August 17, 2007

Who Killed Steven Seagal's Career?

Steven Seagal has had a strange odyssey through Hollywood. He exploded on the scene in 1988, in his self-produced Above the Law after six years of serving as a martial-arts consultant in films. Seagal made a string of largely similar films over the next fifteen years, usually with names that fit "Steven Seagal Is --" above the title, such as "Steven Seagal Is -- Out For Justice!" Most of these films were self-produced, and most of them featured a martial-arts master delivering justice in his own very special way.

Eventually, audiences found other action films and stars, leaving Seagal behind. However, Seagal contends that the real murderer of his career isn't changing tastes or even the butler, but the FBI:

According to Seagal, it's the FBI's fault that he now stars in low-budget movies that go straight to video. And he wants an apology from the bureau.

The 56-year-old pony-tailed martial-arts expert broke a long silence today to complain that his career was devastated by an FBI affidavit in 2002 that described allegations that he was involved in a plot to intimidate two journalists out of writing stories about him.

"False FBI accusations fueled thousands of articles saying that I terrorize journalists and associate with the mafia," Seagal told the Los Angeles Times. "These kinds of inflammatory allegations scare studio heads and independent producers -- and kill careers."

According to allegations detailed in the affidavit and a subsequent affidavit, Seagal hired infamous private eye Anthony Pellicano to frighten Times reporter Anita Busch and Vanity Fair writer Ned Zeman. In 2002, someone shot a bullet through the windshield of Busch's car and left a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a sign reading "Stop" on top of the vehicle.

By that time, however, Seagal had become a rather tiresome character, and not just in films. Seagal had a way of spinning yarns about his past that makes him a less-than-credible accuser now. He attempted to pass himself off as a former intelligence operative in the service of some murky US agency. His proclamation to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama in 1997 sounded a lot more like a marketing gimmick than a legitimate religious revelation.

Worse yet, his films started getting preachy while viewers noted that Seagal himself was remarkably consistent from one film to another. His penchant for playing himself over and over again did not mesh well with his lecturing takes on the oil industry (On Deadly Ground), toxic waste ((Fire Down Below), and bioterror (The Patriot, not to be confused with the laughably unhistoric Mel Gibson historical drama of the same name). By the time 2002 arrived, Seagal had milked his particular ouevre for all it was worth.

The FBI never did follow up its release of the information with any action against Seagal, and probably should apologize for its lack of discretion in this instance. They have never filed charges against Seagal, and according to his attorneys, even rejected his cooperation to clear his name. But if the FBI was aiming to kill his career, by 2002 it could have been considered euthanasia.


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Comments (46)

Posted by arb | August 17, 2007 8:31 PM

Steven Seagal movies aren't released, they escape!

Posted by Al | August 17, 2007 8:31 PM

On Deadly Ground wasn't just preachy and lecturing. There's a monologue that, by itself, would be good grounds for the title 'Neverending Story'. By that point in the story, anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the 'theme of the story' has already figured out everything they're going to. And yet he blows an inordinate amount of time frothing at the mouth rehashing exactly the same territory three times.

He lost me right then. (I got my money back too.)

Posted by PersonFromPorlock | August 17, 2007 8:33 PM

Well, to be fair Peter Ustinov never played anyone but Peter Ustinov, either.

Posted by Cindy | August 17, 2007 8:34 PM

Yeah - it has to be couldn't have been the 50 to 60 pounds that he has gained in the last 6 years or so.......


Posted by kingronjo | August 17, 2007 8:36 PM

Steven Seagal, like Chuck Norris, was the real deal when it came to martial arts. And as Dirty Harry would say, he was a man who knew his limits, same role over and over giving the audience what they wanted. And then for his activism reasons, he didn't didn't. And that, like the Cap said, was the end of his career. Perhaps we can all hope for Sean Penn to follow.

On a real note, I took jiu-jitsu for 15 years years ago. My sensei was a big admirer of Seagal's. He went to some retreat in Colorado with Seagal dressed up in is lama's robes. Wacked out, but after watching the video of some of his demonstration's I would bet Muhammed Ali's hand speed was a fraction slower than his.

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 17, 2007 9:01 PM

As SS pretending to be Casey Ryback in Under Siege (1992) said: They're saying "Get me the f... out of here".

