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Actors Who Lost It On Live TV

Celebrity actors all go a little nuts sometimes, just like us regular people. The difference is, they're much more likely to have a television camera pointed at them while it's happening. And because the mass media isn't especially interested in the personal or professional struggles of ordinary people, footage of a megawatt star having a good ol' fashioned freak-out is much more likely to play out in front of a sizable fraction of the population.

Public meltdowns come in all shapes and sizes, with numerous underlying causes and agendas. Sometimes, an incident that initially looks like a spontaneous, unscripted case of "losing it" turns out to be largely pre-orchestrated. On other occasions, an innocent mistake gets blown out of proportion. And every now and then, a celebrity we think has "lost it" is merely demonstrating what is, by their standards, more-or-less normal behavior. As a society, we pretty much agree that the super-wealthy and super-famous can go about their business as bananas as they please. Who are we to judge, right? If we were as famous as the following actors, we'd fall to pieces live on television on a routine basis — and maybe even on purpose. Still, these moments are shocking, and linger in the public's mind for years. These are some of the most memorable actor freak-outs ever captured on live TV, from the f-bombs to the incidents of flashing.

Joaquin Phoenix cursed out his cinematographer

Here's a practical question: Is an actor "losing it" if they're obviously doing it on purpose, and have been for a long time? Part of Joaquin's Phoenix's mystique revolves around how uncomfortable he apparently feels while on the talk show circuit. He even went so far as to amplify his reputation for off-putting behavior during a stealth marketing campaign for 2010's I'm Still Here that baffled a handful of late night TV hosts. 

As far as televised meltdowns down, Phoenix topped himself while on the hype train for 2019's acclaimed comic book adaptation, Joker. During a chat on Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel, an apparently real on-set Joker outtake was shown, in which Phoenix gives cinematographer Lawrence Sher a rough a time. "I know you started the 'Cher' thing, Larry," Phoenix says in the video, referring to an unaffectionate nickname the crew has apparently been using for him. "You think it's fun making fun of me, like I'm a f***ing diva? It's not even an insult. Cher? Really? Singer, actor, dancer, fashion icon? How is that a f***king insult?"

After the clip ended, Phoenix grew visibly uncomfortable, issued an awkward apology, and mentioned that his publicist would issue an official statement on the matter the next day. This was all a hilarious ruse, of course. But for a split second, it was a member of the freak-out hall of fame.

Tom Cruise jumped for joy on The Oprah Winfrey Show

Where do we even start with Tom Cruise? One of the most successful movie stars in the history of movie stars, the man who famously demanded to be shown "the mon-aaay" in Jerry Maguire has been the subject of substantial rumors and innuendo over the years. Many of these allegations relate to his connection with the controversial Church of Scientology, which itself has been accused of doing all kinds of awful stuff since, well, pretty much always. 

There is plenty of speculation regarding what Cruise was really trying to accomplish during his frequently mocked 2005 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in which he celebrated his then-new relationship with fellow celebrity Katie Holmes with a level of exuberance some people found unnatural. Perhaps Cruise has no idea how normal people act when they're happy, and therefore can't reflect the sentiment without it looking like an attempt at public image management gone awry. Perhaps Cruise is just an eccentric guy who expresses himself in ways that look strange to the rest of us. Maybe it's both things. Who really knows? 

But, astoundingly, Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey's interaction might not even be the most significant element of this interview. The Mission Impossible star's couch jumping became one of the first clips to go viral on YouTube, making Cruise an accidental digital media pioneer. After all, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have been divorced since 2012, but we're all still using YouTube.

Tom Cruise got mad about getting sprayed with a water pistol

2005 was a particularly weird year for Tom Cruise. About a month after Cruise's ludicrous display on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a somewhat less outlandish but equally strange outburst transpired at the London premiere of his latest film, Steven Spielberg's remake of War of the Worlds. According to Today, a group of comedians in the guise of red carpet reporters approached Cruise, got him answering questions, and sprayed him with water. Then the scene got a little scary. 

"Do you like making less of people?" Cruise barked at the pranksters, as he radiated white-hot fury — eerily without letting his signature smile waver for even a moment. "I'm here giving you an interview answering your questions, and you do something really nasty. You're a jerk!"

