Celeb Apologies That Only Made Things Worse

Nowadays, what makes up a celebrity apology? In the age of social media, celebrity transgressions — however micro — seemingly get picked up and spread around faster than before. Whether it was Justin Timberlake apologizing for holding hands with someone who wasn't Jessica Biel or Gina Rodriguez apologizing for using the N-word in a rap posted on her Instagram (the apology was also issued on the 'gram), celebrities have also chosen social media as their preferred platform for issuing said "I'm Sorry"'s.

According to a study by ScienceDirect, the success of a celeb apology depends largely on the public's perception of its sincerity. "Perceptions of apology sincerity were related to forgiveness, and perceptions of apology insincerity related to withholding forgiveness," the study published. How true is this, though? After all, as we will see, the very act of apologizing, being an admission of guilt, can automatically exacerbate many public relations fiascoes. Let us examine some celeb apologies that only made things worse.

Michael Richards' bizarre racist breakdown

In 2006, former Seinfeld star Michael Richards had one of the most dramatic falls from grace in the annals of celebrity history. The once-adored character actor and stand-up comedian was caught on tape hurling a verbal barrage of hate toward a Black heckler during a set at the Los Angeles Laugh Factory comedy club. In his two-minute racist rant, Richards let loose unrepeatable epithets in front of a stunned and confused crowd who no doubt wondered what in the world happened to Cosmo Kramer.

Richards made his catastrophic PR nightmare worse with a babbling apology via satellite link on the Late Show with David Letterman. "I said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans," Richards stammered, making audience members and Letterman himself chuckle at his outdated lingo. In explaining his actions, Richards appeared to justify them as an extreme case of stage fright. "I was at a comedy club trying to do my act, and I got heckled, and I took it badly and went into a rage," a ragged-looking Richards told Letterman. "I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this."

Fellow entertainers were unconvinced of his reasoning, with comedian Paul Rodriguez telling CNN that "once the word comes out of your mouth and you don't happen to be African-American, then you have a whole lot of explaining" (via CBS News). Richards, perhaps wisely, decided to take a step back from doing more explaining and announced his retirement from stand-up in 2007.

Paula Deen's teary apology tour

Celebrity chef Paula Deen was always a controversial figure for her recipes' use of sugar. Things took a considerably bitterer turn in June 2013, when the former Food Network personality's deposition during a racial discrimination lawsuit was made public (via Today). Its transcript found Deen admitting to using the "N-word." Additionally, she revealed questionable judgment on the topic of racial jokes involving slurs — "That's kind of hard. Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks ... I can't, myself, determine what offends another person."

Clearly, enough were offended for Deen to embark on an apology tour that week. Prior to her June 26 interview on the Today show opposite Matt Lauer, she released several pre-taped, tear-soaked videos that featured such self-pitying lines as, "the pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself, and to others." On her Today appearance, Lauer asked Deen in their sit-down if she was a racist, Deen appeared defiant, answering back, "I'm not gonna sit here and tell everything I've done for people of color" and "there's someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for and they wanted it," referring to the ex-employee who sued her.

Deen's attempts at contrition failed wholly, with all corporate partners including the Food Network firing her within that week. As Today host Savannah Guthrie commented post-interview, "People probably went in with an opinion, and left the interview with the same opinion."

Kevin Spacey's ill-timed coming-out

In October 2017, Kevin Spacey found himself in unprecedented hot water when actor Anthony Rapp made the stunning claim to Buzzfeed that Spacey made sexual advances on him at a party in 1986. Spacey was 26 at the time of the alleged incident while Rapp was 14.

Spacey promptly took to his Twitter to issue a written apology, avoiding assuming direct responsibility, tweeting, "If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior." In a highly bizarre move, Spacey used his apology to come out as a gay man. "This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life," he wrote. "I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man."

Needless to say, Spacey's words were quickly and harshly criticized across social media as both self-serving and harmful to the LGBTQA+ community. Actor Zachary Quinto tweeted immediately, "It is deeply sad and troubling that this is how Kevin Spacey has chosen to come out. Not by standing up as a point of pride ... but as a calculated manipulation to deflect attention from the very serious accusation that he attempted to molest one." Comedian Wanda Sykes more succinctly summed up the negative responses to Spacey's words in her tweet, writing "You do not get to 'choose' to hide under the rainbow."

