Saying Steven Seagal is a man of contradictions is a huge understatement. He professes to be Buddhist, he makes movies with ecological themes and he is a PETA award-winning humanitarian. On the other hand, his treatment of people really sucks. He has injured stuntmen, fought both mentally and physically with costars and directors and worse yet, his treatment of women is deplorable. How did this martial arts-loving kid end up being one of the most despised men in Hollywood? These facts will set the record straight, one karate chop at a time.
Steven Seagal was born on April 10, 1952, in Lansing, Michigan. Nothing about his parents' backgrounds suggests that Seagal would become a big action movie star. Both were white-collar workers with nothing to do with either show business or martial arts. They described Seagal as a puny little kid who suffered from asthma.
How was this little asthmatic boy going to grow into one of the most feared men in Hollywood?
When Seagal was five years old, his family moved from Michigan to California—and Seagal suddenly began to change. He physically grew, so he wasn’t that puny little kid anymore. He was, however, still a bit of an introvert. His parents said he spent most of his days alone in the garage with rock music blaring from the speakers.
Just when it seemed that Seagal would just turn into your typical loner, he met a man who would change his life forever.
While Seagal was studying at Fullerton College, he started dropping by the local dojo because he had an interest in martial arts. At the dojo, Seagal met an older Japanese man who took a liking to him. It seemed that Seagal was looking for a direction to follow in life, and somehow this old man provided it.
Before Seagal knew what was happening, the old man had convinced him to make a huge life change.
In the early 1970s, Seagal made a big move: to Japan. It’s not clear what he did there, but when he returned to the US he was a new man. First of all, he started a relationship with Miyako Fujitani, who was a second degree black belt in the Japanese martial art of aikido.
The love between the two was strong, but soon they'd be torn apart: Fujitani had to return to her native Japan. Seagal had to make a decision. Say goodbye to the love of his life or follow her back to Japan.
Seagal listened to his heart and was soon back in Japan with his girlfriend. Once they got there, wedding bells rang. They tied the knot in 1975 and two children followed shortly after. For work, Seagal taught at his new wife's family's martial arts school. It looked like happily-ever-after—but it wasn't.
For some unknown reason, Seagal abruptly returned to the US. Strangely, Seagal left his wife in Japan, and instead returned with one of his male students.
Seagal and his student set up a dojo in Hollywood, and Seagal forgot all about his wife back in Japan. Thinking he was single, Seagal started dating soap opera actor Adrienne La Russa and the two quickly got married in 1984. But wait minute, wasn’t Seagal already married? I guess Seagal thought what happened in Japan, stayed in Japan. Nope, that wasn’t the case, and the two had to get their marriage annulled.
Seagel didn’t seem fazed about annulling the marriage, and he simply went back to working at the dojo. It was at this time that one of his students had an interesting—and life changing—suggestion.
One of the student’s at Seagal’s dojo was Michael Ovitz, who happened to be a Hollywood agent. Ovitz had a personal belief: He could make anyone into a movie star. He told Seagal that he should try becoming a star, and Seagal took him up on the offer.
Seagal found a script that Warner Bros had been saving for Clint Eastwood and decided to make it his own.
Of course, Seagal couldn’t just walk into the offices at Warner Bros and get a part in a movie; he had to prove himself first. When executives asked him to demonstrate what he could do with his martial arts, Seagal scared them out of their wits.
You see, Seagal had staged a little show where he physically dominated his own students. The studio execs thought the whole thing was real and signed up Seagal on the spot.
Not only did Seagal get the part, the studio also got him to rewrite the script, which he renamed Above the Law. They wanted his character’s backstory to match Seagal’s own. They also wanted him to choreograph all the fight scenes that involved aikido. Seagal had quickly gone from a simple dojo owner to Hollywood star, choreographer, and writer. Oh, and they also gave him a co-producer credit. I guess Ovitz was right: You can make a star out of just about anyone.
Next, it was time for Seagal to start acting like a star.
