Apologies are awkward, even when done well. They have to be done in full measure—atoning for some of the wrongs, but not all of them will necessitate a follow-up. They have to be done plainly—being sorry "if" someone was offended does not take personal responsibility for harm done. They demand a loss of dignity and pride—the apologizer must be sincere, rather than "going through the motions" for ulterior motives.
When celebrities apologize, their fame magnifies these conditions tenfold. The public has an inherent distrust, because celebrities are used to being in front of the cameras. And in many cases, they are professional actors and performers. There's intrigue in trying to decode what's real and what's BS. And there's a lurid appeal to seeing someone, with a carefully manicured public image, be brought so low. The bigger the celebrity, the higher the fall.
Most celebrities apologize via written statements. Some go on talk shows to give a softball interview. And every now and then, we get a full video—filmed without makeup, in the smallest room of the celebrity's palatial home, with tears and equivocation.
Here, for your morbid fascination, are the worst (or best?) celebrity apologies. Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments.
Michael Richards Apologizes for Saying the N-Word
Date: November 20, 2006
When Michael Richards (famous for playing Kramer on Seinfeld) lost control of his temper and started screaming the N-Word to Black patrons in a comedy club, he agreed to appear with Jerry Seinfeld via satellite on the Late Show with David Letterman to explain himself. It was like a skit out of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The audience began laughing as Richards explained how he flew into "a rage" and said some "pretty nasty things to some Afro Americans." Seinfeld scolded the audience for laughing, but it was too little, too late.
Paula Deen 'Apologizes' for Racist Past
Date: June 26, 2013
The craziest thing about this video of Paula Deen being interviewed by Matt Lauer about her prior use of the N-Word and accusations of racism is that she never gets around to an actual apology. Instead, she minimizes by saying that it was many years ago, shifts blame by discussing how younger Black people use the N-Word amongst themselves, and insists that she's not a racist. "I is what I is," indeed.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Apologize to Australia
Date: April 18, 2016
This minute-long video of Depp and Heard apologizing for bringing their dogs into Australia the prior year has been made retroactively fascinating by their protracted divorce and court case. It has all the hallmarks of a hostage video—the two of them are clearly reading their statements off an off-screen prompter, and the forced use of phrases like "biodiversity" adds to the tone of insincerity.
Logan Paul Apologizes For the Suicide Forest Video
Date: January 2, 2018
Logan Paul went to Japan to film footage and goof around in the Aokigahara Forest, a notorious location that people visit to commit suicide. But when Paul found an actual dead body, he didn't turn the cameras off. Instead he kept filming, even focusing on the body and making jokes. And then, rather than burying the video in a desert somewhere, Paul uploaded it to his stream, where it was watched by his audience, many of whom were minors. After all that, Paul could not make any apology appear sincere and heartfelt. It felt like a staged attempt to save "the brand"; when in reality, we saw the real Logan Paul for the first time.
Ellen DeGeneres Apologizes for Abusing Her Staff
Date: September 21, 2020
Note to Ellen: If you're being accused of fostering a toxic workplace, it's best to drop the standup routine. But instead, Ellen kicked off the 18th season of her show by turning her apology into an opening monologue, where she sprinkled awkward jokes in between promises to own her mistakes and take responsibility. Both current and former Ellen staffers blasted the apology in interviews with BuzzFeed, saying that she minimized her wrongdoing and made their suffering all about her.
John Cena Apologizes for Calling Taiwan a Country
Date: May 25, 2021
John Cena plays an all-American hero in the wrestling ring, standing for hustle, loyalty, and respect. But in 2021, the former WWE Champion misspoke by calling Taiwan a country to a Taiwanese newscaster, even though according to China, Taiwan is a rogue province. Cena posted a video on Weibo, where he apologized to the Chinese people with an uncomfortable amount of servility.
Will Smith Apologizes for Slapping Chris Rock
Date: July 29, 2022
Months after the slap heard 'round the world, Will Smith released an apology video, in which he expressed remorse to everyone, including Chris Rock, for his behavior on the eve of the Academy Awards. It felt bizarrely rehearsed and unrehearsed at the same time—on one hand, he struggled to read the predetermined questions that he answered in the video, and read his responses like a robot. On the other hand, the visual presentation was perfectly manicured with beiges and earth tones. None of it came off as especially sincere.
Colleen Ballinger Apologizes Via Ukulele
Date: June 28, 2023
Rolling Stone exposed the YouTube performer for exploitative, grooming behavior toward her fans. And rather than addressing those serious allegations with the maturity of, say, an adult? Ballinger made a 10-minute, rambling song, with an insufferably twee ukulele accompaniment, in which she chalked it all up to forgivable mistakes. We're calling it now—the cultural low point of 2023.
Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher Apologize for Supporting Danny Masterson
Date: September 9, 2023
Here's another hostage video. Mila looked like she'd rather be anywhere else when she and Ashton recorded an apology for their support of co-star and convicted rapist Danny Masterson. It had the classic non-apology, "sorry if you were offended" sort of sentiment. The two actors concluded by reiterating their dedication to victims of sexual violence, although Kutcher subsequently stepped down as board chair of Thorn, the anti child sex abuse organization he founded.
Drew Barrymore Apologizes for Being a Scab
Date: September 25, 2023
Don't cross the picket line. Don't be a scab. But Drew Barrymore decided to bring her daytime talk show back to airwaves, right in the middle of the ongoing Hollywood writers' strike. The backlash was immediate and swift. And Barrymore, rather than backing down, released a video apologizing for hurting people's feelings and reiterating her intention to bring back the show. Then, she deleted that video, and announced she would be suspending the show after all. All of that, just to end up right back where she started. She said it best when she said nothing at all.