Rock and roll have long been associated with sex, drugs, and wild behavior, but for some rock legends, their bad behavior has gone beyond the boundaries of acceptability, with some even being accused of crimes. Here are some of the most famous rock stars who have faced criminal accusations:
During a visit to San Antonio in February of 1982, Ozzy Osbourne was arrested and jailed for public intoxication and urination after being caught urinating at a monument near the famous Alamo landmark, according to Rolling Stone. Despite the arrest, he was able to make bail and perform at the HemisFair Arena for his thousands of fans who came to the city to see him. He was banned from the state for ten years, but eventually, he received a pardon for the offense after donating to a local charity. In 2015, he returned to the site of his infamous incident, and the moment was documented by Rolling Stone.
According to the Los Angeles Times, after his split from Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah in 1992, she accused Jackson Browne of domestic abuse. The allegations that he had beaten Hannah persisted for years, but Browne finally won a defamation lawsuit in 2003. The suit put an end to the long-standing rumors that followed a documentary released by 20th Century Fox that repeated the allegations. In a statement, Browne denied ever assaulting Hannah and asserted that the Santa Monica Police Department investigation conducted at the time confirmed his innocence.
In 1997, Dickey Betts, who was 53 years old at the time, was accused of “acting obscenely” at a club, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. He refused to leave, and the police arrested him. Sarasota County police later released him after fingerprinting and photographing him.
According to police reports, Donald Fagen was accused of violently pushing his wife into a window and causing her to fall to the ground during an argument in their Manhattan apartment. Fagen’s wife sustained significant injuries, including bruising and swelling to her right arm and substantial pain, as stated in the criminal complaint against him. However, a few days after the incident, Page Six reported that the couple had reconciled.
George Clinton, who is a prominent psychedelic artist, has been involved in drug-related incidents throughout his career. In 2003, he was arrested and charged with drug possession after being found in possession of cocaine and other drug paraphernalia in his car, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Clinton pleaded no contest and admitted to the charges against him, and as a result, he was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
In 2003, Pete Townshend, one of the co-founders of The Who, was arrested on suspicion of possessing child pornography. The accusations were related to his involvement with a website that distributed such material, which he had accessed using his credit card. Although he acknowledged visiting the website, he asserted that he had done so for research purposes, as part of his own autobiography exploring child abuse and the complicity of banks in such exploitation. Despite the charges being dropped, the episode had a profound impact on Townshend’s life.
In the 1970s, one of the most well-known true crime tales in music involved Sid Vicious, the controversial vocalist and bassist who was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. The couple had a shared addiction to hardcore drugs and lived a risky lifestyle marked by erratic behavior. They remained together when the Sex Pistols disbanded in 1978 and collaborated on music, with Spungen acting as a quasi-manager as Vicious embarked on a solo career. However, both Vicious and Spungen’s lives were tragically cut short.
In 2017, a radio DJ accused Gene Simmons, the frontman of KISS, of engaging in sexual misconduct. The lawsuit claimed that the inappropriate behavior began with Simmons forcefully placing the woman’s hand on his knee and escalated to him turning innocent interview questions into sexual innuendos and “forcibly flicking/struck” her in the throat. Although the lawsuit was resolved outside of court, it led to additional accusations of sexual misconduct, including an allegation from fellow KISS member Ace Frehley, who claimed that Simmons had groped his wife.
Don Henley, the guitarist, singer, and drummer of the popular music group The Eagles, had his Los Angeles residence searched by firefighters in 1980. During the search, a naked 16-year-old prostitute who had overdosed on cocaine was discovered. Although he attributed her drug use to the band’s roadies, Henley entered a no-contest plea to charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and received a two-year probation sentence.
David Crosby, known for his involvement in the popular folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in the ’70s, has had a controversial personal life in addition to his successful musical career. In 1982, he was taken into custody at a Dallas nightclub for possession of a firearm and cocaine. Despite a plea deal that required him to undergo rehabilitation, he failed and was sentenced to five years in jail the following year. Though he expressed disbelief at the verdict, he was granted parole after serving just five months. Unfortunately, his problems with drug use and legal troubles did not end there, as evidenced by his subsequent arrest more than two decades later.
