VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
This "That 70s Show" actor is going away for a long time. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're examining the professional life and eventual criminal charges against actor Danny Masterson. Our video details Masterson's rise to fame, his crimes, and where the disgraced celebrity will be spending the rest of his life.
Danny Masterson Untold Story: That ‘70s Show to Life in Prison
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re examining the professional life and eventual criminal charges against actor Danny Masterson.
Born on Long Island in 1976, Danny Masterson was raised in what would become an acting family. He’s the older brother of Christopher Masterson and half-brother of Jordan and Alanna Masterson, all of whom would follow in Danny’s footsteps. At just age four, a young Danny Masterson got his start as a child model before moving over to commercials, appearing in over 100 by the age of sixteen. Of course, Masterson would be best known for starring in television shows, making his first appearance in an episode of the crime drama “Jake and the Fatman” when he was eleven.
After making his movie debut in 1993’s “Beethoven’s 2nd,” Masterson had sporadic appearances on multiple notable shows, before booking a steady gig on the third and fourth seasons of “Cybill.” But it was his subsequent audition for a series then-titled “Teenage Wasteland” that would alter the course of Masterson’s career. Despite being considered too old - being in his early twenties - Masterson landed the role of Steven Hyde on the series, now known to the world as “That ‘70s Show.” Running for eight seasons, the sitcom proved to be one of the most popular on TV. In addition to the ensemble cast, Masterson received strong marks for playing the show’s resident tough guy. Unfortunately, outside incidents during his time on the show would follow him decades later.
In March 2017, Masterson was met with sexual assault allegations from three women whom Masterson had previously known in the early-to-mid 2000s through the Church of Scientology. It’s also been reported that Masterson was in a long-term relationship with one of them. While some specifics in the incidents vary, they all reportedly took place at Masterson’s home in the Hollywood Hills after he supposedly served them beverages that made them disoriented. While associated with the church, the women were reportedly dissuaded from taking action against a fellow member, especially one as high-profile as Masterson. One of the plaintiffs would later state that she “wish[es] [she’d] reported him sooner to the police.” One of them did reportedly go to the authorities in 2004, but the only thing that came of this was her subsequent ostracization from the church.
While Masterson predictably denied the allegations through his agent, his reputation had already begun a decline from which it would never recover. Beginning in 2016, Masterson had been appearing in the Netflix sitcom “The Ranch” alongside his “That ‘70s Show” co-star Ashton Kutcher. However, after a fourth allegation was leveled at Masterson in December 2017, the streaming service promptly fired him. This proved to be a wise decision, as a fifth allegation followed soon after. By the time Netflix began developing the sequel series to “That ‘70s Show,” appropriately titled “That ‘90s Show,” Masterson was the only living main actor from the former not asked to return. Additionally, the character of Hyde wasn’t even mentioned when the first season debuted in January 2023.
Masterson’s legal troubles officially began in August 2019 when four women filed a lawsuit against him. The lawsuit was also aimed against the Church of Scientology for claims of harassment in the organization’s supposed defense of Masterson. The Church has been accused of conducting a “Fair Game” campaign against the plaintiffs, whereby they employ any means necessary to silence their enemies. In this case, this reportedly includes property damage, libel, and animal abuse. This is in addition to singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who alleged the Church fed rat poison to one of his pets after he accused Masterson of assaulting his wife. Bixler-Zavala even revealed that his band At the Drive-In’s song “Incurably Innocent” is based on the latter incident.
While Masterson and his wife, fellow actor Bijou Phillips, continued to push back against the claims, June 2020 saw the case escalate to formal charges. Masterson was charged with sexually assaulting three women, one back in 2001 and two in 2003. Unsurprisingly, Masterson pled not guilty in January 2021, having previously expressed confidence that the case would be thrown out. However, a preliminary hearing the following May resulted in the judge finding the witnesses “credible” and the evidence presented “sufficient to support the charges.”
From there, Masterson’s defense attorneys enacted countermeasures against the plaintiffs, accusing them of collusion and one of accepting money from Masterson in 2004. A series of subpoenas were also requested, many of which the judge rejected on the basis that they were “stunningly overbroad.” A motion was filed to dismiss the case on a lack of pretrial evidence, but this too was rejected.
Masterson’s first trial ran from October to November 2022, in which he declined to testify or call witnesses to his defense. However, the jury was unable to come to a decision, unable to overlook inconsistencies in the testimonies and evidence, such as the supposed presence of a firearm during one of the assaults. The result was a mistrial, with a new trial beginning in April 2023. On May 31, Masterson was formally convicted of two of the three counts of sexual assault, with the third charge being hung by the jury despite an 8-4 majority for conviction. The following July, it was announced that the prosecution would not seek to retry Masterson to ensure this third conviction.
Despite only two-thirds of the charges sticking, Masterson faced heavy legal repercussions. On September 7, Masterson was officially sentenced to thirty years to life in prison, with no possibility of parole prior to the thirty years being served. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo had some choice words for Masterson at the time, presuming he was feeling “victimized by a justice system that [had] failed [him],” but affirming that he was “not the victim here.” The plaintiffs in the case later felt similarly, with one of them calling him “pathetic, disturbed and completely violent,” and that “the world is better off with [him] in prison.”
Masterson was forty-seven years old at the time of his sentencing, meaning he will be well into his seventies by the time he’s up for parole, that is, if he’s ever released from prison.
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