Inside Danny Masterson’s Fall From Grace – Nicki Swift

He grew up in show business, working regularly as a model and child actor. But it wasn’t until 1998 and Fox’s That 70’s Show that Danny Masterson truly became a star, appearing in all 200 episodes of the ensemble teen comedy over eight seasons as the gruff, sarcastic, and sideburned Steven Hyde. A few TV one-offs and independent film roles followed, and his interest in music led to a side gig on the L.A. club and concert scene as DJ Mom Jeans. 

The biggest post-stardom splash Masterson made was with Ashton Kutcher in 2016, when the That ’70s Show alums teamed up to play brothers on the broad Netflix comedy The Ranch. Masterson played Jameson “Rooster” Bennett for three seasons, until suddenly his character was killed off. The reason? Masterson’s real life had caught up with him.

Although Masterson vehemently denies any wrongdoing, his life, as of this writing, is an ugly entanglement of personal problems that have led to professional stagnation. Where did it all go wrong? Here’s a timeline of Danny Masterson’s fall from grace.

The LAPD announces an investigation into Danny Masterson

“Three women have come forward and disclosed that they were sexually assaulted by [Danny] Masterson during the early 2000’s,” read a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department Robbery Homicide Division, Sexual Assault Section to The Hollywood Reporter. The March 2017 article indicated that the decision to investigate had apparently been prompted by actor Leah Remini, and information which had surfaced through her A&E docu series Scientology and the Aftermath. (Masterson is a Church of Scientology member.) Remini had been in contact with The Underground Bunker, a Scientology blog operated by journalist Tony Ortega, who had obtained photocopied police reports of the allegations against Masterson. Ortega’s blog also included quotes from witnesses to the events described, and suggested that the Church of Scientology had reason to cover up the claims made against Masterson.

Soon after the announcement of the LAPD investigation, Masterson’s representative issued a statement, which read, in part, (via The Hollywood Reporter) “We are aware of the [alleged victim’s] 16-year-old allegations. It was only after [the alleged victim] was in contact with Leah Remini that she made allegations of sexual assault by Mr. Masterson. The alleged incident occurred in the middle of their 6 year relationship, after which she continued to be his longtime girlfriend. Significantly, during their relationship she made numerous inconsistent claims that she was previously raped by at least 3 other famous actors and musicians.”

Did Scientology stall the Masterson investigation?

By November 2017, the investigation into the allegations made against Danny Masterson had reportedly “stalled,” which according to a scathing HuffPost report that month, might have been due to a pressure campaign by The Church of Scientology.

“In April 2017, police referred the case to the district attorney. Since then, the district attorney’s office has examined the evidence turned over by LAPD and conducted its own investigation. Despite compelling — what one law enforcement source described as “overwhelming” — evidence, the charges have not been approved for filing.” HuffPost went on to describe evidence in the case, including emails from Scientology officials dating from the time the incidents in question occurred, and even “a threatening handwritten letter Masterson sent to one of the alleged victims.”

HuffPost also stated that one of Masterson’s accusers filed a 2004 police report about her rape the year prior, but that report allegedly stalled due to intervention by the Church of Scientology, which “submitted over 50 affidavits from Scientologists who denied the woman’s account.”

Netflix boots Danny Masterson from The Ranch

In 2016, Danny Masterson and That 70s Show co-star Ashton Kutcher reunited in the Netflix family comedy The Ranch, playing two brothers living on a cattle ranch in Colorado. But Masterson’s participation in the show ended abruptly in December 2017 as the rape allegations against him continued to swirl. “As a result of ongoing discussions, Netflix and the producers have written Danny Masterson out of The Ranch,” read the streaming platform’s statement (via USA Today). “Yesterday was his last day on the show, and production will resume in early 2018 without him.” USA Today also published a statement from Masterson defending himself against the allegations he described as “without merit,” reading, in part, “I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.”