Police arrested the unscrupulous wielders of H2O, who were evidently shooting footage for a Channel 4 program called Balls of Steel. Cruise declined to press charges.  "I'm a Scientologist," Cruise remarked in People. "When things like that happen I have no hesitation in confronting it ... There are bullies, people who like to make people feel less and feel bad. Those people need to be confronted ... I have never felt something like that is funny." Let it be known that Cruise has no sense of humor when it comes to unscheduled liquids, or unfortunate attempts to mimic the celebrity-oriented, stunt-based humor of Ali G. Sorry, Balls of Steel, but only Sacha Baron Cohen can be Sacha Baron Cohen.

Charlie Sheen spent 2011 getting fired and getting weird

Combine a lifetime in the Hollywood spotlight, seemingly unlimited financial resources, the kind of daddy issues a man only develops when his father starred in Apocalypse Now, and several dump trucks full of drugs, and you've got a recipe for the epic meltdown Charlie Sheen underwent in public during 2011.

Although Sheen was the highly paid star of Two and a Half Men, CBS executives opted to stop dealing with the party monster's behavior and fired him from the show, mid-way through taping its eighth season. At this point, Sheen was making a jaw-dropping $1.8 million per episode. You'd think botching a literal once-in-history gig would damage his career or reputation in a meaningful way. Instead, he went on an informal press tour, and then a formal press tour. He coined a few catch phrases: "Tiger blood," "I'm on a drug, it's called Charlie Sheen," and "Winning!" were all briefly inescapable. Then he landed starring roles in shows and films including Anger Management and the infamous Foodfight!. So by all appearances, Charlie Sheen's life picked up pretty much exactly where it left off before his falling out with CBS.

Charlie Sheen isn't actually invincible, of course — he announced his HIV-positive status in 2015. But, somehow, he continues on an upward trajectory, no matter how many times, nor how spectacularly, he screws up. 

Courtney Love let it all hang out

Courtney Love's no stranger to looking silly on television. The singer, whose acting side gigs have included Sid and Nancy and Sons of Anarchy, has had more than a few moments of sloppy behavior broadcasted to the masses in her time. But since a bunch of those occasions, particularly from the '90s, strike us as a little depressing and maybe even a little exploitative in hindsight, let's focus on a 2004 Late Show appearance that's comparatively closer to the present day.

Love started the interview strongly hinting at her intention to expose her breasts to David Letterman, and made good on that implicit promise later on. However, it's highly plausible this act was meant as an homage to a very similar Drew Barrymore segment from a decade prior, rather than a random outburst. During the actual conversation, Love certainly rambled, but not at all incoherently. In fact, she told a pretty funny story about getting beaten out by Nicole Kidman for the lead role in Moulin Rouge!.

The Late Night exchange really only looks like a meltdown when you focus on events that happened around the same time. According to CNN, Love was arrested for throwing a microphone stand into a crowd the evening after the taping, and she also wound up hospitalized later that year. Perhaps it's safe to say that showing up on The Late Show a little messed up was more of a bad omen than a real meltdown.

Drew Barrymore revealed way more than secrets on The Late Show

Drew Barrymore made her film debut in the 1980 psychedelic horror jam Altered States when she was only 5 years old. That means that for a whole lot of you, Drew Barrymore has been a certifiable movie star for longer than you've been alive. Things sure have changed over the course of her career: Lots of behavior that seemed completely outrageous in the mid-'90s looks pretty tame by today's standards. Consider Drew Barrymore's legendary flashing of David Letterman in 1995. She didn't face the camera when she lifted her shirt, so the program itself remained comfortably in PG territory. It's clear that the 20-year-old Barrymore was aiming for a playful gesture, rather than any genuine attempt to seduce the host. As stripteases go, it's really not very sleazy at all. But still, it was certainly attention-grabbing.

A quarter of a century later, Barrymore reflected on the episode during a round of interviews promoting a talk show of her own. "I think if there's one thing I've learned in a very long life in front of people is there is a line," she said in 2020. "There is TMI. And I kind of know what that line is, and it's a feeling." Let's face it — If the craziest thing a person does in their 20s is flash David Letterman, then that person has probably a pretty placid decade. Especially if it was actually Letterman's producer's idea. 

Madonna made mischief on The Late Show

Here we have a case of a celebrity who was allegedly too messed up to complete a relatively simple bit that was pre-arranged for TV. But to say Madonna "lost it" on her notorious 1994 The Late Show appearance feels... wrong. Or, at least, putting it that way doesn't really tell the whole story.  

