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Controversial figures who still found success

  • Controversial figures who still found success

    There are many paths to success: Some people find it by maintaining popular views, saying and doing things that are sure to please the masses. They shy away from controversy and work hard to stay out of situations that might threaten their likability. Often, these are the same folks who have high popularity ratings and more conventional personality types, attracting lots of devoted, similar-minded fans. The strategy works—there's certainly no shortage of famous, well-liked figures who've achieved extraordinary success.

    Others, however, take a less conventional route. These folks are typically independent by nature, marching to the beat of their own drum and not spending time worrying about what others think. They're not afraid to say what's on their mind, sometimes admittedly to their detriment. Often, these are the types of people who no one feels neutral about—they're either loved or hated. They face criticism, but by staying true to themselves, they also connect with fans in a way that others often can't.

    It's difficult to define what makes someone controversial, but it usually involves something about them, whether words, deeds, or actions that have divided public opinion. Sometimes they were involved in scandals that made them unpopular for a certain amount of time and then they rebounded. Other times, they've led controversial lives from the beginning.

    One key distinction, though, is that truly controversial people have supporters, too—a mix of fans and foes, while those who only have detractors are simply disliked.

    To honor the people who've managed to achieve that balance and find success despite the considerable controversy, Stacker put together a list of celebrities who've become successful despite the scandals.

    You may also like: 30 musicians with legendarily long careers

  • Mark Zuckerberg

    The Facebook mogul has been controversial since he first launched his social media site at Harvard, where some accused him of being cutthroat and using the website to enhance his romantic prospects. Mark Zuckerberg was called out for questionable privacy boundaries long before the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and others have lambasted him for purposefully introducing addictive technology to the world.

  • Johnny Depp

    Mega-celebrity Johnny Depp has courted controversy since he first rose to fame in the 1990s, making headlines for his rock 'n' roll behavior. Depp's more well-known scandalous moments include him getting arrested for trashing a hotel room, suing his former managers, and paying $3 million to shoot Hunter S. Thompson's ashes out of a cannon. However, he remained successful throughout most of his career, pulling in more than $650 million for his movies. It wasn't until domestic abuse allegations surfaced in 2016 that the negative spotlight prompted a downward spiral for both his career and his finances.

  • Megan Rapinoe

    U.S. Olympic soccer champion Megan Rapinoe was controversial even before President Donald Trump began tweeting about her. With signature platinum hair and an outspoken, independent attitude, she first made waves in 2012 when she came out as gay and again in 2016 when she kneeled during the national anthem. Most recently, she received flack for dying her hair pink before the World Cup and refusing to sing along during the anthem (though she remained standing this time). However, she went on to win the championship and is currently one of the hottest names in sports.

  • Kim Kardashian

    Criticized early on for being “famous for no reason” and often accused of being vapid, tawdry, and attention-seeking, Kim Kardashian's entire career seems to have been built on controversy. Besides her provocative dress and social media presence some have called narcissistic, Kardashian was involved in numerous scandals, including promoting appetite-suppressing lollipops, dressing as the Virgin Mary, and allegedly darkening her face for an ad (which some accused of resembling blackface). Though millions love her, many of her detractors are passionate enough to suggest that she staged her robbery at gunpoint in Paris.

  • Nikola Tesla

    The man who invented the alternating current (of AC/DC fame) led a life full of controversy and detractors, ranging from people who thought he was a crazy dreamer to others who played down his contributions. His famous feud with Thomas Edison has divided scientists even today into "Team Tesla" and "Team Edison" camps. Still, in addition to the alternating current, he's credited with inventing X-rays, wireless transmission, and the induction motor, among other things.

  • Barack Obama

    As the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama was a controversial figure whose detractors often highlighted the racial divide in America. His campaigns were marked by debates about his birth certificate and controversies over things like his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. His policies as president were also often controversial with things like the health care overhaul (aka “Obamacare”), the Great Recession bailout, and his policies toward Afghanistan. However, he still managed to get elected twice and maintained an average approval rating of 47.9.

  • Amy Schumer

    Irreverent comedian Amy Schumer has never shied away from controversy and dark humor, beginning with her first off-Broadway play, which was a comedy about breast cancer. Over the years, she's received criticism for numerous comedy bits as well as comments she's made personally, ranging from sex to body image to Donald Trump. "I like tackling the stuff nobody else talks about," she told the St. Louis-Post Dispatch. "Like the darkest, most serious thing about yourself. I talk about life and sex and personal stories and stuff everybody can relate to, and some can't."

  • Tom Cruise

    Hollywood hunk Tom Cruise has been controversial for many things during his long career, including his past relationship with the much younger Katie Holmes (a romance that prompted him to jump up and down on Oprah's couch). But the most famous and consistently controversial subject is his involvement with the Church of Scientology, which has prompted opinion pieces, news specials, online gossip, and even full-length documentaries.

  • Muhammad Ali

    Boxing legend Muhammad Ali wasn't only famous for being the heavyweight champion of the world. In 1967, he refused military induction during the Vietnam War, prompting a widespread backlash from Americans and others who felt he was neglecting his patriotic duty. Ali cited religious beliefs, but he fined and sentenced to five years in jail, though he did not serve time. 

  • Cardi B

    Rather than running from controversy, rapper Cardi B seems to thrive on it. Before launching her rap career, she was a controversial figure on VH1's “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” the reality TV show that put her in the spotlight. As a former stripper with a fiery personality, she had a host of detractors. She went on to achieve enormous success, becoming the first solo female artist to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album and bringing in an estimated net worth of more than $8 million.

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