From Oscar Winner to Disgraced Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr.

Whether you know him from Boyz n the Hood, Jerry Maguire, or Snow Dogs, Cuba Gooding Jr. was once one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood. However, his career has fizzled out over the past few years, and he has disappeared from the public eye. He only resurfaced for negative reasons.

Cuba Gooding Jr.
Source: Getty Images

Gooding Jr. went from winning an Academy Award to turning himself into the police for assault allegations. His name is now synonymous with the MeToo movement, and everyone is wondering how the once shining star wound up in handcuffs. Here’s everything we know about his rise and fall.

It Started With One Allegation

For a while, many people forgot about Cuba Gooding Jr. However, in 2019, Gooding Jr.’s past came back to haunt him when one allegation opened the floodgates for the downfall of his reputation. Natasha Ashworth was the first woman to sue the actor for inappropriately touching her at a nightclub in 2018.

A photo of Cuba Gooding Jr. outside court.
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

After Ashworth came forward, two other women spoke out, and the number of accusations against Gooding Jr. quickly rose to 30. Several women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. In a matter of weeks, Gooding Jr. was no longer the man many once remembered. But how did he get there?

Born Into Music

Gooding Jr. was born in the Bronx to Shirley Sullivan and Cuba Gooding Sr. Sullivan and Gooding Sr. were both singers, with the latter being the lead vocalist of The Main Ingredient. When Gooding Jr. was four, his father moved the family to Los Angeles because his soul group started to gain fame.

A studio portrait of Gooding Jr.
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Unfortunately, Gooding Sr. abandoned his family two years later. He wanted to follow his dreams of being a successful singer, so he left Sullivan, Gooding Jr., and his three other children behind. Sullivan had to raise her family as a single mother, and she did her best under the circumstances.

He Had Charisma

Within four years, Gooding Jr. attended four different high schools. Even though he didn’t spend much time at each school, he somehow managed to serve as class president at three of them. He must have had a special kind of charm to gain the support of his classmates as the new kid in school.

A picture of Gooding Jr. arriving at the Academy Awards.
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During his teen years, Gooding Jr. found a love for acting. It began in the early ‘80s when he attended the Drama Teachers’ Association of Southern California drama festival competition. Gooding Jr. realized he wanted to pursue a career in acting and started auditioning for everything.

Times at Home Were Tough

After his father left, Gooding Jr.’s mom struggled financially. She couldn’t afford a deposit on an apartment, and they had to move around often. They lived in cheap hotels and even a car. His mom once lied to get into a women’s shelter to get food for her children.

A dated portrait of Gooding Jr. as a young kid.
Source: Pinterest

Instead of going “home,” Gooding Jr. would go to an after-school club. He put his energy into sports, gymnastics, breakdancing, and drama. At school, he pretended that everything was fine: that he had a wonderful life and his dad was a famous singer. But that was just a front.

His First Gig

When Gooding Jr. was 16, he landed his first professional job performing as a breakdancer for Lionel Richie at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was a huge opportunity, and it helped him land his first on-screen role as an extra in an episode of Hill Street Blues.

An image from the show.
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Once he graduated high school, Gooding Jr. studied Japanese martial arts for three years but turned his attention back to acting. Early on, he had small roles in Jake and the Fatman, MacGyver, and a walk-on part in Coming to America. Ironically, he was in a CBS special called No Means No.

Wonder Kid

In high school, Gooding Jr. was called a “wonder kid” after performing with Lionel Richie. He also won a prize at a Shakespeare festival for his Othello monologue. His classmate’s mother was a talent agent and came to see Gooding Jr. perform at graduation.

A portrait of Gooding Jr.
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She was impressed and signed him because he could do comedy and drama. His father’s fame fueled Gooding Jr. to want to be famous too. Even though he wasn’t privileged, he didn’t feel like he was poor and saw everything as temporary.

First Big Break

Gooding Jr. got his first big break in the 1991 crime drama Boyz n the Hood. He played Tre Styles, a troubled but promising teen sent to live with his strict father in South Central LA. His character learns to overcome the violence around him.

