Stars Who Said They Resigned But Were Actually Fired

Getting fired is glorious. One day someone just taps you on the shoulder and reveals you don't have to come in tomorrow, or ever. Tragically though, not everyone gets to face this beautiful right of passage. In many jobs, you can find a comfy little corner and sandbag for ages before anyone discovers you don't really... do anything, besides churn out unnecessary emails with too many exclamation points — all the while sucking down free coffee and enjoying solid dental benefits.

Entertainment, or politics, isn't really like that. It's a cruel business, the old maxim goes, and there's exacting metrics. Imagine if your boss had the Neilson ratings company physically visit your coworkers and then installed spy devices on their computers, tallying how many people actually read your TPS reports? (Yes, that's basically how TV ratings work). You might be up for review sooner than you think. 

Being famous while fired has perks, though. Nobody working spotlight-adjacent really wants to bring down the hatchet. The future is murky, and the fame game is a small club. So even if you've lost your audience, or base, unless you're Roseanne Barr and Ambien-tweet yourself into oblivion, the suits will come with an offer you can't refuse: tell the fans you want to see your family more often and we'll act shocked and sad. So these are stars who were allowed to "resign," but let's be real, they were actually fired.

Jussie Smollett's empire of lies

In 2019 news broke that a black and openly gay TV actor, Jussie Smollett, had been assailed by two MAGA-hat-wearing bigots in an alleged hate crime who roughed him up and hung a noose around his neck. But the details were immediately suspect. All this happened in urban Chicago, at 2 AM, in freezing weather. Police eventually arrested two Nigerian (Black) brothers who they say Smollett paid to pose as his attackers, according to CBS Chicago.

Smollett was eventually arrested too and apologized to the cast and crew of Empire but also maintained his innocence, blaming "the legal system and the media for his woes," per CNN. 20th Century Fox initially stood by Smollett, saying, "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player."

Jussie Smollett then dropped a statement (via The New York Times): "The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words," and insisted, "justice will be served." Only months later, Fox backtracked with some sly double talk (via Buzzfeed News), "By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett's option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire." Series creator Lee Daniels was more emphatic, revealing Smollett would not be back after being written off season five, according to Variety.

Edward Norton Hulks out

The Incredible Hulk is notoriously difficult to bring to live-action — but it's maybe a cushy gig to act. You do the mild-mannered scientist thing, feign a little Hulk-smash rage, then step aside, and the VFX guys do the rest. Time for a nap in your trailer, royalties, and Comic-con cash for life.

Edward Norton got the green light to play the big guy for 2008's The Incredible Hulk, but by the time The Avengers were assembled in 2012, he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo — and thus missed out on perhaps five more massive Marvel paydays. Norton put the split down to something like artistic fancy, telling NPR, "My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to ... I wanted more diversity ... I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times it can become a suit that's hard to take off in other people's eyes ..."

Norton "declined" to come back for the Avengers films, according to Indiewire. The studio though took a jab at Norton for lacking that Avengers "collaborative spirit" and claimed the decision wasn't financial, putting more blame on Norton's cantankerous personality. Norton's agent shot back (via Entertainment Weekly), perhaps revealing the truth: alleging Marvel made a "unilateral decision to end good-faith negotiations," describing the move as "purely financial." Whatever the exact facts of the split, Ruffalo has raked in an estimated $18 million (minimally) going green in Norton's stead.

Julianne Moore wants forgiveness

It's hard to think of Julianne Moore wanting for anything in Hollywood. But when she was dumped from a major project for Melissa McCarthy, her legendary teeth-clenched cry face was apparently in full effect.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a 2018 biopic of a hard-drinking New York City writer in the 1970s who hatched a scheme forging letters from famous authors and selling them to upscale bookstores. The film, however, ran into trouble only six days before production began, and suddenly both the original director, Nicole Holofcener, and star, Moore, were out, ostensibly by choice, over "creative differences," according to Indiewire.

