "Grew up not too tough, parents got a Range Rover," Tyga purported. "Doin' it big, not too much hard, but I'm still street ... They say I'm not hood cause I stay in the Valley, they say I never been in the alley."

Though many were quick to slam Tyga as a phony for lying about his troubled upbringing, he later insisted that the show was pure fiction. Per TMZ, the rapper said that he lied during his appearance on the show and is in fact from Compton, contrary to his claims that he grew up in the Valley.

In an interview with Power 106's Big Boy's Neighborhood (via MTV), he clarified the comments he made on the series, attributing them to the utterances of an overzealous teen. "I'm young, I'm ambitious. I don't care. I'm getting a check for this, I'm about to be on T.V.," he said. "At this point in my career, I'm at a point where I worked so hard and for people to try and throw negative stuff."

Asia Argento lied about not sleeping with an underage fan

In the aftermath of #MeToo, Asia Argento was one of the most prominent proponents of the movement. With her impassioned speeches and harrowing recollections of the abuse inflicted upon her by Harvey Weinstein, Argento was perceived as a beacon of moral certitude in an industry blighted by sordid tales of sexual misconduct. That all changed, however, when a young fan came forward with his own allegations of misconduct against the star.

Per The New York Times, Argento sexually assaulted actor Jimmy Bennett when he was 17 and secretly paid him $380,000 (she had first met him when he was just 7). She initially denied the allegations, stating, "I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett," per The Guardian. However, she was exposed for lying when TMZ published photos of her and Bennett nude together in bed. She also appeared to admit to the inappropriate relationship in text screenshots.

In a statement (via People), Rose McGowan said that she was highly disappointed in Argento and was breaking off their friendship. McGowan revealed that her partner, Rain Dove, told her that Argento had indeed lied about the nature of her relationship with Bennett: "They had been texting with Asia and that Asia had revealed that she had indeed slept with Jimmy Bennet." Noting that Argento had been receiving nude photos of Bennett since he was just 12, McGowan condemned her friend for not "reporting to authorities, to the parents, or blocking of Jimmy's social media."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Brian Dennehy lied about serving in Vietnam

Character actor Brian Dennehy was best known for his roles in "First Blood" and "Cocoon," usually playing tough, no-nonsense characters. With his grizzled onscreen persona, it certainly wasn't hard to believe his recollections of active duty during the Vietnam War. 

The actor had long asserted that he served in the war and was wounded on the battlefield, per CBS News. In an interview with Playboy (via Dallas Observer), he even went as far as to hint that he killed people in action. "As for killing someone, anyone in combat would agree that it's pretty much accidental ... You spend a considerable amount of time just trying not to be in a combat situation," he claimed. "You're trying to avoid coming face-to-face with anything." But he was soon dragged for being a fraud.

It was revealed that Dennehy made the whole thing up: Although he served in the Marines, he never set foot in Vietnam. "I lied about serving in Vietnam and I'm sorry," he admitted in 1998, per The Denver Post. Despite his confession, the Post noted that Dennehy lied again about his supposed service when speaking to The Wall Street Journal in 2007. Considering the impact of PTSD on soldiers (Vietnam in particular has had a lasting psychological effect on vets), the actor's stolen valor was especially offensive to veterans who suffered the devastating trauma of combat.