A still of Gooding Jr. in a scene from Boyz n the Hood.
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The film was a surprising box office and critical hit. Gooding Jr. followed the film’s success with supporting roles in films like A Few Good Men, Gladiator, Judgement Night, Lightning Jack, and Outbreak. However, he didn’t rise to real fame until 1996.

A New Level of Success

In 1996, Gooding Jr. got the biggest opportunity he could have imagined. He was cast as an arrogant yet charismatic football player in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Starring opposite Tom Cruise, the film was a major critical and commercial success.

A promotional still of Gooding Jr. in a scene from the film.
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Not only did it do well at the box office, but the film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Gooding Jr.’s performance was phenomenal, and there was a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding him and Cruise. His famous line, “Show me the money,” became a nationwide catchphrase.

A-List Oscar Winner

When the Oscars rolled around, Gooding Jr. was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his Jerry Maguire performance. Impressively, he took home the prestigious award while his co-star, Cruise, went home empty-handed. It was a career-changing evening for Gooding Jr.

A photo of Gooding Jr. onstage at the Oscars.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The film and his award win brought Gooding Jr. to the next level, helping him rub elbows with the top actors in the industry. The same year he won his Oscar, Gooding Jr. starred with Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets. Once again, he was praised for his performance.

He Achieved His Dreams

When Gooding Jr. won the Oscar, someone backstage asked him, “Did you ever imagine this would happen?” He told the person he couldn’t have pictured it in a million years. However, Gooding Jr. later admitted that his statement was a lie.

Gooding Jr. poses for a picture backstage at the Oscars.
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He used to practice his autograph in his notebooks. Gooding Jr. said he would imagine holding an Oscar over his head. He said, “The real success stories are the people who truly believe they are going to be famous, so they mentally prepare. And that’s what I was doing my entire life.”

Not Everyone Was Happy

Gooding Jr. was overwhelmed with happiness when he won the Oscar. Many people were happy for him, but others didn’t think he deserved the win. Spike Lee was particularly angry, implying that Gooding Jr. only won the award because of his race.

A backstage picture of Gooding Jr. and Mira Sorvino at the Oscars.
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Lee then made fun of Gooding Jr. in his 2000 satire Bamboozled, in which a Black character dances on stage after winning an award and shouts, “Show me the money.” Lee claimed that Gooding Jr. could keep working because he was the title “Black actor.”

He Showed Everyone the Money

Gooding Jr. was rolling in money after Jerry Maguire. He probably had too much of it because he went on a spending spree. To say thank you to his mom for all she did, he bought her a house. Gooding Jr. also bought his wife’s mom a house.

A scene from the film.
Photo by TriStar/Getty Images

He was flying on private jets, taking limos, and spending frivolously because he finally had the money. Gooding Jr. quickly went through a good portion of the money he made, and he was broke again. He quickly realized he had made a huge mistake.

He Struggled

After his Oscar win, many thought Gooding Jr. would be the next big name in Hollywood. But that wasn’t the case as his career plateaued. He tried his luck in comedy with Rat Race, which led to the many Smash Mouth memes. Gooding Jr. couldn’t catch a break.

A still of Gooding Jr. in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

His career slowly declined at the box office with films like Boat Trip and Dirty, which only made about $274,000 when it had a $3 million budget. Although Snow Dogs was not a critical success, the movie was one of the few commercial successes for Gooding Jr. at the time.

He Turned Down Major Roles

While his films were failing at the box office, Gooding Jr. turned down many acclaimed films. He turned down roles in Amistad and Hotel Rwanda. Gooding Jr. admitted that he said no several times to movies that could have revived his career when it was declining.

A picture of Gooding Jr. during an event.
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He was in a series of films that were not critically or commercially successful, including Chill Factor, Boat Trip, Norbit, and Daddy Day Camp. Gooding Jr. was receiving negative reviews, and his earlier success couldn’t offset the string of failures.

He Ended Up in the DVD Aisle

In the mid to late 2000s, there was a harsh contrast between Gooding Jr.’s early career. Most of the movies he worked on were direct-to-DVD films like Hardwired with Van Kilmer and The Hit List. In fact, he appeared in a shocking 17 straight-to-DVD movies.

