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‘Oscar will never leave my house again’: 12 Oscar winners whose awards were stolen, destroyed or vanished

From the stolen Academy Award recovered from an airport bin to the time Matt Damon’s Oscar washed away in a flood, Adam White recalls the gold-plated vanishing acts that stars would love to forget

Monday 04 March 2024 11:25 GMT
Missing Oscars: Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting’ and Whoopi Goldberg in ‘Ghost’
Missing Oscars: Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting’ and Whoopi Goldberg in ‘Ghost’ (Entertainment One/Shutterstock/Paramount)

It is a well-worn cliché for an Oscar winner to keep their gong in the bathroom. “The whole point is for everybody to pick it up and go, ‘I’d like to thank my son and my dad’,” Kate Winslet said in 2015, after admitting she keeps her 2009 Best Actress award in the downstairs loo.

Winslet’s remarks spoke to a universal truth: everyone wants to get their hands on an Academy Award. Not always by way of actually winning one, it should be said, because few of us have specific Hollywood aspirations. But who wouldn’t say no to handling one for a minute or two?

Some people even go a bit further. Namely, stealing an Oscar altogether.

For as long as there have been Academy Award ceremonies, there have been Oscar thefts and missing statues. Some have vanished in transit, others have been yanked out of celebrity homes. Some have even been sucked into the vortex to hell that Jared Leto has in his basement.

Ahead of this year’s Oscars on Sunday 12 March, we’ve recalled 12 incidents in which Academy Awards were misplaced, pocketed or allegedly thrown into a river, never to be seen again.

Jared Leto

In 2021, the Dallas Buyers Club Oscar winner revealed that he hadn’t seen his award for three years, and has no idea where it ended up. “Everyone’s searched for it high and low,” he said during an appearance on James Corden’s US chat show. Asked by Corden if someone may have stolen it, Leto agreed with his suspicions. “I think it’s a good possibility. It’s not something someone accidentally throws in the trash.” It’s unclear whether Leto ever recovered his Oscar.

Whoopi Goldberg

Just over a decade after she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost, Goldberg sent her statue back to the Academy for a polish. It arrived in LA from New York safe and intact, but the UPS package the Academy then sent on to a cleaner in Chicago – with Goldberg’s Oscar inside of it – turned up empty. Someone had opened it, grabbed the Oscar and resealed it. Days later, the Oscar turned up in a bin near a California airport and was returned to Goldberg. It has never been proven what exactly happened. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said in a statement in 2002.

Hattie McDaniel

The first Black Oscar winner – for Gone with the Wind – left her award to Howard University in her will, where it eventually went missing. While McDaniel’s Oscar was originally put in a display case, it reportedly disappeared at some point in the Sixties, and speculation remains rife as to where it ended up. Some have suggested it was dumped in a river during Civil Rights protests at the university – and potentially as a statement against McDaniel winning her Oscar for playing a maid. Others have theorised that whoever moved the award simply didn’t realise what it was – McDaniel was given a plaque as opposed to the man-shaped award we recognise as an Oscar today. Regardless, the mystery remains unsolved.

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in ‘Gone with the Wind' (Selznick/MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Bing Crosby

Much like Hattie McDaniel, Bing Crosby also bequeathed his Oscar to a university upon his death. It also went a bit awry. Crosby’s Oscar – for the film Going My Way – was given to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington and received pride of place in a display case in the school’s library. One day in 1972, visitors noticed that the Oscar had disappeared, replaced with a statue of Mickey Mouse. Crosby’s Oscar was found a week later in the university chapel, while the thief anonymously told the campus newspaper that it was intended as a prank.

Frances McDormand

In 2019, a Los Angeles court dismissed all criminal charges against a self-described “highly favoured of God producer, A-list host, entertainment journalist, actor, DJ and superstar” named Terry Bryant. One year earlier, Bryant had been accused of stealing Frances McDormand’s freshly won Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, after being seen holding it during one of the show’s after parties. Despite posting a video to his Facebook in which he could be seen kissing an Oscar statue and proclaiming that he had won it, Bryant always maintained his innocence. As for McDormand, her publicist released a statement saying all was well: “After some brief time apart, Frances and her Oscar were happily reunited. They celebrated the reunion with a double cheeseburger from In-N-Out Burger.”

