Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Actor Steven Seagal and the Mob

"Plateaued"

Undaunted by public skepticism, Seagal made further claims, saying at various times that he was a superb rider, a deadly marksmen, an authority on antique samurai swords, and fluent in four languages. His third film, which co-starred LeBrock, was called Hard to Kill, but to many in the Hollywood community, the newly minted star was becoming hard to believe.

Portrait of Morihei Ueshiba
Portrait of Morihei Ueshiba

Seagal apparently began to believe his own press. On the set of one movie, he challenged a stuntman, who was a black belt in judo, to try to choke him out, a judo technique in which pressure is applied to the carotid artery in the neck until the victim is rendered temporarily unconscious. According to one source, Seagal claimed to be impervious to the technique. He was wrong. The producers of the film became frantic when they saw their NBA-sized star lying unconscious on the ground.

While Seagal professed to be a man of eastern spirituality, he was starting to behave like the tough guys he played. He applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon and even had a tuxedo tailored to accommodate two handguns.

As his popularity grew, so did his paranoia. He spoke of people who were out to get him, and according to Vanity Fair, on one occasion he offered an ex-CIA operative named Robert Strickland $50,000 in cash to eliminate a former colleague. Strickland had been working with Seagal on an original film project, which never got off the ground. Strickland later sued Seagal for co-opting aspects of his life story and passing them off as his own.

Throughout the 90s, Seagal was accused of sexual harassment by employees and prospective actresses. Ned Zeman in Vanity Fair quotes an actress who described Seagal's new spin on the casting-couch lure. According to the woman, Seagal had asked her to take off her top and groped her breasts in order to show her where her spiritual "meridian points" were located.

As his popularity with action-film fans grew, his behavior off the screen became increasingly bizarre. At his height, he was commanding $16 million per picture and owned a mansion in LA's Mandeville Canyon and a ranch with a winery in Santa Inez, California. His box-office grosses made studio execs happy enough to overlook his eccentricities, but Kelly LeBrock had apparently had enough of Steven Seagal the man and the myth. On Halloween 1995 he was served with divorce papers. LeBrock wanted out.

Warner Bros. was growing tired of him as well. By the mid-90s, his popularity had "plateaued." According to Zeman, "his waistline [was] increasing" and "his hairline retreating." His lean, mean man of action demeanor was succumbing to middle age and the ravages of the good life. By 2000, his per-picture fee had dropped to $2.5 million, and Warner Bros. was no longer interested in working with him.

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