Famous Writers And Artists Who Were Terrible Humans

Over 2.1K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Famous Writers And Artists Who Were Terrible Humans

What makes a great artist or writer? Is it solely their great work that we should acknowledge? What if they were actually bad people - should that affect our criticism of their work and contributions to art or literature? Many people argue that we need the separate the bad person from the great artist, as the two are in distinct categories. But sometimes the bad nature of a person seeps into their work, influencing the overall narrative to reflect them.

Take H.P. Lovecraft for example: his virulent racism was seeped into his work and made it a challenging read for many people who were offended by his slurs and attacks on other races. Is it right to support these artists by buying their work and giving them money for their prejudice? What if some people use that money to directly spread this bigotry, in a Chik-fil-A type of scenario. Regardless of your view point on the subject, we can all agree that finding out your favorite author was a bigot is less than exciting.

Unfortunately though, like everyone else, they are people too, with flaws of their own. Sometimes those flaws are inexcusable, or even run contradictory to the very morals their works preach. The artists and writers below all led less than perfect lives and find themselves among the many artists and writers who were bad people throughout history.

  • Anne Perry
    Photo: Thesupermat / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    1,141 VOTES


    Who she is: A crime novelist who participated in the murder of a friend's mother. 

    The story: Anne Perry is one of the bestselling crime novelists in the world, most notably famous for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels. What makes Perry quite unusual is that, unlike other writers who were bad people, her crime was committed at a young age.

    When she was a teenager, Perry, known as Juliet Hulme at the time, and Pauline Parker were best friends to an obsessive degree, creating fantasy worlds together and keeping in close contact. At the time, Hulme's mother was going through the process of divorcing her husband and moving to South Africa with relatives. Not wanting to separate from each other, Perry and Parker decided to murder Parker's mother, HonorahParker, whom they perceived as a threat to their plan to move together. While walking together on a path, they distracted her with a dropped jewel, then beat Honoroah with a brick, ultimately killing her. They both serviced five years in prison, and never spoke to each other after that. Hulme then changed her name to Anne Perry and became a crime novelist.

    The story was made into the film Heavenly Creatures (directed by Peter Jackson) and detailed in a biography, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.

    • Age: 84
    • Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
    1,141 votes
  • William Golding
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    852 VOTES


    Who he was: Author of Lord of the Flies and attempted rapist.

    The story: William Golding is best known for writing Lord of the Flies, a groundbreaking novel about children fighting to the death on an island, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1954. But few people know about the darkness so integral to his work

    The unpublished memoir Men and Women (which Golding wrote for his wife) details his attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl named Dora. For years this information was locked away, until John Carey, a professor at Oxford, gained access to private unpublished journals from Golding's collections. Golding was an adult at the time, away on holiday at Oxford. The memoir quotes Golding's journals, indicating that his lusting began with his observation of her being, "already sexy as an ape." After being sure that she "wanted heavy sex," Golding tried to advance on her. Being fought off, the two didn't meet again until two years later. As if nothing had ever happened they proceeded to have sex in a field, and Golding got off scot-free, going on to publish his most notable work.

    • Age: Dec. at 81 (1911-1993)
    • Birthplace: St Columb Minor, United Kingdom
    852 votes
  • William S. Burroughs
    Photo: Chuck Patch / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0


    Who he was: Beat Generation writer who killed his wife.

    The story: Emerging in the aftermath of World War II, the Beat Generation was made up of writers who sought to reject narrative conventions, question government authority, materialism, sex, and the human experience. The most famous of these artists were Allen Ginsberg ("Howl"), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and William S. Burroughs. All three met in New York in 1943 and influenced each other, kickstarting a new style of thinking in literature. Burroughs experimented with autobiographical interpretations of a post-World War II era, drawing from the cracks and crevices of his heroin-addled life. However, the biggest tragedy he faced didn't come in the form of a needle, but a rifle. 

    In 1951, while on vacation in Mexico, Burroughs was drunk at a party with his wife (fellow Beat writer, Joan Vollmer), when they decided the play a shooting game. Burroughs pulled out a handgun and tried to hit a glass cup on his wife’s head, but shot too low and killed her instantly. Incredulously, he only spent 13 days in jail and was charged with manslaughter.

    • Age: Dec. at 83 (1914-1997)
    • Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri
    736 votes
  • 4
    561 VOTES


    Who she was: Children's book author and terrible mother.

    The story: Enid Blyton the writer is adored worldwide and known for her wonderfully evocative and imaginative children’s books such as The Magic Faraway Tree and The Enchanted Wood. So you’d think Enid Blyton the person and mother would be pretty good with children, right? You'd be wrong. It turns out she was actually a pretty terrible mother, neglecting her own daughters and using them as props to show off to her advantage. 

    In 1989, her daughter Imogen wrote a memoir called A Child at Green Hodgeswhich detailed all of her horrible childhood memories, citing that her mother never visited the nursery where she and her sister were kept, and spent most of her time in her own devised worlds. She attributes this indifference to Blyton's own terrible relationship with her mother and father, who went through a divorce.

    The story was later adapted into a TV movie starring Helena Bonham Carter, called Blyton.

    • Age: Dec. at 71 (1897-1968)
    • Birthplace: East Dulwich, London, United Kingdom
    561 votes
  • Patricia Highsmith
    Photo: Harper & Brothers / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    551 VOTES

    Patricia Highsmith


    Who she was: Crime novelist and racist.

    The story: Patricia Highsmith captivated the world with her psychological thriller novels that bridged the twisting dissections of the minds of her mentally disturbed characters and an audience hungry for more. But she was also very much human, besot with some of the worst qualities a person could have. In fairness, she also had a horrible childhood. Her mother had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine while she was pregnant, forever creating a rift between the two.

    The author was an alcoholic and had troubling intimacy issues, preferring the company of animals to that of people. When she did hang out with others, it was often to their own displeasure. "She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person," Otto Penzler, an acquaintance, once said of her.

    And then there was her racism. Gathered from her deeply personal journals, she said that the Holocaust was a semicaust, because it had only succeeded halfway in eliminating Jews. She also hid no disdain for pretty much every race that wasn't white, frequently mocking them in her writings.

    • Age: Dec. at 74 (1921-1995)
    • Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas
    551 votes
  • Norman Mailer
    Photo: Carl Van Vechten / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    478 VOTES


    Who he was: Pioneer of creative nonfiction who almost killed his wife.

    The story: Widely regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, Mailer was as violent as he was brilliant. In 1960, while drunk at a party with his wife, Adele, she began to berate him. He reacted by pulling out his penknife, stabbing her, and giving her two wounds in the chest. She was rushed to the hospital and nearly died. Mailer was sent to jail.

    Later on, many writers and some of Mailer's friends defended the stabbing, saying that Adele started it, while others, such as James Baldwin, went so far as to call it an awakening of his talent. The act didn't stop there, and went on to color Mailer's life. In 1969 he ran for the mayor of New York City, but was unsuccessful, as his own personal history had made him an unpopular candidate. Later in life, Mailer himself said he was regretful of his bad action to his wife, "It is the one act I can look back on and regret for the rest of my life."

    • Age: Dec. at 84 (1923-2007)
    • Birthplace: Long Branch, New Jersey
    478 votes