Times Paparazzi Dangerously Chased Celebrities

Being an A-list actor, chart-topping musician, or even a member of one of those families that are all famous for reasons no one can quite describe, that might all seem like it's living the dream. Fame, fortune, money, cash, a full bank account, a garage full of cars, and the sort of home that made you sing cheesy "we're all in this together" songs during nationwide lockdowns, it's got to be pretty good ... right?

There's actually one thing that might make even the most extroverted person consider getting out of the fame game altogether, and that's the paparazzi. Hoping for a little private time, out of the public eye? Good luck with that. Look at Jennifer Aniston: She sued over an incident where a photographer with a telephoto lens took pictures of her sunbathing in her own backyard, then sold the topless photos. (She was awarded $550,000.) 

That's disturbing and creepy on so many levels, and sometimes, interactions with the paparazzi have become downright dangerous. Laws have been put in place to try to prevent accidents, including one signed by then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. That law made it illegal for paparazzi to take and profit from photos deemed to be of a "personal or familial activity," but have there still been potentially deadly — and definitely deadly — incidents? Yes.

Princess Diana

The most high-profile incident involving the paparazzi was the 1997 deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul. Everyone is familiar with the events of that summer night, so let's look at what Prince William had to say about the paparazzi in the BBC documentary, "Diana, 7 Days" (via the Independent): "About every single time she went out, there'd be a pack of people waiting for her. And I mean a pack, like a pack of dogs, followed her, chased her, harassed her, called her names, spat at her, tried to get a reaction to get that photograph of her lashing out, to get her upset."

When she was pushed to tears, the paparazzi had a name for it: a "loon attack." For the paparazzi, Princess Diana was a massive payday. Photos of her sold to publications — mostly tabloids — for as much as $656,000, and it's worth noting, too, that it wasn't just the photographers. Ex-Daily Mirror editor Ian Down explained to Time: "Editors couldn't get enough of her."

After the deaths of Diana, Fayed, and Paul, the world wanted answers — especially when it came out that some of the paparazzi had climbed on the car to get pictures of the injured and dying occupants. Can it get worse? Yes: Of the paparazzi involved in the crash, nine had their manslaughter charges thrown out of court. Three were convicted on charges of invasion of privacy, and as a sentence, they paid a fine of €1.

Britney Spears

Few celebrities have been subjected to the paparazzi circus quite as much as Britney Spears. In 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press (via Today) found that the paparazzi were all working together to keep tabs on her. Incidents were terrifying. 

In 2006, she was photographed driving with her young child on her lap, leading her to write a statement to People about the incident. She explained that she had been playing with the baby while her bodyguard went into Starbucks, and things got out of hand. She explained why she'd driven off: "Because of a recent incident when I was trapped in my car without my baby by a throng of paparazzi, I was terrified that this time the physically aggressive paparazzi would put both me and my baby in danger." In 2007, the danger became real: Two paparazzi chasing her — one on a motorcycle and the other in a Range Rover — collided. Then, in 2008, four were arrested for reckless driving, with the arrest report citing them for getting too close to her car. 

In 2021, Insider reached out to some of the paparazzi most often connected with the uncomfortably familiar chases, and they found their attitude was summed up by photographer Rick Mendoza: "I'm in it for the money and the history. You think I give a f*** about somebody getting up on the wrong side of the bed, and they don't want their photograph taken? I don't give a s***."

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan was another actress who found herself a prime target for paparazzi, and when a 2005 chase ended badly, the Los Angeles Times reported that she "earned her celebrity stripes." Shortly after Lohan called the police to report she was being harassed by another driver, that driver deliberately ran his car into hers — targeting the driver's side door — in hopes of getting his photo. Injuries were minor, but the photographer was still arrested.

Bizarrely, the same thing happened just a few months later, when she was once again involved in an accident. Even though witnesses said Lohan was being harassed by the paparazzi at the time of the crash, it was ultimately ruled that they weren't responsible for her hitting a van. 

Those incidents happened in West Hollywood, and if it seems like that's a bad place for a chase, that's absolutely correct. In 2008, paparazzi threats prompted a motion to create a so-called "personal safety zone" that restricted how close they could get to their targets. Business owners interviewed by NPR were all in favor, including café owner Shallom Berkman. He cited an incident with Lohan as being absolutely terrifying: She had stopped there for coffee when "One of the [paparazzi] pulled up into our handicapped spot driving about 30 mph, putting on the brakes. Only feet away from people sitting, enjoying themselves."

David Beckham

In 2014, E! News confirmed that they had received a statement from someone in the know: David Beckham hadn't been injured in the motorcycle accident that happened amid being swarmed by paparazzi while traveling down the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Witnesses said that employees of a nearby tattoo parlor came out to lend Beckham a hand in picking up his bike, which he reportedly lost control of in his attempts to dodge paparazzi and avoid hitting a car.

