Newsmaker: Mark Wahlberg
“I beg your pardon.” It’s a throwaway remark – the kind you might make after bumping into somebody, or emitting an unpleasant noise after a hearty lunch. It could also, depending on the emphasis on the “beg” part, be a way of displaying verbal indignation at someone else’s rudeness. If you’re the Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg, though, it currently means trying to expunge from the history books the committing of a violent crime as a young man.
In a spectacular own goal just days before his film The Gambler was released at the end of November, the 43-year-old appealed to the governor of Massachusetts for an official pardon for a crime he committed in 1988. News of the request reached the media and, this week, Wahlberg’s past has been picked apart. Nobody’s talking about The Gambler, they’re too busy discussing a serious assault on a Vietnamese man 26 years ago.
On the run from police after a separate, also racially motivated attack, Wahlberg ran up to Hoa Trinh, put his arm around his shoulder, and allegedly said: “Police coming, police coming, let me hide.” After a police car passed by, Wahlberg punched Trinh in one of his eyes with such force that it caused permanent blindness. He never attempted to conceal his actions, appearing to be proud of them, and continued the racial abuse after he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He served 45 days in prison and now, because California state law is getting in the way of expanding his restaurant business, he wants it swept under the carpet, but the media are having none of it.
“That Wahlberg has served his time and moved forward with life,” wrote Daniel D’Addario in an editorial for Time this week, “sends a message that anything is possible for people in dire circumstances. For the state to say he never committed a crime at all would send a message that anything is possible for a celebrity.”
Indeed, there are countless people in America who got into trouble as youngsters, gaining a criminal record in the process – something that has prevented many of them from being employed, keeping them stuck in a cycle of poverty and crime. Perhaps some would be able to turn their lives around if pardoned – for Wahlberg to seek a pardon so he can further his business interests is a bit rich. He’s already a multimillionaire, so perhaps he should take it on the chin and display some humility.
In 1992, Wahlberg avoided charges for assault and battery after reaching a settlement with another victim, the 20-year-old security guard, Robert D Crehan. Crehan alleged that while one of the star’s bodyguards pinned him to the ground, Wahlberg repeatedly kicked him in the face, leaving him with a jaw that had to be wired shut. The settlement was undisclosed but Crehan said he was “satisfied” and didn’t “want to pursue the case”.
These days Wahlberg tries hard to come across as the nice guy. He is married to the model Rhea Durham and the couple have four children and Wahlberg says he’s deeply religious, even citing that he goes to church practically every day in his pardon petition. He says that his wild days are behind him, so why rake up the muck? His image is taking a battering but he’s been through this before and still emerged with his star cachet intact.
He has a history of putting his foot in it – one of his most memorable gaffs happened in January 2012, when an interview was published in Men’s Journal. Wahlberg had been booked onto American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, but cancelled the reservation when plans changed. The plane he should have been on was one of the two that slammed into the World Trade Center. In the interview he said that, had he been on one of the four hijacked flights, things would have turned out differently. “If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying: ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’”
Understandably, relatives of those killed were upset. Deena Burnett-Bailey spoke to the entertainment website, TMZ. Her husband, Thomas Burnett, was a passenger on Flight 93, which crashed after passengers battled with the hijackers, killing everyone on board. He phoned her and said: “I know we’re going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.”
Of the actor she said: “It’s insignificant to say what you would have done if you weren’t there. The plan for Flight 93 was foiled by heroes. For him to speculate that his presence could have stopped everything is silly and disrespectful.” Wahlberg was quick to make amends: “I deeply apologise to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive. To suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible.”
At least Burnett-Bailey received an apology – according to Wahlberg he doesn’t feel the need to apologise for leaving that man partially blind in 1988. In an interview with ABC News in 2006 he admitted as much before adding: “I don’t have a problem going to sleep at night. I feel good when I wake up in the morning.”
Unsurprisingly, his was a troubled upbringing. Born on June 5, 1971, in the Dorchester region of Boston, Massachusetts (where white Americans were a small minority), he’s the youngest of nine children. His father, Donald Edward Wahlberg, was a delivery driver, while mother Alma Elaine worked as a nurse’s aide and a bank clerk.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, Wahlberg failed to graduate from high school, instead getting into trouble with gangs and having his collar felt by the Boston police. He says he was apprehended between 20 and 25 times and that, by the time he was 13, he was addicted to drugs. At 15, his crimes were getting more serious and evidently racially motivated and a year later, in 1988, his altercations with two separate Vietnamese men ended up with him being imprisoned.
In many respects, Wahlberg’s behaviour was no different from that of many of his contemporaries. What marked it out as bewildering was the small matter of him being a successful rap star at the time. His brother, Donnie, at the age of 15, was talent-spotted by Maurice Starr, who had been instrumental in the success of New Edition, the group that made Bobby Brown famous. New Kids on the Block was formed in 1984, and Donnie made sure his brothers, including Mark, got in on the act. Success eluded the group until 1988, when the single Please Don’t Go Girl started receiving radio airplay, and then worldwide success came about with the band racking up album sales in excess of US$80 million (Dh293m).
Wahlberg went solo fairly early, forming Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, with varying levels of success. In 1991, the single Good Vibrations was released, heading to number one in the US. Wahlberg performed for its video with barely a stitch on and his ripped physique soon got the tabloids talking. Calvin Klein snapped him up, trading quite blatantly on his bad-boy image and Wahlberg’s future success seemed certain.
It was his acting career, though, that propelled him into the stratosphere. His first appearance was in the 1993 TV film The Substitute, after which he ditched the Marky Mark name. The following year he made his debut proper in Renaissance Man, in which he played a tough-talking soldier, followed by lead roles in Boogie Nights, Three Kings and The Departed, for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 2006 Oscars.
He hasn’t been afraid to send himself up, as he did in the comedy Ted, and his career has been seemingly unaffected by the occasional turkey. His business interests, enabled by his enormous box-office earnings, have extended to include a Caribbean cricket league and the chain of Wahlburgers restaurants he owns with his siblings. His criminal past is preventing him from getting a concessionaire’s licence in California, hence the plea for a pardon. Wipe the slate clean, make more money – that’s the harsh truth that has America talking about him for all the wrong reasons right now.
Perhaps the fact that, in the court of public opinion – where the double indemnity rule does not apply – Wahlberg has been extensively tried and released without charge, should suffice. Forget your Wahlburgers for a minute, Mark – this really is food for thought.
Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM