Let’s get this out of the way, first:
Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry is a goddamn legend who should always be remembered for changing the sound of music. Marty McFly aside, no other modern solo artist or act has been as influential (and as important) as the man we called “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
And he should also be remembered for being a disgusting and reprehensible human being.
Lawrence Taylor. Darryl Strawberry. Dwight Gooden. Mike Tyson. Hulk Hogan. Bill Cosby. Michael Jackson. I’m a guy who grew up in the ’80s — which means I now hate talking about my childhood heroes (especially when most of those listed share two obvious physical traits in common).
Can I separate their positive accomplishments from their embarrassing downfalls? Of course — and, for the most part, I willing do. It was only a few years ago when I lost my mind after Tyson waved back to me following a taping of his Broadway show. Granted, he is one of the two names on that list to whom I do give the benefit of the doubt, but still… Mike Tyson IS a convicted rapist.
Those who know me well know that I absolutely LOVE Michael Jackson. And, while I have been incredibly critical of his actions in the past, I continue to listen to his music on, damn near, a daily basis. My issue with everything surrounding Michael’s child molestation accusations is that I am simply unable to believe them. It’s not strictly a case of me not being convinced — I am legitimately incapable of believing those charges.
However, I have long said that, even if his intentions were completely innocent, MJ’s grown ass should have realized how inappropriate it is for an adult to have fucking sleepover parties with young children. It’s bad enough that Michael thought he was Peter Pan, and it’s even worse that he was surrounded by people who only cared about him as being their ‘meal ticket’ (and, therefore, wouldn’t tell him things like “NO”). But it’s downright unconscionable that his dumb ass continued to hang out with children AFTER the first time he was accused of being inappropriate.
When Michael died, I was incredibly vocal in my support for his musical legacy… but I never acted like the accusations didn’t happen. And I sure as fuck did not pull any punches.
Chuck Berry, however, isn’t Michael Jackson. I don’t need to shield myself from any accusations because the criminal convictions speak for themselves. Tax evasion isn’t necessarily a big deal to many (unless we are talking about legal loopholes that the more fortunate are able to take advantage of), but I think armed robbery might give some people a reason to pause.
Berry was a 19-year-old high school student when he used a gun for an interstate spree that involved a carjacking and stick ups at both a gas station and convenience store. Upon being found guilty, he was sentenced to a reformatory for two and a half years. Once again, while clearly a trio of violent crimes, it’s easy to point to his age at the time of the offense(s), and kind of give him a pass.
Fifteen years later, however, Berry violated the Mann Act (which prohibited the “transportation… for immoral purposes of women and girls”) when he took a 14-year-old girl he met at a bar in Mexico across state lines. But, still, even if for just argument’s sake, you could almost talk me into overlooking that infraction (quite honestly, there is a great deal surrounding the case that feels a bit fishy).
But, then, there’s the time back in 1989 when Chuck Berry was sued by a former cook who accused the guitar legend of secretly videotaping female customers when they used the bathroom at his Southern Air restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri. A little over six months later, his home was raided by law enforcement officials; who discovered videotapes of the victims (including one minor), 62 grams of marijuana, weapons, and a large sum of cash. Felony drug and child abuse charges were filed — with Berry pleading guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana in order to get the child abuse charges dropped. He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, two years’ unsupervised probation, and ordered to donate $5,000 to a local hospital.
Berry’s videotaped victims, fortunately, were able to file a class action lawsuit; and he was forced to settle with 59 women at a cost of over $1.2 million (plus legal fees). His legendary musical status was earned, but Chuck Berry, the person, was a seriously fucked up individual — and that assessment concerns only the crimes that were proven.
Chris Brown. R. Kelly. Bryan Singer. David O. Russell. Casey Affleck… Way too many of us overlook way too many things in the interest of fandom, and that shit needs to stop.
A director people always ask me about is Roman Polanski. ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and CHINATOWN (1974) are film classics that I admire, but, to be honest, neither one is a big deal to me. And, with the exception of a small, onscreen role in CHINATOWN, neither movie screams “Roman Polanski” when I see or hear about them. For the record, though, I think Polanski is a guilty piece of shit who got incredibly lucky.
Woody Allen is a slightly difference case for two very important reasons. The first being that there is no separating the man from the art — his movies are HIS movies. And the second reason is that, when you discover how much misinformation you grew up believing, the case against Allen doesn’t seem so open and shut, anymore. At least, for me.
I think the thing that truly bothers me about most of these incidents is that a non-celebrity would have their lives destroyed the instant they faced any of these accusations. Look, I don’t hide anything from my past, so most of you know that I’ve been in that boat. Unfortunately, I know what it’s like to be accused of something horrific — and what it’s like to be treated as being guilty (even with a complete lack of real evidence).
So, no, I’m not heartbroken over Chuck Berry’s death. For every positive thing I can say about his career, there is an equally compelling and ugly known truth about his personal life. The man was a revolutionary genius who deserved his fame, and he was also a longtime sexual predator was deserved a worse fate.
I mean, the motherfucker was 90-years-old. He led a full life.