During the 1970s, Gary Glitter gained popularity as a glam rock artist. Despite facing legal issues, such as a suspension of his driver’s license for ten years, his crimes escalated over time. He was arrested in 1997 for possessing child pornography, and in 1999, he received a four-month prison sentence. Afterward, he relocated to Spain using a new identity but eventually fled to Cambodia and Vietnam, where he continued to commit sexual assault against underage girls. In 2015, he was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Ronald Isley, a member of the Isley Brothers, a popular band known for their unique blend of Motown-inspired melodies, rock ‘n’ roll, and funk, gained success in the 1970s. However, in 2006, he was indicted for evading taxes and was found guilty of owing the Internal Revenue Service $3.1 million in unpaid taxes. Despite his attorney’s plea for a reduced sentence due to his failing health, Isley was sentenced to three years and one month in prison. He was eventually released in 2010 and quickly returned to the recording studio.
In the 1970s, Ike Turner was one half of the popular duo, The Ike and Tina Turner Revue. However, Ike’s drug addiction and violent conduct toward his spouse led to the disbandment of the act. Tina Turner opened up about the abuse she endured during her relationship with Ike, including incidents that left her with broken bones and injuries. In 1985, Ike Turner faced further drug charges and passed away in 2007 due to a cocaine overdose.
David Bowie, a cultural icon and superstar in the 1970s, has faced scrutiny over his interactions with underage girls such as Lori Mattix and Sable Starr. Mattix has described how Bowie invited her to his hotel room when she was 14, which she declined, but five months later, he had his bodyguard ask her out to dinner on his behalf. After consuming alcohol and marijuana, they had intercourse. Starr, who was also 15 at the time, was upset that Bowie had chosen Mattix but later joined them for a second encounter.
Ted Nugent was a popular hard rock musician during the 1970s and early 1980s, known for his hits such as “Jailbait” which depicted a man’s pursuit of a 13-year-old girl. Nugent has also been accused of pursuing minors outside of his musical performances.
Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, has been accused of sexual assault and battery by Julia Misley. She alleged that when she was 16 years old, Tyler took her to his hotel room after a Portland concert and engaged in criminal sexual conduct with her. Misley claimed that Tyler flew her to other Aerosmith concerts for more encounters and that the band filed to become her legal guardian in 1974 to keep her close while touring. She also alleges that Tyler gave her drugs and alcohol and urged her to abort an unplanned pregnancy.
Ace Frehley, the former lead guitarist of Kiss, had issues with substance abuse, which led to his firing from the band. In 1983, he was involved in a car accident in New York and fled the scene, resulting in a high-speed chase with police. Frehley was charged with drunken and reckless driving but was released on bail. He was later arrested for criminal possession of forged instruments after trying to buy a controlled substance with a phony prescription.
Steve Miller, who is the lead singer of the Steve Miller Band, was taken into police custody in 1972 for being publicly drunk and for prowling. After three years, law enforcement officials were called to his residence where they discovered a fire containing Benito Diorio’s belongings and clothing. It was claimed that Miller started the fire and was also accused of resisting arrest. Nevertheless, the charges were dismissed later on.
Joe Strummer, the frontman of The Clash, was arrested twice for violent concert incidents. In 1978, after a show in Glasgow, Scotland, security guards allegedly roughed up some fans, leading to Strummer ending the band’s performance and leaving the stage. Other fans confronted Strummer and took him to task for not doing more to stop the bouncer attacks. Strummer grew so incensed that he smashed a bottle and was immediately jumped on by plainclothes policemen. Two years later, while playing a show in Hamburg, Germany, several fans stormed the stage and attempted to grab the microphone to accuse the Clash of selling out. Strummer struck one fan in the head with his guitar and was arrested and charged with assault.
Boz Scaggs, an early member of the Steve Miller Band, was accused of tax evasion in the late 1970s. He had failed to file a tax return for four years, which resulted in him owing the government $157,000 in back taxes. Scaggs later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to supply information to the IRS and paid a $10,000 fine.
Keyboardist and singer Billy Preston, who had worked with legends such as Mahalia Jackson and Little Richard, became a rock star in the 1970s. In 1991, he hired a 16-year-old boy from a day laborer spot in Santa Monica and took him to his Malibu home, where he smoked cocaine, showed him pornographic photos, and attempted to assault him. Preston faced charges of felony cocaine possession, molestation, and showing explicit material to a minor, as well as assault with a deadly weapon in a separate incident. He entered a no-contest plea to some of the charges and was sentenced to nine months in a drug rehab center and three months of house arrest.
Jim Gordon was a prominent drummer in the rock music scene of the 1960s and 1970s, playing on records by well-known artists such as Tom Petty, Harry Nilsson, and Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos. However, Gordon’s personal and professional life deteriorated in the late 1970s due to his struggles with mental health, including hearing the voice of his mother inside his head. In 1983, he killed his mother and was convicted of murder. Despite multiple attempts at parole, he remained in prison until his death in March 2023 due to concerns about his potential to harm others.