A still from the Hit List.
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There were a few exceptions to this trend. Gooding Jr.’s performance as Ben Carson in Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Store was well-received. He also had a small role in The Butler. However, he was struggling to make strides back to the top.

His Wife Left Him

In 1994, Gooding Jr. married his high school sweetheart, Sara Kapfer. The couple had three children together, Spencer, Piper, and Mason. Unfortunately, his world came crashing down in 2014 when Kapfer filed for divorce. They had been married for 22 years, and she took their children with her.

A photo of Sara Kapfer and Gooding Jr. attending an event.
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While it was never revealed why she filed for divorce, rumors circulated that Gooding Jr. was cheating on Kapfer. Based on the allegations against him, it seems more like the truth than a rumor. Their divorce took three years to finalize.

A Slight Bounce Back

After years of floundering in his acting career, Gooding Jr. had a small comeback. He landed the role of OJ Simpson in American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson. Director Ryan Murphy was luckily able to breathe new life into his career.

A promotional portrait of Gooding Jr. for the film.
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His performance received mixed reviews, but Gooding Jr. still earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. The reviewers criticized the nomination, and the glimmer of hope he had for a career revival quickly dimmed. He would soon go on a downward spiral.

Show Me Your Jazz Hands

The same year he played OJ Simpson, Gooding Jr. got the male lead role in the London revival of Chicago. Many people were impressed with his portrayal of lawyer Billy Flynn, who defends a murderous showgirl. Gooding Jr. said the rehearsals were like extreme workouts.

Gooding Jr. poses for the press.
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Gooding Jr. spent long days practicing his dance moves and belting out show tunes. He seemed to be a natural on the stage, and it was a surprise that he hadn’t tried to be in musicals before. Singing was a huge part of his life, but he wasn’t interested in music.

He Never Wanted to Be a Musician

Despite his parents being singers, Gooding Jr. never wanted to follow in their footsteps. He always blamed music for his father abandoning the family. His father would blast soul music for the two or three weeks he was home, and then the house went quiet for long periods.

Gooding Jr. attends an event.
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When his father left for good, the silence was deafening. It caused Gooding Jr. a lot of pain as a child. In the same year that he got a divorce, Gooding Jr.’s father was found dead from natural causes in his car. It was a lot to process since they didn’t have the best relationship.

He Went Behind the Camera

Following his many failures, Gooding Jr. decided to give directing a shot. He hoped it would salvage what was left of his career. In 2018, he made his directorial debut with the film Bayou Caviar, starring Richard Dreyfuss.

A still of Gooding Jr. driving a car in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

Sadly, this proved to be just as unsuccessful as his other projects. The movie has a rating of only 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. At this point, there was no saving Gooding Jr.’s career. He went from being an A-lister to people wondering, “what ever happened to Cuba Gooding Jr.?”

The Allegations Begin

Just as Gooding Jr. was fading into the background, the sexual assault allegations started to come out. It started with three women who said Gooding Jr. touched them without their consent in a nightclub. The first woman decided to pursue legal action against him.

A photo of Gooding Jr. during an event.
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The publicity around the lawsuit caused other women to feel comfortable coming forward with more allegations. Gooding Jr. tried to ignore the lawsuit, but that backfired. Natasha Ashworth requested that the court grant her a default judgment because he hadn’t responded to the suit.

He Turned Himself In

Gooding Jr. knew about the lawsuit but failed to hire a civil attorney to defend him. The court records show that no papers had been filed on his behalf. He finally hired a lawyer by the middle of 2019 and turned himself in to the NYPD for one of the allegations.

A picture of Gooding Jr. leaving court with his lawyers.
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One of the first few women besides Ashworth accused Gooding Jr. of touching her breasts at a bar in 2019. He denied the allegations, saying he went to the bar, took photos with people, and left. But the woman had a different story.

Her Side of the Story

The unnamed woman said Gooding Jr. was “highly intoxicated” and grabbed her. The unwanted touching led to an argument between the actor and the woman that reportedly required security to intervene and break up the fight. She felt violated and stayed away from him.

