When people hear the words Federal Bureau of Investigations or FBI, they immediately think of top secret investigations, espionage, stealth assassinations, and James Bond, Jason Bourne or any other spy thriller character that they see in the movies. The FBI is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States. But it also has a significant international footprint, with around 60 offices in US embassies and consulates across the globe, which is an indication of how powerful this agency can be.
A person is usually under investigation by the FBI for dire reasons, usually to do with being a threat to national security. But not everyone who has an FBI file is in trouble with the law. Some are in the FBI database with extensive reports because of activities that had to do with aiding the FBI. Whatever the case, nobody is above the law and this list of celebrities who have FBI files is proof of that statement.
15 Steve Jobs
He was considered the pioneer of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, when he co-founded Apple, Inc. and gave us the gadgets we use today, such as the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook, among many others. He has a declassified FBI report that’s 200 pages long, as a result of a background check conducted when he was being considered for a position on then President George Bush, Sr.’s Export Council. The file contains information about Jobs using illegal substances like marijuana and LSD while he was in college and many others who were interviewed about him didn’t exactly paint him in a good light. Several questioned his honesty, saying he “possesses integrity as long as he gets his way.” For all his brilliance, the report claimed that he “alienated a lot of people at Apple Computer, Inc. as a result of his ambition.”
14 Whitney Houston
Like many famous and wealthy Hollywood stars, Whitney Houston had her fair share of troubles in her personal life. The American singer and actress is one of pop music’s best-selling music artists of all-time, releasing such chart-topping songs as “How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “I Will Always Love you,” among many others. Her tumultuous marriage and subsequent divorce from R&B singer Bobby Brown constantly made tabloid headlines, also because of Brown’s run-ins with the law. They were believed to be heavy drug users, which severely affected Houston’s successful career. But the FBI report detailed an investigation into other matters, such as threatening letters written to Houston by an obsessed fan, cassette tapes from the Netherlands, and a supposed $250,000 extortion attempt by a friend who threatened to reveal very private details about Houston’s failed marriage to Brown.
13 Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith constantly made headlines in the tabloids from the time she married octogenarian millionaire J. Howard Marshall, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Many accused her of marrying the man for his money, which she vehemently denied. Her husband died 13 months after their marriage and this led to a legal dispute between Smith and one of Marshall’s sons, E. Pierce Marshall for the deceased’s $1.6 billion estate. When the younger Marshall passed away in 2006 from an aggressive infection, the FBI investigated Smith to discover if she was involved in a plot to kill her stepson so she could claim her late husband’s assets. But prosecutors weren’t able to find enough evidence to charge Smith, thereby dropping the case. She died in 2007 of an accidental overdose with no resolution to her court cases for her late husband’s wealth.
12 Marilyn Monroe
Given her connection with certain high-profile individuals who had radical political views, it’s no surprise that Marilyn Monroe had an FBI file. But it may come as a surprise that her files (or at least, the ones released) have nothing to do with the two men she was most infamously linked to: the late former President John F. Kennedy and his late brother, Robert Kennedy, both of whom she was allegedly having affairs with. Her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller was a prominent fixture in her report, as he had communist associations in the 1940s. Monroe was also watched by the government for her budding relationship with Frederick Vanderbilt Field, a leftist political activist from the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The file also mentions her mysterious death, with some conspiracy theories on whether it was accidental or if there was foul play involved.
11 Charlie Chaplin
English actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin became a worldwide sensation in the silent film era through his onscreen persona “the Tramp.” His career spanned more than 75 years with a mix of adoration from the public and controversy for his personal life. In 1922, the FBI opened a file on him that later spanned 2,000 pages, as the bureau suspected that Chaplin, a British citizen, was a communist sympathizer and a potential threat to the US’ security. This was due to him using his black comedy film Monsieur Verdoux to criticize capitalism and the use of weapons of mass destruction. After a brief trip to London in 1952, he was denied re-entry when he flew back to the US and finally, he had had enough of the Americans’ constant scrutiny of his actions. He moved to Switzerland with his wife Oona and remained there until he died 25 years later.
10 Rock Hudson
He was a prominent heartthrob of Hollywood’s Golden Age, achieving stardom in such films as All That Heaven Knows, Giant, Pillow Talk, one of the many films he appeared in as the love interest of Doris Day. But for all his masculinity and virility, it was an open secret in the Hollywood circuit that Hudson was a homosexual, which was considered taboo during those times, especially for a lead actor appearing with numerous female love interests. Since it was a big scandal at that time, the FBI drew up a report about Hudson’s activities and though the 34-page file was released, most of the contents were blacked out. The 1965 report indicated that he was having an affair with a man, with one page of the file indicating that, “In view of the information that Hudson has homosexual tendencies, interviews will be conducted by two mature, experienced Special Agents.”
9 Louis Armstrong
He was one of the most influential figures in the jazz genre with a career spanning five decades and different eras of jazz. Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter, composer, and singer, with his signature gravelly voice being the one distinct trait that made him famous. Armstrong shared his music with the world, as he and his band constantly toured around the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia, and even the Soviet Union. He may be on this list as a celebrity with an FBI file, but he was never the subject of any controversy or suspicious activities. Rather, he just happened to be in a situation that came to involve the FBI. In November 1970, jewelry with the estimated value of $30,000 was stolen from Century Plaza in Los Angeles and Armstrong’s name was referenced in connection to the activities. But he was never under formal investigation.
