Nine Celebrites Whose Careers Were Improved By Murder

John Walsh

As a follow-up to the previous list, here I'm focusing on famous people whose careers saw a significant upturn as a result of a homicide. They may not have killed anybody themselves, but were it not for the premeditated death of another person, none of the following would have become the successes we know them as.

  1. Truman Capote. Though he was already a celebrated author and bon vivant in the 1950s, Capote's interest in a notorious Kansas murder case led to his masterpiece In Cold Blood, which made him millions and became the archetype for the "true crime" book.
  2. Hilary Swank. If it weren't for the tragic murder of Brandon Teena (born Teena Brandon), Swank wouldn't have landed the role in Boys Don't Cry, a drama about Teena's life and death, as the film itself wouldn't have existed. The underemployed Swank probably would have kept on struggling, instead of going on to collect two Academy Awards and earn seven-figure salaries in Hollywood movies.
  3. Kate Winslet. On the opposite side of the coin, then-unknown teenage actress Winslet was cast as Juliet Hulme, who with her friend Pauline Parker committed one of New Zealand's most notorious murders, in Peter Jackson's 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. It's hard to say if Winslet would have eventually found stardom on her own, had she not borne a striking resemblance to Hulme. It's also hard to say whether the real Juliet Hulme would have grown into successful murder mystery author Anne Perry if she never had her own "firsthand experience" with homicide. I could even postulate that Peter Jackson wouldn't have been hired to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy if he hadn't first proven his artistic mettle with Heavenly Creatures. Of course, Winslet's Heavenly costar Melanie Lynskey also owes her acting career to the 1954 murder of Honora Rieper.
  4. John Walsh. Before the unsolved murder of his six-year-old son Adam in 1981, Walsh was a hotel marketer. Afterwards, he channeled his grief into a TV movie, a political lobby, and above all a lucrative, long-running stint as host of America's Most Wanted. Though his work has helped solve and prevent numerous crimes, it's uncomfortable to consider that this man's considerable fame and fortune stems from the horrible death of his little boy.
  5. Otto Frank. Though noted teenage diarist Anne Frank technically died of typhus, for the sake of this list we will say that, starving to death in a Nazi camp, she was essentially murdered. After her diary was published, seemingly everybody who knew her made money off her notoriety, but it was Anne's father, Otto, the lone survivor of the Frank family, who inherited the diary and thus controlled its publication. It was never a nonprofit enterprise. How much money Otto personally saw from the sales of the book (over 31 million copies since 1947), or from the theatrical and cinematic adaptations of same, isn't known, but it's reputed to have been in the tens of millions. But now the question is, who's been profiting from the diary since Otto Frank's death in 1980?
  6. Clarence Darrow. The most famous attorney in American legal history, Darrow made much of his name from his defense of Leopold and Loeb during their 1924 trial for the murder of young Bobby Franks. Darrow was already an established lawyer at that point, but the trial - in which he saved his clients from the electric chair - made him a legend.
  7. The Pope. Whether you're talking about Benedict XVI or John Paul II or Pius VI or Clement XI or whoever, these 265 men all owe their enormous wealth, power, prestige, and influence to the long-ago murder of a poor carpenter's son named Jesus.
  8. Brigham Young. While we're on the subject of religious figures, let's note that the onetime head of the Mormon faith - and eponym to the esteemed university in Provo - became leader of the church after founder Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Illinois. Young brought the Mormons to Utah and the rest is Latter Day history.
  9. Richard Nixon. It's hard to decide who benefited most from the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson got the job, Aristotle Onassis got the girl, Fidel Castro got left alone, and everybody from Don DeLillo to Oliver Stone got a lot of money for proffering their theories about what really happened on November 22, 1963. But I'll pick longtime Kennedy foe Richard Nixon for enjoying the spoils here. Defeated by Kennedy in 1960, he rose from the ashes of humiliation to take the presidency in 1968 after Johnson decided not to run again.