Seagal was quickly becoming a hot commodity around Hollywood. Soon, he was looking for someone equally hot to have on his arm. Kelly LeBrock had “fantasy woman” written all over her—mostly because she appeared as a fantasy woman in two different hit movies: Woman In Red and Weird Science. LeBrock was also famous for her shampoo commercial where she famously said: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”. Oh and one more thing: legendary pop duo Hall and Oates had a song for her: They called it “Maneater”.
Seagal knew he wanted LeBrock on his arm, and he’d do anything to make it happen.
Seagal’s charms worked on LeBrock and they were soon ready to tie the knot. This time, however, he did manage to remember he was already married. He got a divorce from Fujitani and in 1987, married LeBrock. While his new wife had been one the of the “it” girls in Hollywood films of the late 1980s, she had taken a break from filmmaking.
Seagal saw a future where he and his new wife would star opposite each other. But with Steven Seagal, nothing is ever so simple.
While Seagal’s first film—Above the Law—wasn't actually a critical success, it had turned a tidy profit. Of course this made it easy for Seagal to move on to his next feature film: Hard To Kill. Seagal originally wanted stunt director Craig R Baxley to step into the director’s chair for the film, but Baxley declined for a surprising reason: He didn’t want to be on a film with Seagal.
Seagal was quickly getting a reputation as being hard to work with.
Seagal did manage to get his wife to leave her early retirement and appear in Hard To Kill, but she wasn't the film's biggest supporter—not even a little bit. She later gave the film a nickname: “Hard to Watch”. While the film cleaned up at the box office, the critics said that Seagal was something that every action star dreads hearing: generic. What? But what about the ponytail? Yes, this was the first film where he sported his trademark ponytail, and it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Seagal had to do a lot of press for Above the Law and seemed to like having a microphone thrust into his face. After all, it gave him a chance to spin his narrative. According to Seagal, when he was in Japan he’d been an advisor, where he did “special works” and “special favors” for the CIA. It was the perfect lie—if it was a lie—because of course the CIA was not in the business of saying what they did or didn’t do.
If Seagal said he was part of the CIA, there was no way to prove he wasn’t.
What Seagal was actually doing was what all good actors do: creating a backstory. The only difference was that this backstory was not for a character, but for himself. Likely, most people weren’t actually buying this story of intrigue, but most didn’t care that it was likely fake. They just loved to hear Seagal’s tales of being a man of intrigue. But how long could he keep this farce up before someone saw through him?
At one point Warner Bros wanted to know once and for all if Seagal had any CIA connections. The studio did a pretty thorough check of the action star’s background and found pretty much zip. There was no CIA connection—or proof of any covert operations of any kind. But they did uncover something that disturbed them:
Although he wasn't in the CIA, it turned out that Seagal had connections with a few very “shady characters”. It would take some time, but these connections would eventually come back to haunt him.
While fewer and fewer were believing in Seagal the CIA operative, there was one thing they couldn’t deny: The man was walking around heavily armed. He wore coats with long backs in order to hide the firearms he had back there. Tailors for his tuxedo for the Oscars had to fit it to conceal two giant pistols. When asked why he needed protection at the Oscars, Seagal said it was in case "'they' rushed the stage on him".
Who “they” were and if they were real or imagined is anyone’s guess.
In keeping with tradition, Seagal’s next film also had a three word title: Marked For Death. This film had the added feature of Seagal singing with Jimmy Cliff. But don’t worry, it was still an action film. In fact the National Coalition on TV called it one of the most violent movies of the year. But that wasn't just on camera—the violence happened behind the scenes as well.
While on the set of Marked For Death, Seagal bragged that his aikido training meant that no one could possibly knock him out. The stunt coordinator wanted to see if this was true, so Seagal allowed him to wring his neck. But it didn't go at all how he planned. Sure enough, within a few minutes Seagal was embarrassingly unconscious.
But this wasn’t the most embarrassing part. Allegedly, Seagal not only went unconscious—he also did a number two in his pants. Of course, Seagal denied that any of this happened. In fact, denying was all he seemed capable of doing.
Seagal’s next film was Out For Justice. This time though, it wasn’t Seagal who was out for justice; it was four women who worked as office assistants on the film. All four of them accused Seagal of harassment, and he ended up paying three of them off to not press charges.
