Celebrity apologies: The good, bad and uncomfortable

Story highlights

Celebrity apologies are increasing in an age of near constant celebrity surveillance

The week of June 2, four different stars apologized publicly

However, each statement was met with varying receptivity

These are stars that have successfully (or not) publicly apologized

CNN  — 

Maybe Shia LaBeouf was right: The celebrity apology really has become an art form.

The actor seemed to make that point earlier this year when, in the midst of an over-the-top apology tour for copying the work of another artist without proper credit, he developed a performance art piece called “#IAmSorry.”

It was a memorable detour from the usual pattern the public has become accustomed to. An era of near constant celebrity surveillance means constant apologizing from the famous. (After all, if you watch anyone anywhere for a long enough stretch of time, they’ll do something worth apologizing for.)

The week of June 2, for example, brought no less than four public apologies, from Jonah Hill regretting his use of a homophobic slur to “American Idol” alum Chris Daughtry wishing he hadn’t declined to sing during a televised D-Day event.

The odd thing is that while everyone was saying they were sorry, the public’s acceptance varied. Hill was granted mercy by most – although not everyone, to be sure – while the jury is still out on the likes of Justin Bieber, whose apologies for two racially insensitive videos have been neither reviled nor embraced.

It seems the successful celebrity apology involves more than just owning up to wrongdoing; it’s not always what is said, but how and where the star says it. Here, we break down some of the most famous good, bad and uncomfortable apologies.

The Good

David Letterman

David Letterman publicly apologized to his wife and “Late Show” staffers in the fall of 2009 for having affairs with female staff members. After revealing that he was the victim of an extortion plot regarding the extramarital flings, Letterman sat behind his desk and frankly discussed the situation he’d gotten himself into. His wife, he said, was “deeply hurt” by his behavior, and that he had his “work cut out for him” to make it up to her.

Those in the audience seemed satisfied, as one member of the audience told CNN at the time, “You could tell he’d been through a difficult situation and that he was sorry that he hurt other people, but he was also able to keep it funny, throw humor into it too.”

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon had a pristine reputation until the spring of 2013, when she was seen on videotape challenging a police officer who’d pulled her and her husband over on suspicion of driving under the influence.

On the tape, Witherspoon could be heard making arrogant comments like, “Do you know my name?” and, “You’re about to find out who I am,” trying to dissuade the officer from arresting her. (Needless to say, it didn’t work.)

The actress initially canceled TV appearances following the incident, but she did release an apologetic statement and later ate her words on morning TV.

“We went out to dinner in Atlanta, and we had one too many glasses of wine, and we thought we were fine to drive and we absolutely were not,” she said on “Good Morning America.” “It’s completely unacceptable, and we are so sorry and embarrassed. We know better, and we shouldn’t have done that.”

Her apology was going so well that she was able to laugh it off in the end. “When a police officer tells you to stay in the car, you stay in the car. I learned that for sure,” she told “GMA’s” Stephanopolous.

Hugh Grant

After being caught soliciting a prostitute in 1995, Hugh Grant released a public apology and then made his way to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for an interview that would stand out as a highlight for both of their careers.

After Leno bluntly asked the Brit actor, “What the hell were you thinking,” Grant calmly eschewed any excuses and said, “You know in life … what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing. And I did a bad thing, and there you have it.”

The Bad

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin should be a master at the public apology by now, but he doesn’t always nail them. When the actor was kicked off an American Airlines flight in 2011 for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends, he apologized … to the passengers who were disturbed during the confrontation.

But for the flight attendant who asked him to put away his phone? No remorse. “I guess the fact that this woman, who had decided to make some example of me, while everyone else was left undisturbed, did get the better of me,” Baldwin wrote in his pseudo-apology.

Justin Timberlake

As much as we love Justin Timberlake, he showed poor form with his apology following Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction in 2004.

“Listen, I know it’s been a rough week on everybody,” Timberlake said in a statement. “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

That last line, “if you guys were offended,” is also known as the classic way to say, “sorry, but I’m not really sorry.”

The Uncomfortable

Paula Deen

Whatever your opinion on Paula Deen and her 2013 racial discrimination scandal, we can all agree that the celebrity chef was a wreck in her videotaped apology.

Deen actually shared two different videos once it came to light that she’d used a racial slur in the past; she apologized and begged for forgiveness in the first clip, but then pulled that one and uploaded another seemingly self-produced video to YouTube.

The problem was that the second apology tape wasn’t any better, meaning the world was so distracted by the inefficacy of her public apology skills that no one could even focus on whether she was actually making any salient statements.

Michael Richards

Michael Richards lost a lot of his “Seinfeld” goodwill in November 2006, when he went on a profane tirade that included racist content during a standup comedy set.

With Jerry Seinfeld helping with the introduction, Richards then appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” via video to offer his apology – except it was a bit out-of-touch. As Richards tried to explain that he “lost (his) temper onstage” and “said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans, lot of trash talk” the audience began to titter at his use of the retro phrase.

The actor tried to soldier on with his apology, but he kept taking detours into a larger conversation about race in America.