Logan Paul brags about 'getting views' in apology

In a controversial 2018 upload to his YouTube channel, vlogger Logan Paul documented questionable interactions with the hanging corpse of an apparent suicide victim inside Japan's Aokigahara forest. Despite attaching mental health awareness messages to bookend the video and saying the words "suicide is not a joke" upon finding the body, Paul is also seen later in the vlog, exclaiming, "This was all going to be a joke. Why did it become so real?"

Paul's lack of self-awareness resulted in immediate backlash, the video's removal, and a Twitter apology. Unfortunately for him, Paul's apology relied heavily on the "I am only human" defense — "I'm surrounded by good people and believe I make good decisions, but I'm still a human being. I can be wrong," Paul tweeted — and he somehow managed to shoehorn in a brag about his vlogging clout, writing, "I didn't do it for views. I get views. I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the Internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity."

Nobody was won over by Paul's apology, with a multitude of fans and celebrities stepping forward to slam the YouTube star on their social media accounts. Fellow viral vlogging sensation Nate Garner summed up the public's reaction best, tweeting, "if you really care logan paul then donate your 2018 youtube revenue to suicide prevention charities, @afspnational is a great one." 

Mischa Barton is 'only human'

Following the controversial police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2016, former The O.C. actress and current reality show cast member Mischa Barton took to Instagram to share her thoughts on the state of gun control and reform in America. The now-deleted post was odd. Alongside Barton's sobering caption, which read, "I'm truly heart broken [sic] to watch videos like the #altonsterling execution ... the world is a precarious place right now," was a glamorous snapshot of herself in a black bikini on a boat, glass of wine in her hands, and hair blowing in the sea breeze. The confusing contrast of her caption and picture drew immediate criticism, with Huffington Post editor Philip Lewis tweeting, "I don't think Mischa Barton could have picked a worse photo to showcase her solidarity."

Amid the backlash, Barton shot an apology — of sorts — into the Twittersphere, saying, "I'm human I'm not perfect and I'm sorry if my Instagram post went out of context I didn't mean to offend anyone." As with anyone who chooses the "I'm only human" route, Barton's words were not received well. Twitter replies called out the starlet for seemingly making excuses for her social media oversight. "Out of context? Nope, the context was perfectly clear. You can shut up now," wrote one Twitter user. "How did you 'accidentally' post a pic of yourself on a yacht while sending condolences about #AltonSterling?" Another incredulously asked Barton.

Justin Timberlake's non-apology... for that incident

Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during their 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance was one of the most memorable moments in music and sporting event history. Despite that Timberlake's removing part of Jackson's costume — allegedly accidentally — and exposing the singer's right breast was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, both performers faced major backlash — Jackson herself most of all, despite that the song performed at the time of the so-called "Nipplegate" was Timberlake's and he was the one who actually committed said wardrobe malfunction.

Timberlake told Access Hollywood (via Billboard) post-halftime show, "Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about," which appeared to be a complete reversal in sentiment from his onstage apology one month later at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards that year — "Listen, I know it's been a rough week on everybody," Timberlake offered onstage as he accepted his Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. "What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended." Billboard would call his remarks "laughable" in a 2015 retrospective. 

As for her part, Jackson was banned altogether from the Grammy's that year, according to Billboard, despite being made to give two back-to-back apologies immediately following the incident, one written and one on video, assuming full responsibility. 

Shia LaBeouf apologizes for plagiarism by plagiarizing

In a matter of an apology comically making things worse, Shia LaBeouf said "I'm sorry" in 2013 for a case of alleged plagiarism — but then plagiarized his apology in the process. 

LaBeouf's self-directed 2012 short film, HowardCantour.com, was made available for public viewing online in December 2013 when it came under fire for bearing one too many similarities to Justin M. Damiano, a 2007 comic by graphic novelist Dan Clowes (via Wired). With many pointing out that the short's opening monologue and dialogue were both apparently lifted directly from Clowes, LaBeouf took to his Twitter to apologize in a series of tweets, the last of which read, "Copying isn't particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different IS creative work."