Posted by Bennett | August 17, 2007 9:05 PM

I don't know if there's actually any truth to this, that movie producers stayed away from him because he was under investigation. But maybe believing it is a comfort. Probably much harder to accept that the good people of America just weren't willing to shell out their hard earned money to see his flicks anymore. As they say, denial is not a river in Egypt.

Posted by Only One Cannoli | August 17, 2007 9:12 PM

Seagal might have had a longer run if he had a sense of humor about himself. But he's incapable of self deprecation unlike Jacky Chan or even Bruce Willis whose a much better actor than Seagal and willing to take small interesting supporting roles (Nobody's Perfect). And the weird CIA stories don't help Seagal's career.

I thought Under Siege was an entertaining Seagal flick -- rental-worthy, not a purchase. But in that one Seagal isn't the center of attention for at least the first 15 minutes so maybe that helps. Erika Eleniak helps too.

I haven't seen very many Ustinov movies. But Ustinov played a gentler, more likeable version of Hercule Poirot than Albert Finney, imo. His acting makes Death on the Nile one of my big faves despite a weak perfomance from the first victim.

Posted by capitano | August 17, 2007 9:16 PM

Pellicano? Oh yeah, the private dick hired by the Clintons...

Pellicano is the guy who claimed in 1992 that the Gennifer Flowers tapes had been selectively edited. And he helped out Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Pellicano found the guy who claimed Monica Lewinsky had said: “I’m going to Washington to get my presidential knee pads.”

And don’t forget that Kathleen Willey said she had been intimidated by a thug who, among other things, left a threatening note on her windshield. As Thomas at the American Thinker once noted: “By bizarre coincidence, a note on the windshield was also the technique used on [former L.A. Times] reporter [Anita] Busch, allegedly to intimidate her into dropping her inquiries into the underworld and Hollywood.” Bizarre indeed.


Posted by ScottM | August 17, 2007 9:16 PM

"Who Killed Steven Seagal's Career?"

That would be Steven Seagal. On Deadly Ground--which he directed--was one of the worst movies ever made, as well as a box office disaster. See here for a hilarious long review (SPOILERS!) by a conservative.

(Here's The Patriot (SPOILERS!), from the same site.)

Posted by Only One Cannoli | August 17, 2007 9:24 PM

i goofed, the name of the Bruce Willis movie was Nobody's Fool.

Posted by geo1948 | August 17, 2007 9:40 PM

Seagal began to get heavier and heavier. You might say he became 'Harder to Fill". That was what did him in ultimately.

Posted by patrick neid | August 17, 2007 10:13 PM

behind closed doors in hollywood he's known to be a punk and bully. rumors of spousal abuse, sexual harassment and paranoia put his career in a tailspin in the mid nineties. lots of actresses refused to work with him.

on the surface he looks to be a misogynist.

Posted by Carol Herman | August 17, 2007 10:26 PM

Careers come. And, they go. And, there's little difference in the hollywood sets, between Steven Seagal and Al Gore. Both thought of themselves as permanent winners. Both are bullies. And, both are idiots.

Al Gore's SORE LOSER attitude, though, has come at a greater cost to his party.

As to Seagal, the world's chance since the 1980's. Heck, even if you throw in "Al Gore's invention of the Internet," you'll see how time has past these geezers by.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | August 17, 2007 10:32 PM

Back in 2001 some friends and I spent a week in Jamaica at the famous Sans Souci resort, which is just east of Ochi (that would be Ocho Rios for you Al Gore fans). Seagal was a regular there at the time.

My guess is that he got into all of the all-inclusive Appleton's, not to mention the wacky tobacky that one could easily get from any of the resort employees.

Posted by Matt | August 17, 2007 11:32 PM

Hey, I liked "The Patriot"!

Posted by jstewart | August 17, 2007 11:35 PM

Segal is my secret vice. Is it the utterly flat performance or the too hip storylines. I think it's the same facination as watching algore talk...

Posted by Dave D | August 17, 2007 11:36 PM

Hell, behind closed door Gene Lebell choked him out because he was a complete dick. (At least that's the rumor and that he even soiled himself. Sounds like it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.)

Posted by Sami - Mitt08 | August 17, 2007 11:50 PM

His best film was Executive Decision - where he died within the first minutes of the film!

Posted by Only One Cannoli | August 18, 2007 12:10 AM

Executive Decision. Yes! That's the other Seagal movie I can watch.

He's okay in small doses which is how I feel about Ernest Borgnine, Bette Davis, Kevin Costner, Barbra Streisand, Mickey Rooney and Roddy McDowall (except when he's playing a monkey in which case he can carry the movie).

