Seinfeld actors who hit rock bottom

Seinfeld was a pop-culture monster of the '90s, both critically and commercially. During its 9-year reign as the crown jewel of NBC's vaunted must-see-TV Thursday lineup, the peacock network raked in a record number of Emmy Awards, "while generating annual profits in the range of $500 million," as revealed by the Los Angeles Times. If that's not all, according to Variety, by Seinfeld's final season, Jerry Seinfeld himself was pulling in "$1 million an episode." His luminous co-stars Jason Alexander (George), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine), and Michael Richards (Kramer) each also inked deals for around $600,000 a show. 

Not that money is everything, but today, the real-life Seinfeld is worth an estimated $950 million while his co-creator of "the show about nothing," Larry David, is sitting on an estimated $400 million. Bling bling, no? In 2019, Netflix even scored the streaming rights to the comedy hit. That's gold, Jerry, gold!

 So, all this must mean that everything is perfect forever, right? Well, not quite. Even the show's biggest names have faced life-altering crises post-Seinfeld stardom. These are their stories, and, spoiler alert: it gets dark. Here are some Seinfeld actors who hit rock bottom.

Kramer's comedy club rant

Even recapping this event is problematic, if just by way of quoting an outburst laden with words we have to censor. Michael Richards (who played the lovable Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld) was working out material at a Los Angeles comedy club in 2006 when heckling by audience members sent him into a shocking racist tirade. Per TMZ, Richards spewed the following sickening reference to lynching at the confused crowd: "Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a fu**ing fork up your a**." Naturally, the audience was appalled, with "the majority of the audience members [getting] up and [leaving] in disgust."

Richards' apology tour only furthered the disaster. The comedian announced he was "deeply, deeply sorry" in an incredibly awkward appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Jerry Seinfeld sat in to assist with damage control, but Richards' satellite link missive only highlighted how out of touch he remained, referring awkwardly to the victims as "Afro-American." Seinfeld gave Cosmo another chance to dig himself out in 2012 via his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The formerly beloved actor admitted the incident shattered him. "I busted up after that event . . . it broke me down," he acknowledged skittishly. This reason was enough for Richards to take a voluntary seven-year break from showbiz after the scandal, but his attempt at a comeback on Kirstie in 2013 ended prematurely when the show was canceled after one season.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus had a very public battle with cancer

No Seinfeld star went on to bigger industry success than Elaine. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has taken home a staggering 11 Emmy Awards since the series ended — for both Veep and The New Adventures of Old Christine. But in 2017, she got the news that every woman fears: breast cancer. She made the announcement on her Twitter page, writing, "One in eight women get breast cancer. Today, I'm the one." Her public bravery belied a private battle that deeply frightened the actress, even after the ordeal was over. For an otherwise healthy woman at the absolute peak of both her fame and professional success, it was a shocking blow. "I was stunned," she admitted to Good Morning America.

As a Vanity Fair profile on the actress revealed, Dreyfus "underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy" and is now, thankfully, in full remission. "I'm completely back," she excitedly told GMA. Dreyfus faced the entire situation with her trademark bawdy style, seeming almost bored by the obligatory questions as she made her public return, "I know we have to get the cancer sh*t out of the way," she joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018 before telling the audience she was already back at work on Veep. Dreyfus admitted she couldn't keep the situation private because it caused delays on the show, so she used the public attention to rally support for her cause of choice: universal healthcare.

Jason Alexander hated working with his on-screen girlfriend

Jason Alexander may be one of the most affable actors in Hollywood, but Seinfeld's George absolutely hated working with Heidi Swedberg, who portrayed his famously ambivalent long-time girlfriend, Susan. The actor made his frustrations public in 2015 on The Howard Stern Show, saying, "I couldn't figure out how to play off of her ... Her instincts for doing a [comedy scene] ... and mine were always misfiring." Legend also has it the rest of the cast, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, had the same problem with Swedberg, and that's why Larry David killed off her character so unceremoniously in the infamous envelope-licking incident — which Alexander essentially confirmed.

A truly candid moment about on-set friction is rare, so, of course, Alexander's interview went viral. And as it turns out since fans always hated Susan too, online harassment of Swedberg mounted and Alexander was forced to backtrack and defend the celeb whose acting he so loathed. Alexander took to Twitter, writing, "Oh dear God, leave Heidi alone." A linked statement went on to read, "I feel officially awful ... She was generous and gracious and I am so mad at myself for retelling this story in any way that would diminish her." Yada yada yada.

Jerry Seinfeld seduced a married woman

Seinfeld's eponymous character is a serial dater who always finds the fatal flaw in his romantic partners — and then sabotages the relationship. In real life, Jerry Seinfeld met the woman of his dreams at a gym in Manhattan in 1998. The problem wasn't that she was young enough to be his daughter. No, it was the fact that she was already married. Per The New York Times, Jessica Sklar (now Jessica Seinfeld) had been hitched for only two months when the comedian devised their first date to be a taping of his upcoming HBO special.