That's not the only problem Beckham has had, either. In 1999, he found himself facing an 8-month driving ban and a fine after being found guilty of a speeding incident on Greater Manchester's A34. Beckham had initially pleaded not guilty and appealed, explaining (via The Guardian) that not only was he trying to avoid getting hit by the paparazzi that had been following him for around 10 miles, but that it was a daily occurrence that should be considered a defense in his speeding case. 

"[Victoria Beckham and I] are followed every day. We are followed when we go to Tesco five minutes away," he said, and cited another incident outside of Harrods: "As we were going out, I was carrying my baby and somebody lunged towards Brooklyn and me and my wife pushed them off." The speeding conviction remained, but his driving ban was overturned.

Scarlett Johansson

The MCU has been the biggest thing since sliced bread, as the saying goes, but it was Scarlett Johansson who learned the hard way that fame can come with a massive price. In 2019, she and other cast members were making a promotional appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and after the show ended, she found the paparazzi ready and waiting for her. In a statement to ET, her reps said, "At some point in time, the paparazzi overpowered her security and for her security reasons and for her security team, they were taken to the Hollywood police station. At that point, she was later able to leave the station."

No one was arrested, no charges were filed, and no one was hurt in the incident, but Johansson didn't pull any punches with her statement to The Hollywood Reporter. She described a terrifying incident of being followed by a group of five blacked-out cars who were tailing her — and her daughter — in an attempt to find out where she was staying.

"The paparazzi consistently go to increasingly dangerous lengths to stalk and harass the people they are photographing," her statement read (in part). "...The paparazzi put people's lives at risk... Until paparazzi are considered by the law for the criminal stalkers they are, it's just a waiting game before another person gets seriously injured or killed, like Princess Diana."

Reese Witherspoon

In 2005, Reese Witherspoon was leaving her gym when she was accosted by paparazzi who cut her off from her car. Gym employees had to come out and help clear a path, and according to witnesses who spoke to the NY Daily News (missing link, via People), they definitely didn't give up once she was in her car. Witnesses to the incident say they took off after her, nearly forced her off the road, and followed her home. Security in the gated community got involved, and so did the police.

That was in April, and a few months later, she was involved in another incident possibly even more horrifying. In October, she and her daughter were at a Disney birthday party when the paparazzi did an up-close-and-personal sort of chasing that ended with one man arrested for a slew of charges that included the battery of a 5-year-old who was reportedly hit by paparazzi when she got in the way of a photo.

Witherspoon spoke about the incident in an interview (via Los Angeles Times), saying, "He became so aggressive. He began pushing, and shoved our tour guide. [It was] an awful experience." The photographer entered a not-guilty plea, and then disappeared after not showing up for court later that same month. He was later found dead in his apartment.

Caitlyn Jenner

In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner was involved in an accident that's every driver's worst nightmare: a fatal one. In the incident, Jenner rear-ended another vehicle, which was then hit by a third vehicle. The driver of the car Jenner hit died at the scene, and according to the official investigation, Jenner was not at fault and wasn't going to face criminal charges. That's not entirely the end of the story, though.

At the time of the incident, Jenner said that she had seen the paparazzi trailing her, but that it was such an everyday sort of occurrence, there was no ongoing chase at the moment. A representative from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department told CNN, "As far as we're concerned, they're not a factor at this time."

That ultimately changed, though, and in early 2016, Jenner sued the paparazzi. Documents (obtained by ET) charged "Stalker defendants and others acting in concert with them continuously, negligently, and recklessly operated their vehicles, tracking Jenner, speeding up to tailgate Jenner, [and] driving too close to take pictures." While there was no high-speed chase, Jenner did claim the relentless presence of the paparazzi was enough of a distraction that it ultimately caused the crash. It's unclear what happened in that lawsuit, but in 2018, Jenner was ordered to pay the family of a woman killed in the crash $800,000.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown's troubles really only started with the high-profile case in which he found himself facing felony charges for assaulting Rihanna in 2009. From there, he was involved in numerous other fights, assaults, restraining order violations, and more assaults, so it's perhaps not surprising that in the time between those first charges and his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, he was a hot target for the paparazzi. 

In 2013, CNN reported that he had totaled his car in an accident caused by the paparazzi. They shared a statement from his camp, which claimed he was cut off by photographers who "aggressively approached his vehicle." Then, "In an effort to remove himself from the situation, he began to back down an alley, at which point [he] was cut off by two additional vehicles." At that point, he said he lost control, crashed into a wall, and totaled his car.