Posted by Don Miguel | August 18, 2007 12:14 AM

"Steven Seagal, like Chuck Norris, was the real deal when it came to martial arts."

Well, yes and no. Seagal taught at his in-law's aikido dojo and he undoubtedly is talented in the discipline (he actually is -- or was -- as quick as he looks on film as you noted), but Norris was the middleweight Karate champion for 6 straight years. So as far as I’m concerned, Norris proved it internationally on the "field of battle."

Besides "Under Siege" at the pinnacle of his career, I always though Seagal went on a downhill slide after his string of three word titled films and really did himself in when he became preachy. Of course, his acting ability – or lack thereof – didn’t help at all. Even Chuck Norris has more personality on screen than Seagal does.

Posted by Only One Cannoli | August 18, 2007 12:25 AM

"Get my pies out of the oven!" was the precise pinnacle of his career. That was the moment. It was all downhill after that.

Posted by KendraWilder | August 18, 2007 12:52 AM

Posted by: Only One Cannoli at August 17, 2007 9:12 PM

"I haven't seen very many Ustinov movies. But Ustinov played a gentler, more likeable version of Hercule Poirot than Albert Finney, imo. His acting makes Death on the Nile one of my big faves despite a weak perfomance from the first victim."

He was also enjoyable in "Evil Under the Sun". And, being a very large man, he did quite a credible job of playing the role of the diminutive Hercule Poirot, although I was surprised to learn that Ustinov was only 5'9", and not over six feet as he appeared in many shots. The only thing in that particular movie that was a bit ridiculous was the bedroom scene where they shot him lying in bed reading, with an obvious fake pair of short legs to try to give the impression that he was very smaller in stature.

Steven Seagal, however, was a disappointment. I rather liked him in his earlier films, but his pious preachiness in his later films became a very big turnoff.

Posted by The Yell | August 18, 2007 2:51 AM

"These kinds of inflammatory allegations scare studio heads and independent producers - and kill careers."

Yeah--in 1957.

If Hollywood pandered to the Bureau anytime in the last forty years, Robert Redford would be playing "Man #2".

Samuel L. Jackson brags that the 1970s FBI was after him for buying rifles for black militants with stolen credit cards. (Maxim, May 2002, Iss. 53, pg. 120-121, by: Dave Itzkoff, "Jedi badass Mace Windu")

Posted by Cybrludite | August 18, 2007 3:18 AM

Steven Segal is... Out Of Work!

Posted by Stacy Anne | August 18, 2007 4:25 AM

When I lived in Brooklyn in the early 2000s, he was hanging out with the wiseguys, too...I guess playing a Brooklyn Italian in Out For Justice went to his head. Through no fault of my own (I just happened to live in a mobbed-up neighborhood) I knew two "men of respect" so to speak that he ended up sending to had to do with the financing of his low budget one liked him very much, lol....

Posted by dlb703 | August 18, 2007 6:19 AM

Worse for Segal, he runs like a girl. Watch him run, you'll see.

Posted by hunter | August 18, 2007 6:39 AM

Segal is reaching far for career resurrection. His allegation reads like a cheesy hollywood movie plot. His ego and his waistline seem locked in a positie feedback loop, sort of like algore's. And Segal's delivery 'style' matches gore's in many ways as well.
And their take on big business is about he same, as are their offered solutions.
I predict SS will join Gore in promoting AGW to the point of working as a body double for the climate fear hype-ologist.

Posted by negentropy | August 18, 2007 7:36 AM

I'm pretty certain that if you cut the ponytail off, he would look exactly like algore.


Posted by Mike | August 18, 2007 7:38 AM

As an action hero, SS has one notable shortcoming: skinny arms (and generally unimpressive upper-body development ). Notice that he tends to wear long sleeves.

