7 celebrities who went to jail before they were famous

By Ben Hartwig

Published Sep 9, 2020 at 11:38 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Did you know that there are plenty of celebrities with dark times in their past? Many have come back from time spent in jail and gone on to become successful and famous since. For some celebs, going to jail is even seen as a part of their character-building, and as something they have used as inspiration in their lives since.

That’s why we’ve looked at some of the celebrities who went to jail before finding fame. Some you may know about, others might shock you. The information can be checked via a nationwide inmate search.

Celebrities who were criminals before they were famous

Robert Downey Jr.


Robert Downey Jr. of Marvel movie fame went to prison after violating his probation. He had numerous run-ins with the law and in 1996, he was arrested for possessing heroin, cocaine and a pistol. The prison sentence for violating his probation is still on his permanent record, but he was granted a pardon in 2015 considering the fact that he has turned his life around since.

Robert Downey Jr. has gone on to become iconic in his role as Iron Man and is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.

Mark Wahlberg


Wahlberg has faced some serious charges in his time. The Hollywood actor has a troubled past and though he has apologised publicly for his actions, you can use a nationwide inmate search to see the injunctions filed against him.

He has been charged with race-related crimes and attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to felony assault. As he already had a civil rights injunction from previous claims, he was found to be in contempt of court and given a two-year sentence, of which he served just 45 days.

Wahlberg has supported the Black Lives Matter movement and has clearly come a long way since his teenage convictions.

Bill Gates


Of all of the people you might assume would have a history of getting arrested, Bill Gates might come as the biggest surprise. Bill Gates was arrested in 1977 when he was in his 20s. The arrest was due to a traffic violation.

The entrepreneur and computing pioneer has since given billions to charitable causes and become one of the best-known celebrities in the world due to his contribution to technology and Silicon Valley.

Tim Allen

Tim Allen is known as a great entertainer and comedic actor. In the 90s, he was incredibly famous and starred in a number of Hollywood movies. Before his success, he was involved in drug trafficking and found himself in serious trouble. Allen was arrested in 1978, when officers took him in at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport with over 1 pound of class A drugs on him. Though he could have served a life sentence he was able to cut a deal which led to him only spending two years in a Correctional Institution in Minnesota. Allen speaks openly about the fact that this was a “watershed moment” for him.

Stephen Fry


Stephen Fry is a household name in the UK and is known in the US for his roles in The Hobbit films, Alice in Wonderland, narrating the Harry Potter games and audiobooks as well as appearing in many television shows. When he was just 17, he was jailed in the UK for credit card fraud after stealing a family friend’s credit card and spending non-stop over a three month period.

Ian Somerhalder


Vampire Diaries star and Hollywood hunk Ian Somerhalder was arrested when he was just 17 for public drunkenness, and for underage drinking.

Somerhalder laughed off the offences somewhat, stating that “Every Senator’s son, every judge’s son, every high-school principal’s son, every cop’s son in Louisiana has gotten into trouble for alcohol consumption at some point in New Orleans.”

Matthew McConaughey


This is one story that we had to include. Matthew McConaughey was, to a degree, already famous when he was arrested back in the 90s. However, he was nowhere near the A-Lister he is today.

In 1999, McConaughey was said to be found playing the bongos loudly while dancing on top of a table under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. He was taken in “on suspicion of possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting transportation.”

Although he was detained, he eventually got away with paying a small fine. Funny how this experience wasn’t highlighted in his Oscar award acceptance speech.

There are plenty of other examples of celebrities being arrested before they were famous. Jay-Z was taken in for drug possession at just 16, Danny Trejo has a long history of arrests and even the highest-paid actor in the world, The Rock, was arrested in his teens. The majority of these celebrities have gone on to turn their lives around and achieve incredible success.

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