Then the real story emerged. The film is based on the life of Lee Israel, whose fraud was eventually uncovered. Israel was a heavier-set woman than Moore, and the actress wanted to don a prosthetic nose and a fat suit to "embody the character," per Daily Mail. But in 2019, Moore went on Watch What Happens Live and declared definitively: "I didn't leave that movie, I was fired," she told Andy Cohen. "Nicole fired me. So yeah, that's the truth. I think she didn't like what I was doing ... I think that her idea of where the character was, was different than where my idea of where the character was, and so she fired me." Moore also revealed she hasn't even seen the film because it's "still kinda painful," though she "loves" McCarthy — because you never know what lies ahead.

Johnny Depp gets dropped

The hits keep coming for Johnny Depp. But not the good kind. Depp took to his Instagram in late 2020 to announce his departure from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. He said he was "humbled" by his fans "support and loyalty," but went on to say he'd been asked by Warner Brothers to "resign" his role as Grindelwald and that he "respected and agreed to that request."

The shock announcement came directly on the heels of another blow to Depp: he had just lost his libel case against British tab The Sun over its publication of accusations the actor is a "wife beater," according to Variety. The case is part of Depp's much larger and highly contentious legal battle with ex Amber Heard, who in recordings herself admitted "I was hitting you" and mocked Depp as a "baby" for being unable to defend himself, going on to say, "I did start physical fights." 

Fantastic Beasts creator J.K. Rowling initially defended the star in 2017 after the allegations first surfaced. Producers wanted to ditch Depp, but Rowling stood by her leading man, writing via her website, "Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies." Well, no longer. However, Depp will still be paid his $10 million salary for the third installment of Beasts despite filming only one scene, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Anthony Scaramucci's blaze of glory

Political firings are almost always on the ledger, officially anyway, as "resignations." The idea used to be you let a subordinate "resign," and voila, scandal averted. The media has long since stopped playing along, but the tradition remains — a vestige of simpler times perhaps.

In 2017, tough-talking New Yorker and former Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci was hired as White House communications director, replacing Mike Dubke, who himself has lasted only three months, according to ABC News. "The Mooch" had a history of criticizing Donald Trump, once calling him a "hack politician" but was ultimately seduced by Trump's orange allure. However, rumors immediately swirled about tensions with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, as The Mooch began attempting a crackdown on the constant leaks spilling from the White House.

Incensed at yet another anonymously sourced "senior White House official" story (via The Washington Post) — this time about Trump dining with Sean Hannity — Scaramucci called The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade threatening to "eliminate everyone" and dubbed Priebus a "paranoid schizophrenic." Mooch tweeted, implying he thought the conversation was off the record and that it wouldn't happen again. Trump even reportedly "loved" the rant, claims Axios, but incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly, looking to clean house too, didn't. Scaramucci tended his resignation, surviving only ten days on the job. Or as he put it, he lasted "one full Scaramucci."

Steve Bannon, not so popular

Populist media figure, former Breitbart chairman, and older gentleman with underrated hair, Steven Bannon played a pivotal advisory role in Donald Trump's surprise rise to power. His tenure in the White House was, however, chaotic and brief.

"Work this out," was Trump's warning in April of 2017 to his chief strategist Bannon over a feud with Trump's nephew and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, according to The New York Times. Kushner was hot over negative coverage by Breitbart News. Meanwhile, Bannon reportedly felt himself the sole voice pushing to keep Trump's campaign promises. Days later things, got direr for "sloppy Steve" as Trump began playing his notorious distancing game (via the New York Post) "I like Steve, but ... he was not involved in my campaign until very late ... I'm my own strategist ... I told them to straighten it out or I will."

The sound you're hearing is the other shoe on its way down. By mid-August, Bannon reached out to a Fox News reporter and claimed that he'd resigned. The White House then issued a statement claiming Bannon's departure was "mutually agreed." Multiple sources, though, told CNN that while "Bannon was given the option to resign, he was ultimately forced out." Trump had tolerated Bannon's squabbling, but when the strategist went on the record (via The American Prospect) contradicting the president's bellicose position on North Korea, down came the hatchet. Trump, loyal as always, tweeted gratefully, "Thanks S."