TMZ got a recording of the 911 call he made, claiming the photographers that were chasing him took off after the crash. He identified a burgundy Prius as being involved, but the subsequent investigation into the crash was inconclusive.

Sienna Miller

After watching "Framing Britney Spears" and seeing some familiar faces among the paparazzi, Sienna Miller described the fear to The Guardian, "Everyone in the culture was complicit in what was being done to girls in that moment. I was definitely a victim of that, and I couldn't handle it. I don't know how anyone could."

In 2007, Miller presented an award at the BAFTAs, then headed out to an afterparty. At the time, she had been so hounded by paparazzi who sat outside her home all day and night that she felt she had no choice but to move. Then? She was constantly being tailed by photographers who wanted to learn her new address. After calling for help on that particular night, her boyfriend's brother, Otis Ferry, came to escort her home. He would later tell the court, "It then became very clear that there were quite a few vehicles and they were absolutely stopping at nothing to get after us. ... It was like dodgems driving," he said. 

They eventually found themselves stopped in traffic. Ferry got out of his car, confronted the photographers, grabbed the key out of one of the cars, and threw it. Ferry was brought up on charges of criminal damages and later cleared thanks in part to Miller's testimony. She described a harrowing, 30-minute chase through London where her driver was blinded by flashbulbs: "I felt scared and threatened. Their actions were aggressive, to say the least."

Justin Bieber

There have been times when the paparazzi have taken some risks that not only put the lives of the celebrities they're chasing at risk but also their own — and it's turned deadly. In 2013, California law enforcement stopped a Ferrari belonging to Justin Bieber. He wasn't driving it at the time it was stopped for speeding, but a photographer trying to get a photo was hit and killed while crossing the street. 

The year before, Bieber was in the car being chased by paparazzi in what turned into a high-speed chase down the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles city councilman and LAPD veteran Dennis Zine told CNN that he had fully expected the chase to end with an accident: Bieber was clocked at around 100 mph, with a handful of other cars chasing him. Even more shocking was that when Bieber was pulled over, the officer allowed the paparazzi to take photos while Bieber got a ticket, and sent everyone on their way. Bieber called 911 when they continued the chase, saying: "They're being very dangerous, swerving around other cars to get to me. ... They're driving really reckless. They just will not stop following me."

Participants were cited for high speeds, swerving across lanes and off the road, and it led to the first charges filed against a photographer under new laws reportedly designed to protect celebrities. Did it work? The judge ruled that the law violated the paparazzi's right to freedom of speech.

Tori Spelling

Just a few months after Tori Spelling announced she was pregnant with her third child, she was involved in an accident she blamed on the paparazzi. Does it get worse? Yes: Her other two children were in the car with her when she hit the wall of their school.

She tweeted: "Paparazzi chased me w/the kids 2school. I was trying to get away from him and had a pretty big accident. ... He thn STILL got out to try to get pics. 10 school moms chased him away. What will it take? Someone dying for paparazzi to stop?" A source spoke with People to get a little more specific about the 2011 incident, saying that she had been pulling into the school when the photographer pulled in behind her. Spelling's official representatives added that yes, she had gone to the doctor and also confirmed that everyone was fine.

It wasn't even the last time that Spelling had issues with paparazzi following her to her children's school. In 2021, she posted a scathing condemnation of the paparazzi on Instagram, saying that she had been picking her son up from a private, family-owned preschool when she was followed. The description of the pictures when they ran in the Daily Mail was that she was leaving a bakery, but Spelling said that wasn't the case, adding: "If you insist on following us adult humans everywhere then please know the boundaries of privacy that these kiddos deserve!"

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The headline-grabbing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were dominating the news cycle again in May of 2023, saying that they had been in an incredibly dangerous, high-speed chase through New York City. Chris Sanchez, one of the members of their security team, described it to CNN, saying, "The public were in jeopardy at several points. It could have been fatal. They were jumping curbs and red lights."

Thankfully, the NYPD confirmed in a public statement that there had been no accidents and that no one had been hurt, calling the drive "challenging." Meanwhile, The Washington Post spoke with a taxi driver who had taken them part of the way — they changed cars repeatedly — and he said that "They kept following us and were coming next to the car. They took pictures as we stopped and were filming us," then added, "I don't think I would call it a chase. I never felt like I was in danger. It wasn't like a car chase in a movie."

There are usually multiple sides to a story, so what did the paparazzi have to say about it? The Los Angeles Times was given a statement by Backgrid USA, one of the agencies that employ freelance paparazzi. They said that their review of the photos showed nothing dangerous, stating: "[The paparazzi] had no intention of causing any distress or harm, as their only tool was their cameras. A few of the photos even show Meghan Markle smiling inside a cab."