Skip to main content

Attempted celebrity extortion schemes

  • Story Highlights
  • There have been some unsuccessful attempts to blackmail celebrities
  • Bill Cosby was a victim in an attempted extortion plan for $40 million in 1997
  • A photographer tried to blackmail Cameron Diaz with explicit photos of her in 2003
  • Elvis Presely was reportedly a victim in blackmail in 1959 with pictures, tapes
By Ethan Trex
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- David Letterman has been in the news for helping police foil an alleged attempt to blackmail him, but the late-night star is hardly the first celebrity in this position.

Celebrities ranging from Cameron Diaz to Elvis Presley have been victims in past extortion schemes

Celebrities ranging from Cameron Diaz to Elvis Presley have been victims in past extortion schemes

Here are a few brazen and mostly unsuccessful attempts to blackmail famous people.

1. Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby may be one of television's most famous family men, but a 1997 extortion attempt tried to claim that his family was a bit bigger than anyone knew.

That year, a 23-year-old woman named Autumn Jackson attempted to extort $40 million from Cosby in exchange for not telling the press she was the star's illegitimate daughter. While Cosby admitted that he had an affair with Jackson's mother and had given the woman and her daughter over $100,000 in support over the years, he flatly denied being Jackson's father.

Jackson's timing probably didn't help, either; Cosby received her demand the same day Cosby's son, Ennis, was murdered.

Jackson, who was convicted along with two accomplices, received a 26-month prison sentence. An appeals court briefly overturned the sentence in 1999, but quickly reversed itself and sent her back to the clink. Mental Floss: 5 "Cosby Show" mysteries

2. Louie Anderson
The hefty comic became a target for blackmail after allegedly propositioning a man in a Las Vegas casino in 1993.

At the time, Anderson was hosting "Family Feud" and starring in the cartoon "Life With Louie."

Rather than take a hit to his public image, Anderson shelled out $100,000 in hush money to his blackmailer, Richard John Gordon, to keep the story out of the tabloids.

Gordon got greedy in 2000, though. He came back to Anderson for another $250,000, at which point the comedian went to the cops.

Gordon ended up being arrested following a high-speed chase from the LAPD, and he eventually went to prison for the extortion attempt.

3. Cameron Diaz
A note to any aspiring actresses out there: if you're planning on becoming famous, don't pose for any nude photographs. Just ask Cameron Diaz.

In 1992, the young model let photographer John Rutter take nude and bondage-themed snaps of her in the hopes of making an entry into the artistic modeling market. Instead, Rutter sat on the photos until Diaz's 2003 film "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" was about to debut, at which point he made Diaz an offer: she could buy the pictures for $3.5 million, or he would sell them to magazines.

Rutter claimed he had a signed release form from Diaz that allowed him to sell the pictures if he so chose.

Rather than give in, though, Diaz alerted the authorities.

It turned out that Diaz's "signature" was a forgery, and Rutter was found guilty of attempted grand theft, forgery, and perjury. Although Rutter claimed that he was simply offering Diaz the right of first refusal for the salacious pics, he ended up getting a three-year jail sentence. Mental Floss: 11 pictures politicians regret

4. Elvis Presley
J. Edgar Hoover's FBI kept meticulous files on a lot of high-profile entertainers, including the King. When Elvis' file found its way to the public, it revealed a number of blackmail attempts, including one particularly large case from when Elvis was serving in the Army.

When Elvis was stationed in Germany in 1959, he hired South African doctor Laurenz Johannes Griessel-Landau to carry out a series of skin treatments on his famous face and shoulders.

After a month, Elvis and his entourage allegedly grew tired of Griessel-Landau constantly making passes at them, so Elvis fired the dermatologist. This angered the doctor, who then threatened to reveal compromising photographs and tapes of the rock star if Elvis didn't open his wallet, according to FBI files.

Elvis held firm, though, and only gave Griessel-Landau $200 for the skin treatments and a $315 plane ticket back to London.

The files also state that when Griessel-Landau came back for thousands of dollars more, Elvis refused, and the blackmailer -- who it turned out wasn't actually a doctor after all -- eventually left the King alone.

For more mental_floss articles, visit

Entire contents of this article copyright, Mental Floss LLC. All rights reserved.

All About Celebrity News

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print