Gone with the Wind

For inexplicable reasons, Michael Jackson paid a record $1.5m (£1.1m) in 1999 for the Best Picture Oscar awarded to Gone with the Wind in 1940. And that was despite the award – which Jackson bought from the estate of producer David O Selznick – only being valued at $300,000 (£228,000). By the time Jackson died exactly a decade later in 2009, however, the award had vanished. The executors of his estate could not find the Oscar in any of Jackson’s homes, nor any of his many storage facilities. Jackson’s children would legally be able to take ownership of the Oscar if they so wished, if only anyone knew where it was. While it’s never been confirmed as having been swiped, the award’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis with her (soon to be stolen) Oscar in 1988 (Elisa Leonelli/Shutterstock)

The late actor had her Oscar for Moonstruck stolen in 1988 by a thief with very specific awards-show preferences. Despite Dukakis’s Oscar being on display in her kitchen alongside her Golden Globe and other awards, only her Oscar was pilfered. Absolutely nothing else was taken from Dukakis’ home, either. Then, there was a twist: the thief called Dukakis’s son and offered the Oscar back in exchange for a bag of cash. A sting operation involving the police was mooted, but the deal never went down. Instead, Dukakis paid the Academy $78 (£59) to have a replacement Oscar sent to her instead.

Karl Freund

The acclaimed cinematographer won his Oscar in 1937, for his work on The Good Earth, only for the award to be stolen from his son-in-law’s home in a burglary six years after Freund’s death in 1975. It wasn’t seen for another 15 years, when Freund’s son-in-law discovered that the Oscar was being offered for sale for $20,000 (£15,000) in a Los Angeles paper. Chicago police tracked down the seller, who said that she’d been given the Oscar by a friend years earlier, and as collateral for a loan. No one knew how that friend came to own the Oscar, and Freund’s burglar has never been identified. The Oscar, though, was returned safely to the cinematographer’s son-in-law.

Vivien Leigh

The legendary actor wasn’t able to collect her Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire in person in 1952, leaving her to accept it at a smaller ceremony months later near her home in London. The city also played host to a glitzy crime soon after, with Leigh’s home burgled and thieves making off with clothes, silverware and her Oscar. Her original award was never recovered, but the Academy had replaced it within weeks.

Margaret O’Brien

The former child star was awarded a “Juvenile Oscar” in 1944 for her work in Meet Me in St Louis, only for it to be stolen from her home shortly afterwards. O’Brien later said that a housekeeper who worked for her family had taken the Oscar to be cleaned, before vanishing with it. O’Brien was given a replacement, but the actor still hoped to be reunited with her original Oscar, going so far as to regularly attend antiques fairs and auctions in the hopes of spotting it. Then, in 1995, she was alerted that her Oscar had been found, her family housekeeper having given it to her children, who themselves gave it to an auctioneer decades later. With auctioneers unable to sell Oscars without strict permission from the Academy, they had handed it back instead. It took nearly 50 years, but O’Brien’s Oscar was finally returned to her.

Margaret O’Brien and Judy Garland in ‘Meet Me in St Louis' (MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Matt Damon

The Oscar that Damon won in 1998 for writing Good Will Hunting with Ben Affleck ended up in his New York apartment, until a flood led to its disappearance. “One of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town,” he said in 2007. “That was the last I saw of it.” Damon admitted that the Oscar may have been put in storage by someone who helped clean up the apartment, but it also may have been taken.

Alice Brady

One of the weirder Oscar-theft stories didn’t actually happen, despite decades of rumour insisting it did. In 1938, Brady won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for In Old Chicago, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to a broken ankle. For years it was claimed that the man who accepted Brady’s Oscar on her behalf was a total stranger, who then absconded with her award, never to be seen again. The tale of the alleged theft would be repeated in Oscar fan circles for years, along with a claim that Brady died in 1939 having never received a replacement award from the Academy. In truth, it was all an early bit of fake news. Brady’s Oscar was accepted on her behalf by In Old Chicago director Henry King, and she received the award in question a few weeks later. So not quite as fun a story.

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