Jay Leno can't say goodnight

Note to the NBC gallery of comedians-in-waiting circa the late aughts: if you want the Tonight Show, you're going to have to pry it from Jay Leno's cold dead hands.

In 2004, news broke Conan O'Brien would succeed Leno as The Tonight Show host, per The New York Times. But weirdly, the transition wouldn't take place until 2009. Five years seemed a long time, and Leno would be nearly 60 by then — surely he'd exit gracefully. But when '09 rolled around, Leno still had the top-rated late-night talk show and hung around to host NBC's The Jay Leno Show at 10 PM. The prime time chatfest was a ratings bomb, acting as dead weight that undoubtedly harmed Conan's Tonight Show during its crucial launch. When NBC tried to remedy the ratings fiasco, pushing Conan back past midnight, he quit, according to ABC News, and Leno was reinstated. 

The victory was short-lived, however. NBC had made a hash of the transition thus far but decisively replaced Leno with Jimmy Fallon in 2014, according to People. The network announced Leno was "retiring" but included a statement from Jay dripping with bitter subtext: "Congratulations, Jimmy. I hope you're as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you're the old guy." Translation: congrats, kid, wait till they put you out to pasture too. Right before his official departure, Leno was more blunt: "It's not my decision," he confessed to 60 Minutes.

Rosie O'Donnell's day had come

Long before Ellen DeGeneres danced her way into our hearts — and then was summarily canceled – Rosie O'Donnell and her choo-choo train of snacks ruled the roost of light-hearted daytime talk.

"The Queen of Nice," as she was dubbed, whose show was a "sensation" when it premiered in 1996, began to see sagging ratings in 2000, according to ABC News. With her contract expiring in 2002, O'Donnell admitted to NBC's Katie Couric she was "leaning toward" stepping away. Both Warner Brothers, who produced the show, and Rosie, had kind words for each other, but the viewership had slipped 19% and Media Week Online analyst Marc Berman noted, "The show is aging and it's losing steam."

O'Donnell put a twist on the classic resignation line, citing her children as "the main impetus for doing the show," but also saying they would be the reason she walked away. And walk away she did, but not before an announcement. In March of 2002, she came out as gay during a club gig at Caroline's in New York, according to The New York Times. Two months later her final show aired. The comedian got a brief revival courtesy of Oprah Winfrey's OWN network with The Rosie Show in 2011, but again, ratings were an issue. This time there was no ambiguity, and O'Donnell made it clear she was being dropped, but had no issue with the decision, admitting (via Today) from her set, "it was fair."

Larry King gets deposed

Legend has it Beowulf was the original EP of Larry King Live. Larry's first guest: a burning bush. Then he took calls. Jesus, of Nazareth, hello, you're on!

Old-guy gags aside, King's legendary CNN show ran from 1985 until 2010 when the then-77-year-old broadcaster — held upright only by gumption and a pair of suspenders — announced: "I talked to the guys here at CNN and I told them I would like to end Larry King Live." Then came, "giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids' little league games." In reality, the network was already feeling out a replacement: one Piers Morgan. Worse, when ratings came out, the news was grim. "A few hours later, there was a hasty tweet by King announcing he was leaving his show." The whole thing was a botch, and "reminded me of the Tonight Show fiasco," writes Deadline. King eventually gave a tearful goodbye and graciously thanked everyone.

After leaving CNN, King didn't exactly stand around as a third-base coach. He launched Larry King Now in 2012, which can be found on Ora, most accessible via Youtube, and stars luminaries such as Jesse Ventura. As CNN celebrated record ratings in 2018, a perhaps embittered King finally took a shot at his former network, chiding their complicity in the rise of Donald Trump, "CNN stopped doing news a long time ago," he said on RT America. "They do Trump."