Sklar's then-husband was understandably furious and, in true Festivus fashion, proceeded with an airing of grievances. "I was manipulated, misled, and completely caught off guard by Jessica's infidelity," he told Page Six (via New York Post) in 1998. "Jerry and Jessica have no respect for decent values. They deserve each other."

Sklar reluctantly disputed this interpretation of events again to The New York Times, claiming she had already broken up with her husband (is that a thing?) days before she met Seinfeld and added that they had been having troubles before their impulsive wedding and had even been in couples counseling. The actual facts of this situation may be murky, but what is indisputable is Seinfeld and Sklar have now been married multiple decades and have three beautiful children together.

Larry David defended Woody Allen

Is cancel culture still a thing in the time of the coronavirus? Larry David wryly documented his bubble-boy status through the windows of his Los Angeles home for The New York Times in 2020 but also admitted to picking up Woody Allen's controversial memoir, Apropos of Nothing. David gave it a strong review, saying, "Yeah, it's pretty great, it's a fantastic book, so funny ... You feel like you're in the room with him ... and it's hard to walk away after reading that book thinking that this guy did anything wrong." Uh-oh.

The controversy stems from allegations made by Allen's adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Allen's son, Ronan Farrow, the crown prince of #MeToo takedowns, also condemned the book, which got it dropped by the initial publisher. As Allen wrote in his defense, "I never laid a finger on Dylan, never did anything to her that could be even misconstrued as abusing her; it was a total fabrication from start to finish." Allen has also never been charged for any crime.

This is the fraught context of David's impromptu book review. But oddly, no #LarryDavidIsOverParty was ever hosted. Perhaps it was social distancing, or perhaps David is above the fray given his entire oeuvre is the exploration of faux pas. Even the profile on David brushes past his quote for fawning praise of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So despite the endorsement from isolation, Larry David is feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Debra Messing found herself feuding with Donald Trump

Debra Messing will always be better known for Will & Grace, but her two-episode Seinfeld run as Jerry's casually racist girlfriend was unforgettable. As for her life off-camera? Well, Messing had yet another memorable moment when she was dragged by the leader of the free world online. The often-triggered President Donald Trump took to his Twitter account and called Messing a "bad actress," accusing her of both racism and trying to create a "blacklist" of his political donors. Two of these charges have some merit.

Messing's mess started like all problems — on Twitter — when she liked an image that called black Trump voters "mentally ill," as revealed by Deadline. Sure enough, #RacistDebraMessing began to trend. The actress quickly apologized and unliked the tweet but slyly pulled a double-dip, adding on Twitter, "black people are targeted by Trump's GOP for voter suppression." This brief misstep came directly on the heels of Messing and her Will & Grace co-star Eric McCormack urging The Hollywood Reporter to publish the names of attendees at an upcoming Trump fundraiser in Beverly Hills — hence the blacklist accusation. Messing did, however, also tweet that political donations are already public, and said that as a consumer, she merely wanted to know where her entertainment dollar was going.

Daniel von Bargen's long-term suffering

Actor Daniel von Bargen was the eponymous Mr. Kruger of Kruger Industrial Smoothing, George Constanza's clueless corporate overlord. Like most Seinfeld characters, Mr. Kruger was detached and cynical, existing only to torment the professionally hapless George. In reality, von Bargen was a tortured man who died suddenly in 2015 at the age of only 64, under somewhat murky circumstances. His cause of death was initially not specified, only later confirmed by an Ohio funeral home (via The New York Times). No family members ever made any statements on his behalf.

What we do know is that von Bargen suffered a long battle with diabetes. Per TMZ, in 2012 he was set to have his leg amputated, but the night before the operation, he shot himself in the temple, remaining conscious and calling 911 himself. The emergency call recording is perhaps the most somber Seinfeld-related document in existence, mostly because of von Bargen's shockingly lucid plea for help with a bullet lodged in his skull. And though he survived this brush with death, the actor, unfortunately, passed only three years later, likely from diabetes complications. The performer who helped make "leaving on a high note' famous, exited the mortal coil grimly.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Brad Garrett slaps the paparazzi

Brad Garrett is, by most accounts, a gentle giant. Best known for his role as Robert Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, the comedian also starred as the overzealous mechanic on Seinfeld, so obsessed with proper maintenance of Jerry's Saab, he eventually steals the vehicle to dote on himself. The six-foot-seven actor usually plays his gargantuan frame for laughs, prompting late great stand-up king Greg Giraldo to quip during The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers, "How did you ever get your head so far up Ray Romano's a** with those bolts in your neck!?"

