Famous performers accused of stealing their acts

The inspiration for a character or persona can come from anywhere. An imitation of a family member or an old friend; a suggestion from an old book, or a public figure. Or maybe even the work of another performer. The following well-known stars all allegedly got their ideas from other artists—specifically by stealing their acts.

Lady Gaga

Lina Morgana was a singer and performer who wrote songs with Rob Fusari, the producer who discovered Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, and launched her career. In addition to bringing songs they wrote together to Gaga, Fusari has been credited with creating Gaga's visual image—using concepts that some feel borrow heavily from Morgana's highly theatrical songs and stage look, which incorporated outrageous costumes and dyed blond hair. Lady Gaga had her first hit in 2009, about two years after a deeply depressed Morgana committed suicide at age 19. In 2010, Morgana's mother went public with accusations that Gaga stole her "fashion style, performance techniques and dramatic stagecraft" from her daughter, and demanded the rights to release a pair of demos they recorded before Lina's death.

Denis Leary

Denis Leary was notably different from other successful standup comics in the early '90s—mainly because he didn't tell easily digestible jokes about airplane food and the differences between men and women. Instead, Leary antagonized his audience with dark, twisted, misanthropic observations on the sad state of human affairs. While this may have set him apart from many comedians of the era, Leary's act sounded exactly like Bill Hicks. Hicks and Leary were friends, until Hicks listened to Leary's album No Cure for Cancer and heard a bunch of his own jokes, told verbatim. "I have a scoop for you. I stole his act," Hicks quipped in a 1993 profile. "I camouflaged it with punchlines, and to really throw people off, I did it before he did." Hicks died of cancer in 1994; Leary became a hugely successful TV and movie star. (Here's a joke that's gone around comedy circles ever since: Why did Denis Leary get famous and Bill Hicks didn't? Because there's "no cure for cancer.")

Mike Myers

During their shared time on Saturday Night Live, Myers and Dana Carvey created two of the show's most popular characters: Wayne and Garth, host of a heavy metal-centric public access show titled Wayne's World. The movie version of Wayne's World was a huge hit that launched Myers' film career. His next big franchise, after Wayne's World: the Austin Powers movies. Not so happy about that: Dana Carvey. The duo didn't talk for almost 20 years, because Carvey reportedly believed that Myers stole the impression he used to do at SNL of their boss, Lorne Michaels, and turned it into the Dr. Evil character.

Jackie Gleason

Gleason is best remembered by today's audiences as Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners. But both before and after starring in that classic sitcom, he was a variety show host who, after his opening monologue, always shouted "And away we go!" It was one of the first ever TV catchphrases; it's even on Gleason's tombstone. What many don't realize, however, is that he didn't come up with it. While an up-and-coming nightclub performer in the 1940s, Gleason spent a lot of time at a New York club called Charley Foy's, where the waitstaff largely consisted of aging vaudeville comics. The bartender, a man named Frankie Hyers, hosted evenings of entertainment that inevitably started with a monologue followed by Hyers yelling—you guessed it—"And away we go!"

Liberace

Liberace was your grandma's favorite entertainer. He giggled, talked about his mother constantly, and wore jewel-encrusted lavender capes while he played his candelabra-topped piano. The Liberace Show was a major TV hit, and even after it went off the air, he continued his act for years in Las Vegas. Why did America embrace such a stereotypically effeminate act in the less tolerant '50s? Perhaps because of professional wrestler Gorgeous George. His wrestling persona was that of a fancy man who wore bejeweled robes and brought candelabras to the ring. Lavender was his signature color, and he once sent out lavender-dyed turkeys to his fans. Among those fans? Liberace's mother. In his later years, Gorgeous George often claimed Liberace "stole my whole act."