During the multi-platinum singer and Evita star's interview with David Letterman, Madonna said "f***" 14 times. She removed her underwear, and instructed the hapless host to take a sniff. She was openly abusive toward Letterman, who barely concealed his frustration under his typically jovial façade. She made a half-hearted attempt to salvage the video cues she was supposed to remember, then just kind of winged it. Finally, she refused to leave the stage at the previously agreed upon time, which created all kinds of backstage upheaval and confusion.

Yet despite all this chaos, Madonna was as cool and collected as a particularly poised cucumber. According to a Grantland piece penned by Late Night producer Daniel Kellison, Madonna casually admitted to getting bonkers high before it was time to film her segment. But rather than fall all over herself like a sloppy drunk, she simply scanned as totally unbothered by Letterman's talk show host hogwash. Frankly, it's kind of a good look.

Everyone who's said the f-word on SNL

For hosts and members of the Saturday Night Live cast, the completely natural urge to scream shocking curse words on live television must be suppressed at all times. If that didn't happen, the program would stop being SNL, turn into something like Mr. Show, and move to cable, where fewer people would watch it — though it would also stand a pretty good chance of becoming a Mr. Show-style cult classic.

Performers still slip up and yell the f-bomb every now and again, of course. Sam Rockwell exclaimed that a couple of struggling students "can't be this f***ing stupid" in a sketch from 2018. In a 2009 segment involving a wall of license plates, then-cast member Jenny Slate said "I f***ing love you for that." Kristen Stewart described hosting SNL as the "coolest f***ing thing" she'd ever done during her 2017 opening monologue. There is some dispute regarding whether or not Samuel L. Jackson used any cuss words during his 2017 hosting spot, but it sure sounds like he says the f-word, and a compound word whose first half is "bull," in this clip from the episode in question. 

In this case, the "it" in "losing it on live TV" refers to some money, because the Federal Communications Commission does not have a casual attitude about saying the f-word on TV. And if you don't pay those fines, the FCC has all the legal authority it needs to mess you up good.

Eminem messed with the wrong puppet at the VMAs

While he earned praise for his performance as B-Rabbit in 8 Mile, Eminem is a rapper first and foremost. As one the most unique and combative personalities of pop music's previous few decades, Eminem has feuded with (or at minimum written mean lyrics about) a whole bunch of other celebrities. His enemies list includes Moby, Christina Aguilera, Machine Gun Kelly, Everlast, the Insane Clown Posse, Will Smith, Fred Durst, Vanilla Ice, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, and Eminem's own mom. Might as well toss Donald Trump on there as well. But as far as we're concerned, Slim Shady's greatest enemy of all time has Robert Smigel's hand up his bum.

Some people say Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was very unwise to interject himself into the spat between Eminem and Moby that dominated the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. Perhaps they're right: In one fell swoop, the ruthless physical assault perpetrated upon the beloved canine satirist traumatized a generation of music and comedy fans. "I only wish that Eminem could relax and enjoy all he has," Triumph said after the encounter. "He should lighten up ... I mean, my mom was a b**** too, but I don't go writing songs about it."

Andy Kaufman shattered the fourth wall on Fridays

Andy Kaufman pioneered a style of fourth wall-breaking stunt comedy that was easily decades ahead of its time. A litany of modern performers — Sacha Baron Cohen, everyone involved with the Deadpool franchise, and Jim Carrey among them — owe an obvious, major debt to Kaufman. But if you'd tried to explain the concept of metatextual humor to most network television viewers in the early 1980s, they wouldn't have had the foggiest idea what you were talking about. So when Kaufman broke the fourth wall by refusing to continue doing a sketch on the ABC variety show Fridays in 1981, inviting the ire of his co-stars and eventually a few punches from a crew member, nobody in the audience had any idea what was going on.

In subsequent years, basically everyone involved has claimed that the catastrophe was entirely planned out in advance, and all pertinent members of the Fridays ensemble had full advance knowledge of what Kaufman was going to do. And yet, Kaufman died in 1984, only a few years after his epic Fridays disaster. And since he's the only one who can truly confirm or deny what happened on stage that night, we'll never know for sure who knew what, or when they knew it. It's a mystery for the ages! Whoa!