A Deadline report from December 2017 noted that, while Netflix had dismissed Masterson from the cast, it hadn’t clarified his behind-the-scenes participation. “Masterson and his former That 70s Show co-star and longtine [sic] friend Kutcher teamed up for The Ranch and the comedy was sold with the duo attached to star, playing brothers, and exec produce.”

Danny Masterson gets dropped by his reps

By January 2018, it was being widely reported that Danny Masterson had been dropped by UTA, his longtime management agency. “The company did not comment today beyond confirming that it no longer repped the actor,” wrote Deadline. “We’re hearing through some sources that the two parted ways some time ago.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Masterson’s relationship with UTA seemed to have severed in December 2017, when he was fired from The Ranch. It was also at that time that HuffPost reported on a confrontation between a Netflix executive and one of Masterson’s accusers (at a kid’s soccer game, no less) where the exec, Andy Yeatman, allegedly told the woman that Netflix didn’t believe the allegations. Yeatman was later fired by Netflix, who said his comments were “‘careless’ and ‘uninformed,'” according to The Wrap.

That same December, according to HuffPost, an online petition demanding that Netflix cancel The Ranch reached 36,000 signatures. The streamer, of course, didn’t actually cancel the show, but dropped Masterson instead. And apparently, that was enough for UTA to part ways with the embattled actor, too.

Pals party with Danny Masterson, no comment otherwise

As the investigation into the allegations made by Danny Masterson’s female accusers continued with no charges filed, photos appeared of the actor’s That 70s Show castmates and longtime friends Ashton Kutcher and wife Mila Kunis partying with Masterson at a January 2019 wedding in Napa Valley. Were they not aware of the investigation, or that four women had made serious accusations against their friend and fellow actor?

As the Daily Beast wrote, “Masterson and Kutcher were spotted partying at a Scientology wedding while Kutcher, an outspoken advocate for women, has remained silent on the rape allegations against his friend.”

The Daily Beast and a story in The Mercury News each referenced an original post on journalist Tony Ortega’s blog The Underground Bunker, where photos found on social media featured Kutcher and Masterson posing in a group, as well as the wedding’s seating chart, which placed Kutcher and Kunis alongside Masterson and his wife, actor Bijou Phillips.

In a statement to the Daily Beast, Masterson accuser Chrissie Carnell Bixler wrote, “As much as I applaud [Kutcher and Kunis] for standing up for women, I am left confused and heartbroken as to why they refuse to stand up for all the women they know who have been violently raped by their friend Danny Masterson.” Kutcher and Kunis didn’t respond to requests for a comment.

Assault accusers hit Danny Masterson with a second lawsuit

It had been over a year since Danny Masterson was fired from The Ranch, lost his representation, and had become the subject of an ongoing police investigation. But in August 2019, the four women who claimed Masterson sexually assaulted them filed a civil lawsuit, this time accusing the actor and The Church of Scientology of stalking and harassing them as a result of their having filed the reports with the LAPD. “Chrissie Carnell Bixler, Marie Riales, and two Jane Does on Wednesday filed a complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court claiming the defendants harassed them and their families in an effort to silence and intimidate them,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter on August 14, 2019.

But THR wasn’t finished. It went on to publish a statement from Masterson himself, who vehemently denied the new lawsuit. “I’m not going to fight my ex-girlfriend in the media like she’s been baiting me to do for more than two years. I will beat her in court — and look forward to it because the public will finally be able [to] learn the truth and see how I’ve been railroaded by this woman.”

The site also included a statement from the Church of Scientology’s counsel. “From everything we have read in the press, this lawsuit will go nowhere because the claims are ludicrous and a sham,” William Forman told THR. “It’s a dishonest and hallucinatory publicity stunt.”