Posted by Sam | August 18, 2007 7:44 AM

I liked “Hard to Kill” but the whole weird oriental shtick was just, well, weird. Then came a expose saying that in his early years of learning martial arts, before he appeared in movies, Segal had moved to Japan, married his martial arts teacher’s daughter, had a couple of kids by her and after he had learned all he needed, had left her and his kids behind and took off for Hollywood, met Kelly LeBrock , divorced his Japanese wife and by the time of “Hard to Kill” he was married to co-star Kelly LeBrock. Then, came several other “movies” in which Segal’s acting never improved one iota. Then came the association with unsavory types and news accounts of Segal’s testimony in a trial in which he told the court he was being pressured by hoodlums to pay them money he owed and in which Segal started to whine about how he was afraid they were going to hurt him; not the best thing for his tough guy image. Along the way, somehow, Segal acquired 50-60 pounds. Next, came another movie in the same vein: awful script, awful acting. By now the pony tail, and all black outfits were starting to be replaced by weird eastern robes and long sets of beads ‘cause, don’t you know, Segal was now the incarnation of the chief deity of some Tibetan Buddhist sect. Then, came several even more crappy movies that was also preachy as well.

If anybody killed Segal’s “career” I’d say it was Segal himself.

Posted by John | August 18, 2007 8:13 AM

I'd be interested to see if Hollywood had a break down of the box office takes for all of Chuck Norris' movies, as far as the locations where the most successful ticket sales occurred. My guess would be the theaters that did best with Norris were both in the Red States and in the outlying areas of the Blue States, i.e., not the Upper East or West Side of Manhattan, metro San Francisco or the west side of Los Angeles.

And that would be in part where Segal made his fatal error. Aside from going to the well over and over again with the same character, Segal started working on movies with story lines that were designed to please the big media critics, other celebrities and studio heads in Hollywood and Manhattan. But those aren't the types of people who go to see violent action movies, and while they may be happy to see another film come out slamming big oil or the fascist wing of the U.S. government in some way, they're not going to shell out money to see a movie like that.

It's interesting to note that the biggest successes in the action/adventure field over the past 20 years -- Norris, Arnold and Bruce Willis -- all are classified in some form as political Republicans (albeit in many cases not very conservative ones). Since identification with the GOP in Hollywood is normally a fast ticket to a lifelong career as a waiter or sales clerk at Ikea, the fact shows that either the stars' ideological leanings draw them to the types of films that flyover country wants to see, or the moviegoes in flyover country kept these guys at the top of the box office because they didn't appear in films whose main themes were the U.S. and/or capitalism in general, and Republicans in particular, are the worst evil mankind has ever known. Segal went against that rule and has paid the price with his floundering career.

Posted by Rod Thomson | August 18, 2007 10:26 AM

Say what you will, but nobody could break a guys neck as well as Segal. Didn't SNL spoof that once?

Posted by Joe C. | August 18, 2007 11:08 AM

Seagal's career was killed when he hosted SNL and proved that he couldn't even read let alone act.

Posted by jr565 | August 18, 2007 11:31 AM

What turned me off to his movies (other than their suckitude, lack of storyline, and bad acting) is that he always plays a character who is smug in his knowledge of his invincibility. Yes he's good at karate, but can he face someone in any of his movies who actually proves to be a challenge,and might be good at karate too?
There's not tension at all, as we all know the worst that will happen is the lame bad guy,who is supposedly the hot shit, gets one punch in on Steve. THen Steve breaks his arm, leg, back kneck and rips his head off for good measure.

What Steven Seagal needed were bad guys that could hold their own against him and could actually damage him in the movies. Yes he could still be the badass, but it doesn't mean that he couldn't be in danger even from other martial artists who might be ALMOST as good as him.

The only watchable movie of Steven's is his first movie, On Deadly Ground,and Excecutive Decision where he actually died.
If he had more movies where he was the hot shit martial artist/combat expert yet still died it might humanize him a bit. He could be one of the musclebound second raters with Arnold, a la The Predator who take on the hotshit combat expert from another planet who kills all of them and makes them look like pussies while ripping their spines out.
But watching a movie where the hero is smug about being the best fighter in the land and who can't even be hurt, is just boring.

Of course, him growing fat and being incapable of acting doesn't help much either.

Posted by Ray | August 18, 2007 11:33 AM

Seagal killed his own career when he started to adopt the "Hero of the little people" type of character. He always seemed to make some "I'll save the little people!" type of movie right after a major news story broke somewhere in the world.

Talk about pandering to people's fear! A chemical dump is discovered in some state? I'll play a hero that fights for the little people! Exxon Valdez spills 100,000 tons of oil in Alaska? I'll pay hero that fights for the little people! There's a war in another country? I'll pay a hero that fights for the little people! Terrorist hijack airliners? I'll play a hero that fights for the little people! The Mafia is running New York? I'll play a hero that fights for the little people! Over and over he portrayed himself in the same role: Hero of the little people. If it's in the news, Seagal will be the hero that fights for the little people. Man, that got old fast!

