17 Famous People Who Started Out As Heroes But Lived Long Enough To Become Major Villains

There are many examples of hero-villain arcs in TV and film, but that's not the only place we find them - they unfortunately happen in real life too.
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Reddit user u/do_u_liek_ButtSchexx recently asked just that — "Who's your example of 'You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain?'" — and there were some super interesting answers .
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Here are 17 people who turned into pretty big villains even though they started out as heroes!
Note: Some of these submissions contain mentions of rape, abuse and animal cruelty.
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1. "Jim Jones. He originally championed civil rights when it was really unpopular. [He] was hospitalized and accidentally taken to the Black Ward. When the doctors found out, they tried to move him, but he refused. Then he became a cult leader and used his power and influence to end the lives of [almost] a thousand people.
—u/Crvsby
Janet Fries/Getty Images
2. "Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church started out as an attorney defending civil rights."
—u/Pkrudeboy
Phelps took on a number of civil rights cases and even won awards from places like the NAACP for his work. However, faxes indicate that despite this work, he may have been racist. He stood trial in 1989 after making false statements.
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3. "Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, invented a number of untested uses for it (treating... drowning victims)... which he publicly addressed. He later funded an experiment in which people were injected with malaria to see if it would treat other diseases."
—u/Parliament
Heimlich's son Peter has spent much time pointing out his father's misconceptions, including clarifying its use in Ethiopia and China. Secretly even got celebrities to donate money to fund this ineffective and dangerous treatment, which the Ethiopian Health Ministry said they were unaware of.
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4. “Philippe Petain. During World War I, he led the French to victory at Verdun, one of the worst battles in human history. In World War II, after France was defeated, Pétain was the head of state from Vichy, France lion of Verdun to the biggest Nazi collaborator in France."
—u/arthuranymoredonuts
Pétain later said he was playing a "double game" by collaborating with the occupying Nazis, but the government he led took numerous anti-Jewish measures, particularly for foreign Jews, many of whom were extradited to the Germans or interned. After the war, Pétain was tried for his actions and sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment).
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5. "Benedict Arnold. Almost died during the Revolutionary War if I remember correctly and if he had he would have been remembered as a great hero and martyr. Instead he lived and changed sides and will only be remembered for being a traitor."
—u/unique person22
Stock Montage / Getty Images
6. "Fritz Haber. He revolutionized the ability to fertilize crops...which allowed the earth's population to grow. ... He created other technologies that were then used in the chemical warfare of World War I and finally Zyklon B in World War II to commit the Holocaust."
—u/cooliovonhoolio
Almost half of the world's people make a living from plants grown using the Haber-Bosch method. He received a Nobel Prize for this work. Haber, who was born Jewish but later converted, died before World War II. He did not himself make Zyklon B, which was used in gas chambers, but did his work on his invention.
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7.Chris Benoit was a famous, celebrated wrestler until he murdered his wife and child. The dark side of Vice's ring has covered this case extensively, speaking to many of Benoit's friends, who believed Benoit was largely a family man until steroids, a brain injury from wrestling, and alcohol affected him enough to perform one murder-suicide.
Suggested by u/DegreeOffWhite
"It was awful to watch. I was a huge pro wrestling fan back then. To my knowledge, Benoit was actually a great person until suddenly he wasn't a consequence. It's really amazing how people with severe CTE behave in a very similar way. If your job is basically pounding your brains in every night, who knows what's going to happen? Just look at all the NFL guys that are having similar problems e.g. B. Steve McNair. I feel sorry for everyone involved, including Benoit himself. I don't think he even had the capacity to reason anymore. Steroids didn't help, but I think they just sped things up.
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8.O.J. Simpson was also a celebrated figure in football before he was arrested in the 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her boyfriend Ron Goldman. Although he was not found guilty, he was later jailed for armed robbery and kidnapping, although he was released last year.
Suggested by u/ChickenTendy27
Pool/Getty Images
9. "Rudy Giuliani. The guy was 'America's mayor' 20 years ago. A... prosecutor who took down the mafia and then ran New York through 9/11. Now he's just viewed as the increasingly off-kilter Trump lackey sweating his hair dye in front of a landscaping company that should have become a hotel."
—u/justbrowsing987654
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
10. “Richard Nixon. Won the 1972 election in a landslide victory with only Massachusetts and DC voting for McGovern on the back of a strong economy. Two years later he resigns in disgrace at Watergate amid stagflation and his reputation has never been redeemed."
—u/nostrademons
Bettmann Archives/Getty Images
11. Bill Cosby was once extremely healthy and known as "America's Father". In 2002 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2003 the Emmys presented him with a humanitarian award "for his long history of charitable work and activism in support of education and racial equality."
Suggested by u/shaka_sulu
Kmazur/WireImage via Getty Images
12. Similarly, Kevin Spacey was an activist to promote AIDS awareness and participate in fundraisers for people living with AIDS... before falling out of favor after numerous allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
Suggested by u/Patri100ia
Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
13. Joe Paterno, Penn State's acclaimed head coach, was fired after he failed to do enough to stop assistant coach Jerry Sandusky from committing child sex abuse crimes. After his death, Paterno was further accused of helping cover up Sandusky's actions, although how much he was involved is debated.
Suggested by u/3lon_Mu5k
"I immigrated to the United States to go to college, and college football was an important part of my integration into American college culture, and thus into a fascinating part of American culture that's not really found in most other parts of the world exists.” JoePa was the shining beacon of what it was like to be a college coach when I was accepted into college football. And then… wow.”
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14." Harry Harlow. He started his career as a young and unconventional scientist who wanted to prove that people cannot survive without love and affection. To do this, he needed an animal that was sufficiently human-like and easy to handle. He chose Rhesus monkeys. Harlow's research went in a really dark direction. … He decided to purposely raise monkeys from birth with so little love and affection. … They were depressed and pretty much became the empty shells of living animals.”
3:53 am - May 29, 2015
15. "Dr. Oz is the perfect example. He started out as a legitimately talented, accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon. Then he started his snake oil peddling on TV and has now fully evolved into a pandering, narcissistic Trump-loving politician.”
—u/rockychunk
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
16. "Phoenix Jones, that superhero from Seattle. Saved quite a few people over the years and ended up getting caught by an undercover cop selling MDMA.”
—u/moist_kiwi53
Jones became known for donning a superhero costume and stepping in to stop fights and other crimes like a car robbery. Accounts vary as to how much the Seattle people/authorities appreciated this, and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes "deeply misguided." Following his arrest, it is unclear if he has been charged, and he says he still appears to be active in crime-fighting
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17. And finally, J.K. Rowling transitioned from a beloved children's book author to a TERF after making a series of anti-trans comments and then repeating them repeatedly.
Suggested by nibo001
"She could have chosen to say goodbye to the public with grace."
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Heinrich Heimlich
American surgeon widely credited with inventing the Heimlich maneuver (1920-2016)
Fred Phelps
American pastor and activist (1929-2014)
Fritz Haber
German chemist and Nobel Prize winner

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