Vanessa Williams was on top of the world in 1983, when she became the first African American to be crowned Miss America. She had a hard fall, though; when nude photos of Williams surfaced, she was forced to give up her title amidst the scandal. "The incident was a part of my life that was pretty devastating,” she has said. “But in the context of my whole life, I got over it."
Today, she’s having the last laugh. Not only did Williams find success as a singer (Her 1991 album The Comfort Zone went triple-platinum) but she's also had a solid career as a television actress, first on Ugly Betty and currently on Desperate Housewives.
Anyone who publishes a memoir titled Little Girl Lost at the ripe of old age of 15 probably hasn’t had the easiest time of it. That’s true for Drew Barrymore, who became a worldwide star at age seven with the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. She went on to struggle publicly with drugs and alcohol, enduring two stints in rehab and a suicide attempt by the time she was 14. Hard to believe that, today, Barrymore is one of Hollywood’s most successful actresses and (with her company Flower Films) producers. In 2009, she won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of “Little Edie” Beale in Grey Gardens.
Winona Ryder was thought to be one of the most promising young actresses of her generation. Star-making roles in cult classics such as Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Reality Bites brought her fame, while turns in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and 1994’s Little Women earned her Oscar noms. Things took a turn for the strange, however, when Ryder was arrested in a 2001 shoplifting incident at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.
An embarrassing trial (remember the “Free Winona” tee-shirts?) and four-year hiatus from acting followed. But Ryder more than put herself back on the radar with a role as an aging ballerina in 2010’s Black Swan. She also has a part in Frankenweenie, a film by director Tim Burton, out in March 2012.
He showed early promise in films such as Less Than Zero and Chaplin, but Robert Downey Jr. became more known as a notorious party boy and drug addict after a series of arrests in the 1990s. "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal,” he famously told a judge in 1999.
After a court-ordered drug treatment program, Downey got sober and Hollywood gave him another chance. He became A-list once again with 2007’s Ironman and 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and is now expecting a baby with wife Susan Levin.
Romances with Johnny Depp and Matthew Broderick. A little hit movie called Dirty Dancing alongside Patrick Swayze. Actress Jennifer Grey had it made in the 1980s! But a tragic car crash while vacationing with Broderick in Ireland left her with chronic back pain and a bad nose job rendered her virtually unrecognizable by the early 1990s (“I went in the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous" she has said. “It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible."
Hollywood stopped calling and Grey’s career didn’t recover until 2010 when she proved that she still couldn’t be put in a corner by claiming the top prize on Dancing with the Stars at age 50.
Just 10 days after winning an Oscar for The Blind Side, Bullock’s nearly five-year marriage to motorcycle mogul Jesse James unraveled in a humiliatingly public fashion (remember Michelle “Bombshell” McGee?) as his numerous affairs came to light. (This, after she’d publicly thanked him for “having [her] back”!)
A devastated Bullock quietly retreated to her home in Austin, Texas. But she re-merged just six weeks later, beaming alongside her new adopted son, Louis, on the cover of People. The scandal also boosted public goodwill for Bullock, who is now ranked as the highest-paid actress of all time.
She was still riding high on her Oscar-winning role in 2006’s Dreamgirls when singer and actress Jennifer Hudson suffered a horrific loss. In late 2008, Hudson’s beloved mother, brother, and seven-year-old nephew were murdered in her hometown of Chicago. She left the spotlight, postponing the release of her debut record until the following year.
Today, Hudson has successfully resumed her career and also found love, marrying, and giving birth to a son named David in 2009. Recently, she lost a stunning 80 pounds on Weight Watchers and a memoir is in the works.
Mickey Rourke was the toast of Tinseltown in the ‘80s, winning acclaim for his roles in Diner, 9 1/2 Weeks and Barfly. But, thanks to his hot temper and substance abuse problems, he soon earned a reputation as difficult. He abruptly quit acting for boxing in the 1990s and became nearly unrecognizable thanks to facial injuries and subsequent reconstructive surgeries. After the flameout of a tumultuous marriage to model Carre Otis and the end of his boxing career, Rourke was nearly broke.
He launched an unlikely Hollywood comeback in 2008, garnering raves for his role as a down-on-his-luck fighter in The Wrestler. Who does he thank for the change of fortune? “I'd like to thank all my dogs,” Rourke said on winning a Golden Globe in 2009. “ … because sometimes when a man's alone, that's all you got is your dog.”
Was anyone else, um, concerned in 2007 when Britney Spears shaved her head bald, started bashing car windows with an umbrella, and was checking in and out of treatment facilities? The pop star admitted at the time, "I hit rock bottom." Custody of her two young sons was transferred to Spears's ex, Kevin Federline and the courts later gave Spears's dad, Jamie, control of her empire.
Spears began a slow comeback in 2008, culminating with her 2011 record Femme Fatale and accompanying world tour. Today, she seems to have found stability with boyfriend Jason Trawick.
The force behind such mega-hits as “Un-break my Heart” and “Breathe Again,” Toni Braxton was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2007. She followed that with more hit records, but Braxton still couldn’t manage her money. In 2010, she filed for bankruptcy one again, reportedly owing up to $50 million.
Braxton’s luck improved in 2011, when her reality show Braxton Family Values was picked up and she signed a new record deal.
The adopted daughter of Lionel Richie found fame on the 2003 hit The Simple Life (alongside then-pal Paris Hilton), but real drama followed in the form of DUI arrests and a widely-rumored eating disorder.
These days, however, Richie seems to have left her wild ways behind and is now better known as a fashion designer, wife to Joel Madden, and mom to their kids, Harlow and Sparrow. She will next be seen as a mentor on the upcoming TV show Fashion Star.
The role of Karen in 1991’s Goodfellas made her a star, but a lengthy custody battle with ex-boyfriend Harvey Keitel left her bankrupt by 1999. ''It was horrifying and embarrassing: getting foreclosure notices; lawyers knocking on your door wanting their money and no work to be found,'' she has said. ''It was basically, who do you pay at the end of the month? You have to pay the mortgage. You have to pay the taxes, food and electricity and lawyers.''
But that all changed when Bracco was cast in the career-making role of Dr. Jennifer Melfi on HBO’s The Sopranos. Today, she’s debt-free and appears often on the hit show Rizzoli and Isles.
In 2004, domestic doyenne Martha Stewart was sent to federal prison after being convicted of lying to investigators about a stock sale. Few thought the empire Stewart had spent decades building could survive the blow (“The company she leaves behind will be lucky to survive as even a shadow of its former self,” one columnist noted.)
But she proved the naysayers wrong. Re-emerging in 2005, Stewart—who said her nickname in prison had been “M.Diddy”—went immediately back to work on her still-successful eponomyous magazine and TV show; she recently released her 75th cookbook.
As Rebecca Howe on Cheers, Kirstie Alley won an Emmy and a Golden Globe and later starred on the successful sitcom Veronica’s Closet. But a battle with her weight led to a loss of roles. In 2005, she created and starred in the series Fat Actress, playing herself, but the show was canceled after just seven episodes. That same year, she joined Jenny Craig and dropped 75 pounds—becoming the brand’s pitch woman—only to gain it all back. Alley didn’t really find the spotlight again until 2011, when she became a fan favorite on Dancing with the Stars.