A photo of Gooding Jr. outside of the courthouse.
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When Gooding Jr. left the bar, the woman called 911 and filed a report to the NYPD. The New York Police Department’s Special Victims Division opened an investigation. The actor didn’t comment on the charges right away but said he would trust the process.

He Claimed There Was No Evidence

One of Gooding Jr.’s attorneys, Mark Heller, claimed the prosecution should drop the charges against the actor because there was no evidence. However, there was surveillance footage of the incident. Heller said he did not see “one scintilla of criminal culpability.”

Gooding Jr. addresses the media.
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Gooding Jr. also believed that the surveillance footage would exonerate him. He pled not guilty and was released without bail. Gooding Jr. was expected back in court on June 26, 2019. But as more accusations came out, the trial was pushed back several times.

The Accusations Added Up

In October 2019, Ashworth also pursued legal action against Gooding Jr. for groping her in a nightclub in 2018. Then a third woman came forward with similar accusations. Prosecutors said 12 additional women were willing to testify against the actor.

An image of Gooding Jr. arriving at court.
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Days after the news broke about the first charges, an additional three women came forward claiming sexual misconduct from Gooding Jr. Those charges weren’t incorporated in the indictment for the original charges against him. Heller said the women were not “credible.” The allegations date back to 2008.

They Blamed the Victims

By early 2020, a total of 30 women had accusations against Gooding Jr. His trial was supposed to begin in April, but the pandemic pushed it back. His hearing began in August 2020. Gooding Jr.’s attorney, Peter Toumbekis, wanted the court to question the victims.

A photo of Gooding Jr. during a party.
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Toumbekis said the court should consider that one of the accusers had personal trauma from childhood abuse. He also stated a desire to question another victim about her breast size. He argued that they made her self-conscious, and her negative feelings probably impacted her perception of the incident.

She Won Her Lawsuit

Ashworth won her lawsuit against Gooding Jr. in June 2021. The judge granted her request for a default judgment against the actor regarding her claims of assault and battery. However, he denied her allegations of emotional distress because of redundancy.

An image of Gooding Jr. outside court.
Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images/Getty Images

Heller said her claim is “baseless, and the judgment is worthless.” While Ashworth won the lawsuit, there will still be a trial to determine what damages should be awarded. His trial was set for February 2022, with the prosecution planning to portray him as a serial offender.

Harsher Allegations

In addition to sexual misconduct, another unnamed woman accused Gooding Jr. of sexually assaulting her at a hotel in 2013. For several years, she felt too afraid to sue him, but the other victims made her feel comfortable with sharing her story.

A photo of Gooding Jr. walking the street.
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Because she waited seven years to report the charges, Gooding Jr.’s lawyers argued that she violated the statute of limitations in New York. The woman’s attorneys said that the law had an exception because it was a traumatic experience and rejected the defense’s request for the victim to reveal her name.

He Wanted the Case Dismissed

After all the accusations against Gooding Jr., he asked a judge in January 2022 to dismiss the $6 million civil lawsuit filed by the anonymous woman who accused him of sexual assault. The judge has still not ruled if the charges will be dropped in the case.

Gooding Jr. attends an event.
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In addition to the civil suit, Gooding was supposed to start his trial on February 1, 2022, for the three incidents. His trial was pushed back because of his request to drop the other charges. His legal troubles are far from over, but he isn’t worried.

He Has Posted Regularly

While his legal troubles were piling up, Gooding Jr. posted selfies on his Instagram. In April 2021, the actor posted a picture of himself basking in the sun while relaxing by the pool. He wasn’t worried about the accusations and lawsuits.

Gooding Jr. takes a picture of himself at home.
Source: Instagram /@cubagoodingjr

Gooding Jr. also hosted a charity hockey game in November 2021. He knew his trial was months away, but he didn’t try to keep a low profile. Interestingly, plenty of fans came out to see him play even though they knew what he had done.

He Has a New Movie

In early March, Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard announced that they would lead the new horror-thriller film, Skeletons in the Closet. The film is going to be directed by Asif Akbar, who directed Silicon Valley and Mojave Diamonds. It’s Gooding Jr.’s first film since 2020.