But with great power comes great responsibility. In 2007 Garrett snapped after being called a racist by an overzealous paparazzo. The video posted by TMZ of the actor bashing the photog's camera is a POV of what it would be like to be sucker-punched by a giant. The pap, who was black, was set off by Garrett's alleged racist comments — which can't be substantiated. That being said, a separate incident in 2009 shows Garrett in yet another confrontation, telling a different and not-at-all openly religious paparazzo, to go "wear a turban." Ugly stuff. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the paparazzo in the original 2007 incident claims Garrett broke his camera, but a Los Angeles judge eventually decided the actor was provoked by the notoriously trap-laying paps. No charges were filed.

Ben Stein is out of order

Actor Ben Stein, better known for droll performances in movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, also played Kramer's attorney in a single Seinfeld cameo. Though Stein's most famous role was of an economics teacher, or maybe that of an erudite know-it-all on Win Ben Stein's Money, in real life, he's decidedly against science. All of it. As a prominent spokesman for both climate change denial and the teaching of biblical creationism in public schools, Stein lost cred among his more liberal Hollywood peers. Or at least that's what he thinks.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 2012, a judge dismissed most of Stein's rather complex lawsuit against a Japanese computer company that had hired him to hawk a line of printers. Stein claimed his free speech was being infringed in the state of California because he was allegedly dropped from a $300,000 contract for his eccentric views on global warming. The judge, however, felt the suit itself was a smokescreen for Stein's larger pro-carbon agenda and dismissed all but one of his many overheated claims for damages. 

That doesn't mean politics didn't end his career. After the release of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Stein's intentionally misleading propaganda film which muddies the primordial waters of evolution by natural selection, his IMDB page tells the tale of a man Hollywood told to get out. 

This Frogger aficionado couldn't hop away in real life

Nickelodeon veteran Drake Bell wasn't just a child star in the magical kingdom of Disney; he also landed a bit part as the Frogger kid on Seinfeld. Bell was a brief thorn in the side of George, who desperately wanted a turn at the traffic-hopping arcade game classic. But Bell had a tougher time crossing the actual streets of Los Angeles after his second DUI conviction sent him to real-life jail in 2016.

The former Drake & Josh star's bespectacled mugshot is truly a Shawshank sight to behold, with TMZ even jokingly referring to the celeb as Clark Kent. Truth be told, the resemblance is uncanny. Normally, you'd think a celebrity could plea-deal themselves down with a couple of selfies with fans, but L.A. takes drunk driving seriously, and time inside is mandatory on a second offense. According to TMZ, Bell's sentence also came with four years of probation and a mandated alcohol education program — which the actor may have thought he'd already mastered. Fortunately for the former child star, his original 96-hour sentence was knocked down to only two days for good behavior. Since 2016, Bell has remained a free man, a master of his own domain.

Phil Hartman's tragic fate

Phil Hartman was a leading light of many strong Saturday Night Live seasons in the late '80s and early '90s alongside legends like Dana Carvey and Adam Sandler. NBC's NewsRadio only cemented him further, but he still made time for an uncredited voice-only cameo in one episode of Seinfeld in 1996. In 1998, Hartman's life took a tragic turn when he was shot to death by his troubled wife, Brynn Hartman.

According to the New York Post, after complaining to her friend Ron Douglas about her husband's "frequent absences," Brynn returned to the couple's home where she retrieved Phil's revolver and shot the sleeping star. His death was instant, but Phil's suffering in the abusive relationship was long-standing. Allegedly, Brynn would time tirades against her husband to throw him off before dress rehearsals at SNL as she grew increasingly resentful of his success. A stint at rehab also failed as Brynn became heavily addicted to cocaine and alcohol. Directly after the murder, she went back to Douglas, this time "obviously drunk." Following her home and seeing what she had done, Douglas called the police, while Brynn locked herself in the bedroom. As the authorities arrived, the troubled celeb crawled in bed and pulled the trigger once more, this time at herself.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

A familiar face suddenly disappears

Circumcision is more controversial than it used to be, but matter how you feel about the tradition, you wouldn't want Charles Levin's highly agitated "Mohel" anywhere near your newborn son's bris. The comedian's face has cropped up on television countless times over the years, appearing in classics such as The Twilight Zone and even The Golden Girls. Suddenly, in 2019, the Seinfeld actor disappeared without a trace in late June of 2019.

According to The Oregonian, Levin's son first reported him missing after days without hearing from his father. A search was organized, and less than a week later, authorities stumbled upon a gruesome scene. Per Page Six, Detectives surmised Levin had gotten stuck while driving on darkened back roads near his remote Oregon home. The 70-year-old got out of his car and made an attempt to free the vehicle when he tragically fell down a steep ravine to his death.

Levin then lay exposed to the summer sun and vultures for over two weeks. According to the police report obtained by the Daily Mail, he was located on July 13, his body picked apart and only later identified by dental records. Adding another sickening note of suffering, police also discovered the remains of Levin's beloved dog, Boo Boo Bear, locked in Levin's abandoned car near his body, which probably succumbed to heat. Levin's death was eventually ruled accidental.