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The Most Controversial Award Show Moments in History

By any chance did you see Sam Smith’s recent performance at the 65th Grammy Awards? Let’s just say that the song, outfits, dance moves, and pretty much everything else caused quite a bit of controversy and has got everyone talking about how shocking it was. But of course, award shows are no stranger to controversy and whether we’re talking about the Grammys, the Oscars, or anything in-between, there’s bound to be a controversial moment that’s easy to spot.

Some of these controversial moments were planned – others came as a surprise to pretty much everyone. Yet, one thing that they all have in common, is that we aren’t going to forget them anytime soon!

So, what were these controversial moments? How did they come about in the first place?

Join FactsVerse to learn about the most controversial award show moments in history…



The 1974 Academy Awards wasn’t particularly memorable – except for one thing, which we’ll get to in just a moment.

It was the year that the film The Sting swept the awards and was generally a good year for American cinema. There was really nothing controversial about the year and one wouldn’t have expected anything particularly exciting happening at the award ceremony.

That is, until Mr. Robert Opel came onto the scene.

One of the presenters for the evening was Sir David Niven. He was on stage and was just about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, when, all of a sudden, a naked man ran onto the stage – seemingly out of nowhere and shocked the audience. He disappeared quickly but the few seconds he was on stage was enough for us to be discussing this event almost 50 years later!

David Niven was shocked but, owing to his British quick-wit, was able to make a joke about the incident. Yet, it was a mystery as to who this man was and why he streaked on stage.

Later, we learned that the Oscar Streaker was a one Robert Opel. Robert Opel was an art gallery owner from San Francisco. He was openly bisexual and his art gallery mostly attracted gay clients.

Robert Opel was a streaker for hire and was also a stand up comedian. He was also known for being a gay rights activist and was lauded in his inner circle – despite only being known as the Oscar Streaker outside of his circle. The general public had largely forgotten about Robert Opel in the years that passed.

However, he once again became a news story when tragedy struck. He was shot and killed by two thieves one night and the news began running stories about his death – once again bringing up his Oscars incident – solidifying him as the reason behind one of the most controversial award show moments in history.



Without a doubt, the most controversial award show moment of recent memory was at the most recent Oscars when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. But it wasn’t just the incident itself that caused controversy, but the authenticity of it, the timing, and the possibility of there being a bigger motive behind the incident.

Here’s what went down – just in case you were living under a rock at the time and missed it!

Chris Rock was doing a routine and making jokes about the crowd as he’s done before. He looked over at Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett and made a joke about Jada’s bald head. Everyone laughed and at first it seemed that Will Smith also seemed to find the joke funny.

But then, all of a sudden, Will Smith got up and stormed onto the stage. Chris Rock was confused as to what was going on and then WHAM! – Will Smith slapped Chris Rock hard in the face and went back to his seat. Everyone seemed to be in shock. Upon returning to his seat, Chris Rock looked at Will Smith who screamed to keep Jada’s name out of his mouth. He screamed this again and Chris Rock backed off. The show went on. Will Smith later won an Oscar for his role in the film King Richard and briefly apologized for the slap but the damage was done.

This remains, at least as of now, the most talked about controversy at a recent award show.

But, those of us who are very analytical feel that there’s more to the controversy than the joke and the slap. Discerning eyes have stated that Will Smith didn’t seem to have a problem with the joke – until perhaps Jada told him she was offended.

As a result, the question remains – was this event staged?



Have you ever watched a music award ceremony and been disappointed that your favorite singer didn’t win an award that you feel they deserved?

Well, you’re not alone – because this is exactly what Kanye West thought a few years ago.

It was the 2009 MTV Music Awards. Taylor Swift had won an award for her song “You Belong To Me.” The excited Taylor Swift was on stage giving her acceptance speech, when all of a sudden, Kanye West stormed on stage.

He interrupted her speech to praise her – and then to state that Beyonce was more deserving of the award and wasn’t getting the appreciation she deserved! Taylor Swift was dumbstruck and she was eventually escorted off stage – and was in tears!

Beyonce was apparently embarrassed by the incident and would later criticize Kanye West for his actions. She won another award at the same event and then asked Taylor Swift to come back on stage to finish her speech.

While this event might not be discussed as much today, it’s still one of the most controversial award show moments in history. Many memes were made of this incident and it was one of the early incidents when Kanye West’s antics and erratic behavior became the center of the media’s attention.


It’s not just singers who start making acceptance speeches only to have them interrupted – the producers of a film sometimes have to suffer the same fate. But what could be worse than expressing your appreciation for winning the Best Picture Oscar, only to found out that, actually, you didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar?!

This is exactly what happened at the 2017 Academy Awards. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced that the winner of the Best Picture Oscar was the film La-La-Land. The producers and team of the hit musical went on stage to give their acceptance speech.

However, in the middle of the speeches it was revealed that Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope. Host Jimmy Kimmel came on stage to give them the correct envelope and the speeches were interrupted and the correct envelope was opened to reveal that the film Moonlight was the actual winner.

Jordan Horowitz grabbed the card to show it to the audience. He stated that this wasn’t a joke and that Moonlight was the actual winner. The crowd gave a standing ovation and then the team behind Moonlight came on stage to give their speeches. This incident became controversial and there has been analysis on whether the La-La-Land team were good sports and handled it with grace or whether they felt embarrassed due to the event. You’ll just have to see the clip again and again and perhaps again to judge for yourself!

This incident is one of the most watched moments in the history of the Academy Awards and one that was discussed for several weeks after it ended. But while the recent Oscars has given us some great moments, let’s go back to the 1970s again to learn about another controversial moment that happened when an actor won the award for Best Actor…


At the 1973 Academy Awards, Marlon Brando won a well-deserved award for his performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, which was released the previous year.

Many fans and colleagues alike were eager to see Marlon Brando, already seen as one of the greatest actors of all time, give a speech for his role – which would later be solidified as one of his greatest roles and one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.

But when Marlon Brando’s name was called – it wasn’t he who walked on the stage. In fact, Marlon Brando wasn’t even present at the Oscars ceremony. Instead, a young Native American woman, dressed in her beautiful traditional attire, went on stage.

Her name was Sacheen Littlefeather – and she was best known as an activist for the rights of the indigenous peoples of the United States.

She accepted the Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf and made a speech criticizing the Wounded Knee standoff event that had been all over the news. Marlon Brando already had a reputation for being sympathetic toward Native Americans and an advocate for their rights. This speech was applauded by some and booed by others. Some attendees would later make jokes about the speech.

Nevertheless, it struck a nerve. Marlon Brando received criticism for sending Sacheen Littlefeather to give the speech but he didn’t care. He was later interviewed by Dick Cavett [RS1] and he discussed this particular incident. He was nonchalant and didn’t care about any criticism that was thrown at him.

To this day, this controversial moment is discussed and watched on replay. Since celebrities do have – for better or worse – influence on society, the Oscars seemed like the perfect place to bring awareness to such an issue.


So, now let’s hear from you:

Do you like watching award shows? Did you know about any of these controversial moments that have happened in award shows throughout the years?

In fact, we’ve got a question for you:

Do you think that award shows will continue to be popular and important for publicizing artists?

Or are they becoming less popular and the general public cares less about an artist’s award collection?


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The Most Controversial Award Show Moments in History