A promotional portrait of Terrence Howard.
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The movie is currently in post-production, but Gooding Jr. might have trouble promoting it if he is in court. It would be shocking if the film is a success considering his recent track record. People might also refuse to watch it because of the sexual misconduct accusations.

What Is Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Net Worth?

Although his career has been a flop over the past two decades, Gooding Jr.’s net worth is about $14 million. In 2019, it was an estimated $24 million and had drastically declined. He earned a decent amount from his role in Chicago and American Crime Story.

Gooding Jr. attends an event.
Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

After he blew through his money in the ‘90s, Gooding Jr. learned to be more conservative with his money. He also gets residuals when his past films are played on TV. His net worth will continue to decline if he loses the court cases.

He Has a Star

Before his reputation was destroyed, Gooding Jr. was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2002, he received it for his achievements in film. His coveted star is next to Star Wars legend Mark Hamill and superstar Steve McQueen.

A photo of Gooding Jr. at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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It was a huge honor for Gooding Jr. because he had wanted to be famous and achieve his dreams. He also felt lucky to land between two huge names in the industry. His family was proud of Gooding Jr. and basked in the glory with him.

He Shocked Everyone

His recent legal issues aren’t the first time Gooding Jr. has been the subject of controversy. In 2017, he sparked outrage after lifting comedian/actress Sarah Paulson’s dress during PaleyFest. The actress took the incident in stride and laughed the incident off.

An image from the incident.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While Paulson didn’t react publicly, people on social media didn’t let Gooding Jr.’s inappropriate behavior slide. Everyone took to social media to weigh in on the controversy. People were offended, and it wasn’t a massive surprise when the 2019 news broke. Paulson later talked about sexual harassment in Hollywood but didn’t mention him.

He Tried to Be a Producer

Gooding Jr. is mainly known as an actor, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing other endeavors. His first effort as a producer was in 1998 when he co-produced A Murder of Crows with his business partner, Derek Broes. It wasn’t his best work but also not his worst.

A photo of Gooding Jr. at an event.
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Since then, Gooding Jr. has produced several other films, including 2008’s Harold and 2014’s Freedom. He did his best to make a hit, but it didn’t work in his favor. His producing work didn’t help Gooding Jr.’s career.

He’s an Enthusiastic Speaker

When Gooding Jr. got his first taste of award glory in 1996 for his performance in Jerry Maguire, his victory speech became almost as memorable as the film. His acceptance speech went down in history as one of the most enthusiastic speeches of all time.

Gooding Jr. speaks with the media.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty Images

Despite everything, Gooding Jr. is a passionate speaker. He has a lot of emotion, and it pours out when he speaks to people. Unfortunately, he didn’t win any major awards after his one Oscar win, so he didn’t get to give another memorable speech.

He’s Been on Several Game Shows

As he struggled to live up to his early success, Gooding Jr. looked to make strides in entertainment through other channels. He starred in an online video game and worked on UK game shows, including Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night in 2011.

Gooding Jr. and Former NHL Player Chris Tschupp pose for the press.
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Gooding Jr. also appeared on ITV’s Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway in 2018. His performance as a guest announcer gained a lot of positive feedback. One person said no one has ever put as much effort into anything as Gooding Jr. did for Saturday Night Takeaway.

Avid Hockey Player

As a teenager, Gooding Jr. put a lot of his efforts into sports. He became an avid hockey player and stuck with it into his adult years. He once played in a celebrity all-star hockey game. Gooding Jr. not only loves playing, but he enjoys watching the sport too.

An image of Gooding Jr. playing hockey.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It was reported that Gooding Jr. once had a hockey rink in his backyard. While he has probably downsized since his divorce and legal issues, he finds time to play hockey at public rinks. Most recently, he was seen playing in an ALS charity hockey game.

Key to the City

Many years ago, Gooding Jr.’s father became a Goodwill Ambassador to Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico. The coastal resort town is about 20 minutes from San Diego. In 2009, the former mayor presented Gooding Jr. with a key to the city.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Shirley Gooding, and Cuba Gooding Sr. pose for the press.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty Images

The mayor wanted to honor the actor’s family legacy. Although Gooding Jr. didn’t have the best relationship with his father, this was a small way for the two to connect. It was a special moment for Gooding Jr.