I also think his best role was when he died in Executive Decision. Did anyone else notice that his name was not listed on the opening credits? That was a brilliant move on the producer's part as I'm sure it generated a lot more viewers.

Posted by lexhamfox | August 18, 2007 11:59 AM

Look a little further into what he did to the family of his Japanese wife (not just her). The man is a disgrace... and not just because of his movies.

Posted by Bleepless | August 18, 2007 12:33 PM

Mafia, schmafia. I gave up on Seagal when I saw him in a PETA catalogue, verbally drooling on Ingrid Newkirk's jackboots.

Posted by Achillea | August 18, 2007 3:07 PM

Started getting preachy? Heck, Above the Law was preachy, along with being a glaringly obvious vanity project.

I've gotta go with jr565, too, on the giant turn-off Seagal's smug immortal attitude is. It makes me not care about the character. It's the same thing that irks me about David Caruso in CSI: Miami. There's a scene in one of Jackie Chan's movies where he opens a door to find two hulking brutes on the other side. He doesn't pull an I-am-a-martial-arts-god riff, he gets this 'oh, crap' expression and runs for his life. Even Chuck Norris (hallowed be his name) has done cinematic fights he clearly wasn't sure he was able to win -- see his epic battle with Toru Tanaka in Good Guys Wear Black.

The only person to blame for Seagal's failure is Seagal himself, though his ego will never let him accept that.

Posted by viking01 | August 18, 2007 3:25 PM

He should have known that the key to successful karate acting means that you stop talking a second or two after your lips stop moving.

Posted by Barry | August 18, 2007 4:02 PM

Okay, here's the Seagal Screenplay Template:

SS, minding his own business. Single dad, teenage daughter. Wife estranged/dead.

Somebody offends SS. Maybe his partner is killed/daughter attacked.

SS goes after bad guys, goes too far, maybe someone is accidentally killed. SS injured, chagrined, temporarily defeated.

Squad captain takes SS's badge/gun, utters immortal words 'I don't want you anywhere NEAR this case!'

SS leaves for remote location, practices martial arts some more, maybe burns some incense. Bonds with recuperating daughter/reconciles with wife. Maybe squad captain visits, admits 'I was wrong', returns gun/badge.

SS shaves off beard, returns to city, hunts down the bad guys in ascending order of badness, much broken glass, compound fractures. Bad guys defeated.

SS has squad captain's respect, daughter's love, wife says let's go home.

Roll credits.

Posted by Emerson | August 18, 2007 8:32 PM

Spy magazine published a great article years back on Segal's mob connections.

Posted by Susan | August 19, 2007 5:03 PM

Actually, I like the movie Under Siege because of the bad guys in the movie. Ya know, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, etc. They and the supporting cast make the movie bearable to watch.

Posted by Jonathan Sadow | August 19, 2007 10:26 PM

A former boss of mine used to work as a field agent for the CIA (a real field agent, not like Valerie Plame) and who eventually resigned from the agency over policy differences. He then spent several years travelling around the world giving lectures opposing U.S. policies in Central America and other places. This made him a favorite of the Hollywood left, of course, and he occasionally travelled to Los Angeles to give lectures to them. On one occasion, one of those aspiring actors/writers/directors/producers that Hollywood is full of invited him to his home, which was above the dojo where the guy worked, to talk more about my former boss's experiences in the CIA, which they did for several hours.

A few years later, my former boss noticed that Hollywood had released a movie made by and starring this guy (doing lots of martial arts in the movie), and the plot for the movie bore a remarkable resemblance to one of my former boss's experiences in the CIA. When he asked the guy why he hadn't been given a story credit for the movie, the guy asked my former boss to show him a story contract they had signed. When my former boss told him that a contract had never been discussed, much less the prospect that one of his CIA experiences would be used as the plot for a movie, the guy told him to get lost.

I've always thought that was an interesting story showing how Hollywood works, and I decided to post it here for some reason....

Posted by JeepThang | August 20, 2007 9:02 AM

Ya.. well.. Stephen Seagal shagged Kelly LeBrock. What have you all done with your lives?

Posted by Don Miguel | August 20, 2007 5:38 PM

"Ya.. well.. Stephen Seagal shagged Kelly LeBrock. What have you all done with your lives?"

Yea? My wife is hotter than Kelly LeBrock and I don't run like a girl. So back at you.

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