Seagal’s inappropriate behavior was not just for the office staff—it also carried over to female actors who were in his films.
Four female actors came forward complaining about Seagal casting sessions. According to them, Seagal made it very clear that sleeping with him would guarantee them a part in the film. One actor said that Seagal started doing some sort of acupressure on her body and then started focusing his hands only on her chest. When she told him to stop, Seagal suddenly announced that she had the part.
These casting couch sessions were no joke—and neither was Seagal’s stint on SNL.
Seagal next took a break from action movies and tried his hand at comedy. He wasn’t about to do a comedic film, but he was willing to act as host of Saturday Night Live. As it turned out, Seagal did not have a single funny bone in his body. He also treated the writers and cast badly.
After the show had aired, show producer Lorne Michaels called Seagal the worst host ever, and SNL cast members Tim Meadows and David Spade agreed. Michaels never asked Seagal to return. Seagal had tried comedy and failed—what would he do next?
It was time for a shift in Seagal’s career. His next movie—Under Siege—was not purely an action film. It even had an impressive cast of supporting actors. It was such a serious film that Seagal actually cut off his trademark ponytail. That wasn't the only thing different about this movie.
Critics actually liked Under Siege, and it even got two Academy Award nominations—albeit in non-acting categories. Seagal had tasted what it was like to make a serious film, and he wanted to do it again.
Seagal looked deep into his heart for his next film. He had concerns about the environment and wanted to put them into a movie. The result is the eco-friendly action film On Deadly Ground. This was definitely Seagal’s baby as he was the lead actor, the director, and the producer. Sadly, the film was not well received by critics, and even made Gene Siskel’s worst films of the year list.
Could it be true that action film lovers didn’t care about the environment? Or was something else true: Seagal had no idea how to make a movie.
When his own film failed, Seagal turned to something that had succeeded in the past: Under Siege. Unfortunately Under Siege 2: Dark Territory was a huge disappointment. Not only was it a critical failure, it was also the first film where the now paunchy Seagal had to wear a girdle. Having a belly, however, wasn’t Seagal’s only problem. His marriage was also falling apart.
Kelly LeBrock wanted out of their marriage, mostly because Seagal had started sleeping with their nanny. Seagal took the divorce hard and to combat his emotions, he brought in various healers to help him. One had the name Mukara—Seagal never should have trusted him.
Mukara seemed intent on not helping Seagal, but just taking his money. Seagal’s friend Jules Nasso found many checks that Seagal had written to Mukara that just listed “Buddhist stuff” as the reason for payment. You’d almost start to feel sorry for Seagal...and then he goes and does the following.
27. He Wanted Her To Take It Off
When Seagal was casting Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, he had Jenny McCarthy up for a role. When it came to her audition, Seagal asked her to do it without clothes. McCarthy’s potential part in the film did not require her to be in her birthday suit, but Seagal likely thought she would comply because she’d recently been a Playmate of the Year. A very wise McCarthy stormed out of the audition.
Unfortunately there was more inappropriateness once the film got going.
Obviously Mccarthy didn’t get a part on Under Siege 2, but a teenage Katherine Heigl did. Heigl tells a story that happened on the last day of filming. She says that Seagal made a creepy comment about having girlfriends her age; she was 16 at the time. When Heigl pointed out that that was against the law, Seagal replied with this gem: “they didn’t seem to mind”.
Later, during an Under Siege 2 promo event, Seagal publicly grabbed Heigl’s chest and laughed. Seagal loved laughter—unless someone was laughing at him.
Next, Seagal appeared opposite Kurt Russel in 1996’s Executive Decision. Apparently, Seagal had walked around the set claiming to be the boss of the movie. When costar—and funny man—John Leguizamo laughed at this, Seagal's reaction was unhinged: He used his aikido to slam the pint sized Leguizamo into a wall.
When asked if he had a good time working with Seagal, Leguizamo said that he hadn’t, and then added: “No one has”.