8 John Lennon
John Lennon’s popularity was at an all-time high in the 1960s, during a time when the world was changing and becoming more vocal when it came to their political and social views. This was the time when activists marched the streets and made known their displeasure with the status quo. Lennon gained his voice in the 1970s, when he vocally criticized then US President Richard Nixon’s administration and as such, the FBI tried to have Lennon’s US visa revoked so he could be deported. Nixon supposedly feared that the Beatle member’s popularity among young voters would destroy his attempts to get re-elected and as such, Lennon was constantly under surveillance by the FBI. Years after Lennon’s death, the FBI admitted that it had 281 pages of files on Lennon, but refused to release most of the documents because it supposedly contained national security information. All but 10 contested documents were released 25 years after Lennon’s death.
7 Walt Disney
Believe it or not, the man responsible for bringing joy to children through lovable cartoon characters and building amusement parks dubbed “the happiest place on earth” has an FBI file. But it’s not as foreboding as one might think. Walt Disney had an established relationship with the bureau for almost 30 years, but it wasn’t for nefarious reasons that would put him behind bars. He acted as an informant to the FBI, reporting to them people in Hollywood he believed were communists, including his own employees in the Disney company. The FBI report on his person is 600 pages long and it also reveals that in exchange for his help, the agency allowed him to film his various projects in their headquarters. Disney wanted to create a newsreel targeted to children, depicting FBI agents as heroes for one episode of the Mickey Mouse Club. He was eventually given the title, “full Special Agent in Charge of Contact” by the bureau.
6 Marlene Dietrich
With a career that spanned more than seven decades, Marlene Dietrich is one of Hollywood’s biggest screen legends. The German native was able to stay so long in the entertainment business by constantly reinventing her image to fit with the trends of the times and was noted for her humanitarian efforts. Her involvement with French actor and military hero Jean Gabin sparked an investigation after she was able to obtain a US visa for him. She was also investigated for her membership in the Sewing Circle, a group to describe the underground, closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses in Hollywood. Despite being married to her husband for more than five decades, she had affairs with both men and women, even saying she seriously considered going back to Germany so she could kill Adolf Hitler. Whether she was a spy or not remains a mystery, despite the FBI report.
5 Albert Einstein
He lived way before our time, so the most that the people of today really know about Albert Einstein is that he was a genius who developed the theory of relativity and came up with the mass—energy equivalence formula, dubbed the most famous equation in the world. But he courted controversy during his heyday, as proven by the 1,800-page FBI report on his person. It states the words, “In view of his radical background, this office would not recommend the employment of Dr. Einstein on matters of a secret nature, without a very careful investigation, as it seem unlikely that a man of his background could, in such a short time, become a loyal American citizen.” Among other things, he was suspected to be a German spy, given the fact that he was German-born and despite his accomplishments, the FBI was ready to deport him if the reports were proven correct.
4 Michael Jackson
Millennials may not know about the negative press that Michael Jackson received over 20 years ago because he’s immortalized as the King of Pop who was also a huge philanthropist, giving of his time and money to the less fortunate. His death shocked many and thousands mourned the loss of the music legend who gave us such hits as Thriller, Beat It, Billy Jean, Black or White, and Man in the Mirror, among many others. But he made headlines in 1993 and 2004, when he was accused of child molestation and had to face the charges in court. In both instances, the FBI provided support to the local courts that brought on the charges. As per some portions of the FBI report, the agency tried to convince Jordan Chandler, the accuser in the 1993 case, to testify in the 2004 trial, but Chandler declined, as he settled with Jackson out of court for $15 million during his case.
3 Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur was just one of many who died way before their time. The American rapper sold over 75 million records worldwide and his albums are some of the best-selling in the United States. Shakur was also an actor, having appeared in films and TV shows such as Poetic Justice, Gang Related, and Gridlock’d. He was quite the vocal participant in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry, as he became involved in conflicts with other famous rappers and producers, such as Notorious B.I.G. and the label Bad Boy Records. For his involvement in this rivalry, Shakur had a dedicated FBI file, which concerned death threats that he allegedly received from a domestic terrorist group. According to the files, the group was extorting money from rappers by offering protection from supposed enemies who wanted the rappers dead. To this day, no one knows who really killed Shakur on that fateful night of September 1996.
2 Lucille Ball
Like other celebrities with wholesome images like Walt Disney, it’s hard to believe that comedienne Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy Fame is on this list. She was also known for her other self-produced sitcoms, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life With Lucy. She blazed a trail for women, becoming the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu Productions. Her 156-page FBI report detailed their suspicions that she was affiliated with a communist party, as when she registered to vote in 1938, she listed her party affiliation as “communist.” One of the reasons that the bureau suspected that there was more to her than meets the eye was because of the rumor that she allegedly picked up radio transmissions from Japanese spies with her dental fillings during the Second World War. In the end, though, the FBI couldn’t find any concrete evidence of Ball being a potential threat to national security.
1 Helen Keller
She’s probably the first famous feminist in modern history and many of the women’s issues that are being fought for today were being challenged as far back as Helen Keller’s time. She was an American author, political activist, and lecturer and the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. Her disabilities didn’t deter her, as she was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions, which was what garnered attention from the FBI for most of the early 20th century. She was openly socialist and a staunch opponent of then President Woodrow Wilson, not to mention a supporter of birth control, which was practically unheard of during those times. She was likewise a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that was considered radical, especially in light of the fact that it had women like Keller as members.