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Comeback celebrities

From Sarah Palin to Bret Michaels: Hot shots find redemption and success after setbacks.

entertainment Updated: Jun 17, 2010 19:04 IST
Laurie Burkitt and Victoria Taylor (Forbes)
Laurie Burkitt and Victoria Taylor (Forbes)

For Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, BP's oil spill has been a curse and a blessing. Jindal is watching the state's coastal environment and economy crumble as thick oil churns in the sea in the Gulf of Mexico. The situation has been a nightmare, yet the governor is emerging from this crisis as a leader who seems eager to defend his state's residents and its land.

Jindal's image as a strong, clear chief is new. The politician was widely criticized last year when the 38-year-old Republican delivered a counter speech to President Barack Obama's 2009 State of the Union address. Political pundits bashed him in talk shows and newspapers for being stiff and impersonal. Influential television networks, such as NBC, mocked Jindal with parodies, portraying him as a limp puppet.

Now Jindal appears to be on the road to a comeback.

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In seizing a big event to take a stand as a strong leader, Jindal's career will get a boost. America loves comeback stories and for resilient politicians, celebrities and sports figures who have faded from the limelight or faced tough times, an effective repositioning or reintroduction can lead to a career comeback, say reputation experts who helped Forbes identify some of the biggest recent comebacks.

Comebacks are possible even after luminaries are caught doing shifty things with money, drugs or sex. Public perception of golfer Tiger Woods hasn't turned around just yet. But Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, who resigned after he was identified as a client of a prostitution ring, is trying to make a comeback as a TV pundit. And Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has rebounded after serving time in prison for securities fraud and lying to prosecutors about the sale of her stock. Ultimately, her troubles may have helped humanize the sometimes all-too-perfect hostess.

"When someone makes a mistake, it only makes them more like everybody," says Shawn Sachs, a partner at PR firm Sunshine, Sachs & Co.

Getting booted out of a high-profile position doesn't doom top talent. Steve Jobs, founder and chief executive officer of Apple, was ousted from the company he co-founded in 1985. Soon after, he launched a new computer company, NeXT, which Apple acquired a decade later--after reinstating Jobs, who, of course, went on to oversee the creation of the iPod music player, the iPhone, and the iPad tablet. Apple is now the most valuable company trading on the stock market.

Confessions can help the fallen rise again. Police found actor Hugh Grant, known for his star role in the 1994 hit, Four Weddings and a Funeral, with a prostitute in 1995. The British star, who was then dating the popular Elizabeth Hurley, hit the talk show circuit to deliver a public apology. It worked -and he continued to find work as the handsome, bumbling leading man in romantic comedies.

Bouncing back is relative to the incident that caused the celebrity to fall out of public favor, says crisis marketing consultant and author Eric Dezenhall, who heads Dezenhall Resources in Washington, D.C. "It's very hard to ask people to forget a negative imprint," Dezenhall says. The upside is that over time, the standards of unacceptable behavior, like Grant's, have dropped, so comebacks are actually much easier these days.

Some celebrities don't necessarily fall out of favor with fans. They simply fade away. That doesn't mean their careers are over. Actress Betty White and singer Tony Bennett are just two of many entertainers who have enjoyed new, late-in-life success after career lulls.

It's good for celebrities that the public, notes Sachs, is "forgiving and nostalgic."

First Published: Jun 17, 2010 18:55 IST