Danny Masterson's accusers go public via Leah Remini

Leah Remini is a former member of The Church of Scientology and one of its most outspoken critics. The actor wrote a book about her experiences in the church and for three seasons was co-producer and host of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath on A&E. Remini had spoken publicly about the allegations against Masterson before, but his accusers never had until Remini interviewed two of them onto her show for its 2019 finale. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chrissie Bixler told Remini that in 2001, her then-boyfriend Masterson raped her while she was unconscious, and the Church of Scientology denied her accusations, saying “it couldn’t be rape because they were in a consensual relationship.” A Scientology ethics officer then allegedly “threatened that [Bixler] would be charged with ‘suppressive acts and high crimes’ and kicked out of the church if she went to the police.”

A second Masterson accuser told Remini on the show that she had decided to go public in support of Bixler, who had been bullied online.

As for Masterson and the case against him, THR said Remini felt his accusers had been “betrayed by the [Los Angeles] District Attorney. I wanted to open up the whole thing. If it was any other organization but Scientology, the D.A. would be at least investigating. I’ve heard nothing.”

Did Danny Masterson and COS murder his accuser's dog?

“Scientology and Danny Masterson have now murdered two of my sweet baby dogs…how many times can a heart break?” The Instagram caption was posted by Chrissie Carnell Bixler, a plaintiff in both of the outstanding lawsuits against Masterson, and appeared in an R Online post entitled “Shocking Claim: Danny Masterson & Scientology Accused Of Killing Dogs With Rat Poison.” According to the tab, Bixler said the poison had been “packed … into raw meat.”

In a separate Instagram post that depicted raw hamburger alongside what appeared to be rat poison, Bixler’s husband, the musician Cedric Bixler-Zavala, supported the accusations. “This is what I’ve been finding in my front and backyard. This is what Scientology does when you speak about the predators they protect.”

The Church of Scientology denied the accusations. In a statement to R Online and The Hollywood Reporter, the church called the claims “completely false and insane. The Bixlers have fabricated the most outrageous lies and are now using Instagram as a channel for their latest hallucinatory publicity stunt.” R Online further noted that it had reached out to Masterson’s rep for comment to no avail, and that the investigations into his actions were still ongoing.

Danny Masterson, the courts, and the court of Scientology

“Can the Church of Scientology escape the U.S. justice system?” wondered The Hollywood Reporter. In response to an August 2019 lawsuit where four women said they were harassed after contacting authorities about alleged sexual assaults by actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson, the church was now arguing before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that the accusers had “agreed to ecclesiastical justice procedures when they first committed to practice Scientology.”

Essentially, in agreeing to join the Church of Scientology, they’d officially given up any future right to sue the church, and would instead be required to request “arbitration” in the dispute from the Church of Scientology itself.

By April 2020, the case was still ongoing, but according to a post that month on journalist Tony Ortega’s blog The Underground Bunker, its plaintiffs stood by their assertion “that it would be unconstitutional to force people who were no longer Scientologists into a religious ritual like what Scientology proposes in ‘religious arbitration.'”

Danny Masterson charged, arraigned; arraigned again

In June 2020, a reckoning arrived for Danny Masterson. “The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said in a statement that Masterson is accused of raping a 23-year-old woman between January and December 2001, a 28-year-old woman in April 2003 and a 23-year-old women he invited to a Hollywood party between October and Decmber 2003,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The paper also noted that Masterson turned himself into police and “was booked,” but then subsequently “released after posting $3.3-million bail.” If convicted of all of the charges, Masterson could face “45 years to life in state prison.” 

In September 2020, Masterson and his lawyers appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom for the actor’s arraignment. “Masterson did not enter a plea, but [his attorney Tom Mesereau] said the charges, based on events nearly 20 years old, were the result of unfair hype from media outlets and pressure to prosecute his client as Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey faces reelection,” reported The Los Angeles Daily News

Finally, in November 2020, the Daily News reported that Mesereau had appeared in court again, where a judge agreed to push Masterson’s arraignment to Jan. 6, 2021. A final decision on Masterson’s fall from grace would have to wait for another year to arrive.

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