It seems there is always another celebrity sex-tape scandal waiting in the wings. Whether it is “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens or mega star Usher and ex-wife Tameka Foster, Hollywood is always prepared for a new surprise or conveniently timed leak.
But it wasn’t always so. In fact, when the first celebrity set tape leaked Hollywood and most of America was completely taken aback. And the woman at the center of the film: a sister- Jayne Kennedy.
If you ask any man over 45 who Jayne Kennedy was you will probably hear a large exaggerated exhale or stammered attempt at words but to sum up: Jayne was the Halle Berry of her day.
During the late 1970s into the early 1980s, Jayne Kennedy was the woman who’s stunning beauty transfixed men and won over women across America. The former Miss Ohio USA was a model, actress and TV personality, hailed as the next “Oprah” but with Sport Illustrated Swimsuit cover sex-appeal. She made history as The NFL Today’s first Black female broadcaster. Jayne’s endorsement deal with Coca Cola made her face a fixture in the brand’s national advertisements. She was loved by the African-American community, receiving a NAACP Image Award and appearing on the covers of both Ebony and Jet multiple times. Her appearance in Playboy was much anticipated, as she was the first Black female to be featured on the cover. She opted though to keep her clothes on, upholding an image that had been marketed to incorporate so-called “traditional American values” with a beauty so undeniable it transcended Black and White.
That image was shattered when a homemade video of Jayne and her ex-husband, Blaxploitation actor Leon Isaac Kennedy was stolen and released after their divorce. The tape of the two having sex made its round about Hollywood- albeit not nearly at the speed it would have now- and sent shockwaves through the rest of the country.
As the nation struggled to reconcile the woman on the video with the woman they had come to know, Jayne Kennedy’s career plummeted. Her once bright future in the Entertainment industry flickered out of view and eventually Jayne faded into obscurity, occasionally appearing on shows for the Christian Television Network.
It’s hard to imagine a more devastating fall from grace. Endorsements lost, career gone, name tarnished. Yet the path for today’s celebrities involved in sex tape scandals has rarely led that way. Looking back at Jayne’s story in light of today’s culture, we have to wonder: how different would things have been if Jayne Kennedy’s sex tape were leaked today?
Sure, there are still celebrities who will fight tooth and nail to stop a sex tape from leaking, but by and large most tapes provide much needed career boosts. A video leak is not only an aide to stardom, it can be the genesis of it as well. It is here that we make the inevitable Kim Kardashian mention and bring up the meteoric rise to fame of a woman who has build an empire on an tape showcasing intimate moments with another tangentially famous individual. The video, which was leaked in 2007, showed Kim and former boyfriends Ray J having sex. Though both semi-celebs denied leaking it leaked the tape, neither or them have suffered from it being out there.
Quite the opposite- reality shows later the two are sitting pretty. And though Ray J has since said that he is the one who “put her on,” Kim has had the last laugh with her empire of clothing, perfumes, sneakers and shows raking in around $65 million dollars last year alone.
In reflection, it seems that had she been famous in our day and age, her leaked sex tape could have been the thing that took her career into another stratosphere. Instead it relegated her to the dark corner of Hollywood’s so close but so far stars.
There’s a larger question to be asked, though, is what does the glorification of the celeb sex tape say about us. In terms of media consumption, the marketability of the sex tape and public reception to seeing stars performing explicit sexual acts seems to have become a necessary component to their fame. Gone is the exposure tastefully done rule that governed Jayne’s time. Today’s formula seems to be- show us everything and be embraced.
Remembering Jayne Kennedy, it is impossible to forget the scandal and effective career suicide. But maybe even sadder still, is how hard it is to imagine a sex tape leaked today leading to anything other than a brighter spotlight.