Seagal hadn’t learned his lesson on Saturday Night Live and returned to comedy. This was 1996’s action comedy film The Glimmer Man with Keenen Ivory Wayans. At the same time, Seagal had a change in his belief system, and so he no longer wanted to kill any of his enemies in his films.
The director really needed Seagal to kill a character named Maynard, but Seagal was refusing. What they did to convince Seagal is epic.
The actor who played Maynard, Stephen Tobolowsky, sat down with Seagal and tried to persuade him to kill his character. He appealed to Seagal’s Buddhist beliefs and convinced Seagal that the character, through reincarnation, would become a better person. Only then did Seagal agree to do the scene.
Once the film was in the can, Seagal changed his mind again and begged the director to re-edit it so Maynard had survived. The director went through the motions, but in the final cut Maynard was still a goner.
Seagal followed up this failed film with another failure: Fire Down Below. Seagal was back making environmental action films, and the critics and audience went back to hating them. This one earned four Razzie nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Song and for Seagal, Worst Actor.
Steven Seagal was getting a new reputation: King of the box office flops. He was losing his fan base and the studio wasn’t happy.
Seagal’s reputation was so low that Warner Bros saw no reason to continue a relationship with him. They did, however, throw him a life raft with 2001’s Exit Wounds. There is some confusion as to whether it was a life raft or a final—and rather evil—dispatch. Seagal was supposed to have a very major fight scene with Michael Jai White. For some reason the director saved the scene for the last day of the shoot. The reason is chilling.
The director wanted to film the fight at the end of the shoot for a very specific reason: He wanted White to actually beat Seagal up. White was unsure how to proceed. Would he actually beat up Seagal? He later said that it seemed that Seagal sensed what was happening and was very hesitant during the scene. Lucky for him, White decided not to do what the director wanted, and he went easy on him.
Exit Wounds was a mild success, but Warner Bros still wanted nothing to do with Seagal.
In 2000, one of Seagal’s friendships came to a shattering end. Julius Nasso was more than a friend, he was also a business partner. When Nasso believed that Seagal owed him $3 million, he went to extreme measures to get Seagal to pay: He hired members of a crime family to help him get the money. Seagal’s life was beginning to resemble one of his movies.
Surely it was time for Seagal to use those muscles to protect himself.
Seagal didn’t end up using his muscles—instead he used the courts. He ended up testifying against his friend Nasso, and Nasso pleaded guilty. He got a short sentence and a fine of $75,000. He did, however, launch a lawsuit against Seagal for $60 million. Nasso later dropped the lawsuit, and Seagal settled with him out of court.
Seagal didn’t have to worry about Nasso anymore. He did, however, still have his career to be concerned with.
What followed for Seagal was a whole slew of films that went straight to video. The titles—like Special Ops and The Perfect Weapon—sound quite forgettable, and the films are too. His movies were failing, and his waistline was increasing. Warner Bros made him go on a diet, but when he spent time at the gym, Seagal snuck cookies instead of lifting weights.
Seagal next did what many failing movie stars do: turn to television.
Back in the 1980s, Seagal got the call to teach deputies at the Jefferson Parish in Louisiana how to do martial arts. The sheriff there gave Seagal an honorary rank in the organization. Jump forward a few decades, and Seagal has an idea to capitalize on it. This was the A&E reality series Steven Seagal: Lawman.
The show was supposed to follow Seagal as he upheld the law. There was one major problem: Instead of upholding the law, Seagal kept breaking it.
The first trouble Seagal got into while working on Steven Seagal: Lawman was about cockfighting. Authorities raided the home of Jesus Sanchez Llovera, who ran a cockfighting ring, and Seagal joined in on the raid. Tragically, during the raid, officers shot Llovera’s dog. As a payment, Llovera wanted $100,000 and a letter of apology from Seagal for the loss of the family pet—an 11-month-old puppy. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
Cockfighting in Louisiana was just the beginning of the troubles on the show.
A 23-year-old woman named Kayden Nguyen thought she had found her dream job as an executive assistant on Steven Seagal: Lawman. Instead, it was more like a nightmare. When Nguyen arrived, she found out something shocking: Her boss had recently had two Russian women on the payroll who were there just to fill Seagal’s amorous desires: 24 hours a day.
