The list of celebrities who’ve landed in hot water for saying the N-word in recent years continues to grow. It will only be a matter of time before another star drops the racial slur. Some of the celebrities who’ve used the epithet were angry when they said it. Others have used it as slang, and a few claim to have mentioned it to make philosophical statements. So, who’s ignited fury by using the N-word during the past decade? The celebs in question include actors, musicians, reality stars and, most recently, abrasive radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Can you guess which other celebrities appear on this list?
Jennifer Lopez was at the top of her game in 2001, churning out box office hits and No. 1 records. One single generated a backlash, however. In the remix of "I'm Real," Lopez speaks of "n___as." Civil rights activists demanded that she apologize for using the slur as slang, and a New York radio station called for a boycott against her. Lopez came out of the ordeal unscathed for a number of reasons. Firstly, rapper Ja Rule, who is black, penned the song for J.Lo, indicating that he had no objections to a Latina using the epithet. Moreover, due to Lopez’s high profile relationships with African American entertainers, the public didn’t believe that she was using the N-word to degrade blacks.
In November 2003, The Source magazine leaked old tapes of rapper Eminem saying the N-word. On a 1993 recording, he reportedly raps, “All the girls I like to b@#e have big butts/ No they don’t, ‘cause I don’t like that n____er sh%t I'm just here to make a bigger hit.” And on a 1988 recording, Eminem refers to black women as money-hungry “dumb chicks.” Never one to back away from controversy, Eminem did in this case, blaming his words in the latter track on being young and immature and reacting foolishly to a breakup with an African American girl. He claims, however, to be unfamiliar with the first track. As a rap star, Eminem has never used the N-word in a song.
Comedian Michael Richards rose to fame playing quirky Kramer on the legendary sitcom “Seinfeld.” But in November 2006, Richards lost many fans when he was caught on tape hurling the N-word at black audience members who taunted him during his standup routine at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Arguably more offensive than his use of the slur was his allusion to the systemic violence blacks experienced during segregation. “Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f___ing fork up your a&$,” Richards told the men. Richards later apologized for his racist outburst, citing mental health issues. Nearly four years later, Richards has failed to regain the public’s favor. His career may never rebound.
It’s uncertain exactly when hotel heiress and reality TV star Paris Hilton actually uttered the N-word. But in February 2007, video of Hilton with sister, Nicky, was posted on You Tube. In the footage, “The Simple Life” star says to her sibling that “we’re like two n____rs” as they dance to rap song “Hypnotize” by Notorious B.I.G. On the tape, Hilton also uses slurs for gays and Asians and mentions a woman’s Jewish heritage disparagingly. Although this wasn’t the first time Hilton had been overheard using the N-word, the public quickly forgave her for the transgression. Why? Perhaps because the public never had high expectations for Hilton in the first place. She’s largely known for being a ditz and making a sex tape.
What made Duane Chapman, star of reality show “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” say the N-word? Apparently, Chapman objected to his son Tucker’s relationship with a black woman named Monique Shinnery. Expressing his disapproval of the romance, Chapman littered his speech with the racial epithet. The problem for Chapman, though, is that the National Enquirer obtained a tape of him spewing the N-word, making his bigoted views known to the world. Evidently, Tucker himself was responsible for selling the incendiary tape to the tabloid. Due to the controversy, Chapman apologized for his offensive language, and cable network A&E suspended his reality show for a spell. Now, the show has been back on the air for years and remains a viewer favorite.
6. Nas (2007)
Who says that African Americans never face backlash for saying the N-word? In 2007, rapper Nas wanted to name his new album “N____r,” but reported pressure from his label, Def Jam, as well as civil rights activists led him to drop the title. While rappers are known for using the N-word casually to refer to themselves and others, Nas had something more political in mind when he chose to name his album after the epithet. On the cover art for the album, Nas appears shirtless with welts on his back in the shape of an N. The photo serves to parallel Nas with a slave just whipped by his master. Nas never renamed the controversial album, which remains untitled today.
Charlie Sheen gets the award for the strangest use of the N-word. While arguing with then wife Denise Richards in 2005, Sheen hurled a series of insults at her, including the racial slur. Richards, though, isn’t a person of color. Apparently, Sheen wanted to put down his wife in any way possible, and the N-word surfaced from his lips. Three years later during a custody battle with Richards, a tape of Sheen’s outburst was leaked to the media. At that time, Sheen apologized for using the epithet and made a point of telling the public that the best man at his wedding is African American. The controversy didn’t hurt Sheen’s career, but legal woes the actor faces from his subsequent marriage pose a challenge.
8. Jay-Z (2009)
Rapper Jay-Z never ignited the firestorm fellow rapper Nas did for invoking the N-word, but when he appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in September 2009, the talk show host blasted him for casually using the epithet in songs. Her move demonstrated that, yes, some blacks do object to anyone saying the N-word, even fellow African Americans. Oprah explained to Jay-Z that she finds the slur painful because it reminds her of all the blacks who were lynched as racists hurled that word at them. Jay-Z’s response? “My generation hasn’t had the same experience with that word that generations of people before us had. We weren't so close to the pain. So in our way, we disarmed the word.”
In an interview published by Playboy in March 2010, musician John Mayer opened up a bit too much, revealing his distaste for black women, bragging that black people love him and dropping the N-word. Specifically, Mayer boasted that black people accept him so much that he has a “n____r pass.” Looks like Mayer bragged prematurely about how good he has it with African Americans. After his Playboy interview hit newsstands, the black community was outraged. In response, Mayer apologized for his casual use of the N-word as well as for his comments about black women. Now, much of the public regards Mayer as a cad, but that may have as much to do with his turbulent love life as it does with his views on race.
“Tudors” star Jonathan Rhys Meyers proved that beauty on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean there’s beauty on the inside when he spewed the N-word during an incident which led to United Airlines banning him. While lounging at JFK Airport in New York in May, Rhys Meyers apparently downed one too many drinks. When United personnel noticed his behavior spinning out of control, they stopped him from boarding the flight. While taking issue with this decision, the Irish actor allegedly shouted the N-word. It’s unclear whether or not Rhys Meyers directed the slur at any staff member in particular. For Rhys Meyers, the incident is one of many involving his battle with substance abuse. He’s reportedly checked out of rehab at least three times.
After blaming Jews for all the wars in the world during a drunken rant in 2006, actor-director Mel Gibson’s careless lips ensnared him in controversy again in 2010. During a heated exchange with then girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, which she covertly recorded, Gibson told her that she would be “raped by a pack of n___rs” because of how she was dressed. Here, Gibson didn’t use the N-word as slang or to make a philosophical point but to invoke ugly racial stereotypes of black men. Because of his previous anti-Semitic remarks and Grigorieva’s allegations that Gibson battered her, don’t expect the public to overlook his transgressions this time around. The once esteemed entertainer’s career may very well be over.
Radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger dug her own grave in August 2010 when she uttered the N-word a reported 11 times during an exchange with a black woman who called for advice about an interracial relationship. Rather than give the woman advice, Schlessinger promptly dubbed the caller “hypersensitive” and went on to declare that she finds it hilarious that there are more complaints about racism than ever, given that we have a black president. During the call, Schlessinger also criticized black leaders and suggested that only people with a sense of humor need enter interracial marriages. Time will tell how the court of public opinion ultimately judges Schlessinger. At present, she’s in the throes of a public backlash.