Unfortunately for LaBeouf, he copied his apology tweet. Per Wired, a Yahoo! Answers search revealed that approximately one whole decade prior to LaBeouf's short film release, a user by the name of "Lili" wrote the same exact words in a thread addressing the very topic of plagiarism in art. How is that for meta? LaBeouf also hired a skywriting company in January of 2014 to scribble the words "I Am Sorry Daniel Clowes" up in the clouds, as revealed on his own Twitter. That only spurred the denizens of Celebrity Twitter to skewer him, with big names like Patton Oswalt tweeting, "Not easy to pull off crazy AND moronic, but you did it, Shia LaBeouf."

Louis C.K. apologizes to women for 'admiring' him

In November 2017, comedian Louis C.K. confessed to multiple sexual misconduct allegations on his part, the day after The New York Times published an article that included testimonials from five women accusing him of masturbating in front of them without consent. In a statement issued in The Washington Post, C.K. wrote in part, "I have been remorseful of my actions. And I've tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I'm aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position."

While some lauded his statement for owning up to his transgressions, many criticized C.K. for only 'fessing up when corporate partners announced the ceasing of their support. Huffington Post contributor Angus Johnston tweeted, "Before you praise CK's statement, ask: Did he admit anything he wasn't forced to admit? Is his account of his own motives ever ungenerous?" Many, including actress Minnie Driver, tweeted angrily that C.K., in his page-long statement, did not once use the words "I'm sorry." "You now [sic] what an apology looks like? 'I'm incredibly sorry.' Mansplaining your wanking ways is not. #LouisCK," Driver wrote

Immediately after his mea culpa was published on November 10, C.K.'s publicist, manager and the agency that handled his comedy tours all cut ties with him.

Matt Lauer is sorry for his own emotional distress

On November 30, 2017, Matt Lauer apologized after NBC received a formal complaint Monday that week from an anonymous colleague accusing Lauer of sexual misconduct. That same week, Variety also published accusations against him from three other women. Lauer responded to the allegations after being fired the day prior, saying via a written statement, "Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly."

While Lauer's admission of (partial) guilt came swiftly, detractors blasted his focus on his personal emotional fallout and his lack of contrition toward his accusers. St. Louis Post-Dispatch digital editor Mandy summed it up neatly in her tweet, "Matt Lauer feels embarrassed and ashamed. What about the women he harassed, abused and violated? Maybe throw a thought their way, eh?"

Since his 2017 firing, Lauer penned an open letter published by Variety in 2019. Lauer flat-out denied later claims made by former NBC News co-worker Brooke Nevils, whose original complaint to NBC got Lauer fired, that he had raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. There was no apology this time around, only Lauer's insistence that all sexual acts were consensual and his call upon "the women with whom I had extramarital relationships" to own up to their share of the blame.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp apologize for terrier-ism

In April 2016, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp were forced to apologize for a bizarre case of animal smuggling. While visiting Depp in Australia in May 2015 where the actor was filming the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Heard illegally brought along their two Yorkshire Terriers without an import permit and failed to complete the pets' mandatory quarantine as per Aussie law, according to BBC. The Aquaman actress pleaded guilty to charges of illegal importation but avoided jail time, and instead, was issued a one-month "good behavior bond."

Part of Heard's settlement deal was a hilariously awkward apology video starring her and Depp, in which they stiltedly instruct the viewer to respect Australia's biosecurity laws. Depp and Heard's expressionless faces and monotone voices made even larger headlines than the charges they faced, as Heard said without any emotion into the camera, "I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared. Protecting Australia is important." Depp, seated next to her, added stiffly, "When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly," also calling Australians a "warm and direct" people in a tone that was anything but warm. 

According to US Weekly, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was not happy with the couple's apparent insincerity, singling Depp out, saying, "I think he's auditioning for The Godfather. He's very good at playing every person except Johnny Depp."