Nguyen then found out something twice as shocking: She was replacing both of them.
Within the first few days of her employment, Seagal allegedly forced Nguyen to pleasure him at least three times. Of course, the 23-year-old wanted to leave as soon as she could. That’s when Seagal started holding her captive. The poor woman became his personal toy, and he had access to her night and day. Nguyen knew she had to get out, but how?
Seagal’s captive love toy Nguyen finally had an opportunity to get out of Seagal’s home. One night she called a cab and made her terrifying exit. Her run out to the cab was right out of one of Seagal’s movies. In the scene, she’s running to the cab, and Seagal is chasing her sporting a firearm with a flashlight attached to it.
Thankfully Nguyen made it out alive. She did, however, drop her eventual lawsuit with no explanation.
Once people started talking about Seagal's behavior toward women, more stories surfaced. In 2017, actor Portia de Rossi tweeted about what she alleges happened to her on the casting couch with Seagal. Seagal wanted to find out if the two of them had any chemistry, so during the audition he unzipped his leather pants.
De Rossi had a difficult decision: Did she really want the part that bad?
Luckily, de Rossi had her wits about her and she ran out of the audition. When she complained to her agent she expected to get a sympathetic ear. Instead she got this glib remark from her female agent: “Well, I didn’t know if he was your type”. This just goes to show you how common situations like this were.
Sadly, there are still even more stories to tell.
In 2018, another accusation came out. Back in 1993, Seagal was working on his environmental film On Deadly Ground. He invited an 18-year-old Regina Simons to the wrap party, but he had an evil plan that she didn’t know about: The whole party was a fake.
When Simons arrived at the location she found no one there except Seagal. That’s when the worst happened: Seagal allegedly forced himself on her.
Another actor who suffered Seagal’s unwanted advances was Julianna Margulies. She told a radio host that Seagal wanted to run over movie scenes in his hotel room—Margulies was just 23 years old at the time. Upon her arrival, she saw that she was going to be alone with Seagal, and she saw something else: The guy was obviously armed.
Marguiles got out of the room quickly and declined any more hotel room meetings. When disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein asked her for a similar meeting, she’d learned to just say no.
Instead of a hotel room, Seagal also used his own residence for some of his unseemly behavior. He invited Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero to audition at his home in Beverly Hills. When she got to his house, she found Seagal wearing nothing but a bathrobe. The audition went off without a hitch, but Guerrero’s manager told her if she wanted the part, she would have to return to the mansion for a private rehearsal.
Guerrero decided that no part in a movie was worth that, so she backed out.
Yet another woman who complained about Seagal’s behavior is Dutch model Faviola Dadis. Dadis said when she was 17 years old, she went for an audition at the W Hotel in Hollywood with Seagal. During the audition, Seagal allegedly groped her in the chest and crotch. When Dadis tried to walk out of the hotel room, Seagal’s security stopped her from leaving.
It seems that no one is particularly interested in working with Seagal these days, but that’s not entirely true. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is. In 2016, Putin gave Seagal a Russian passport and in 2018, he made Seagal “the official representative between Russia and the US”.
Because of his connection to Putin, the August Blues Festival in Estonia dropped Seagal from its lineup. More serious still: Ukraine has banned Seagal from stepping foot in their country. More recently, Seagal has gotten even cozier with Putin.
A few years later, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Seagal had a difficult decision to make. Most Americans spoke out against Russia’s invasion—and even boycotted Russia. Seagal’s friend Putin had become one of the most derided men in the world. What would Seagal do?
Well, unperturbed by the backlash, Seagal planned his own birthday party in Moscow and even invited many Putin-supporting Russians.
So, all of Seagal’s sins brings out a rather obvious question: Did Seagal do anything that was right? Believe it or not, in 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) honored Seagal with a Humanitarian Award. Apparently, he’d written letters to Thailand in order to end the mistreatment of baby elephants. If only Seagal had cared as much for his fellow human beings.
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