He’s only 31, but he’s been working as an actor for almost his entire life (he actually has an IMDb credit that predates him) and been famous for nearly as long. He spent his youth on TV, including as a star of the Disney Channel series Even Stevens, and had his breakout role on the big screen in 2003’s Holes.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints made an indie star out of him in 2006. The 2007 thriller Disturbia turned him into the boy-next-door heartthrob. And he became the boy-next-door action hero as star of the Transformers franchise and Steven Spielberg‘s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He twice topped Forbes‘ list of actors who were worth their price tag relative to how much their films made.
Also at some point in 2007 he went on a date with Rihanna, which turned into rumors that they were a thing, none of which he really dispelled until he told Playboy in 2009, “It never got beyond one date. The spark wasn’t there. We weren’t passionate about each other in that way, so we remain friends.”
But for the most part, what wasn’t going right for Shia LaBeouf?
And yet, amid his whirlwind rise to the top… well, you know how these stories go sometimes. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, speed bumps ahead.
“Drinking and driving is one thing, but drinking and shopping… it’s just as bad,” LaBeouf quipped on the Late Show With David Letterman. Talking to Empire magazine in February 2008, the Los Angeles native called his behavior “complete and utter insanity.
“I was an a–hole,” he continued, “and it was a mistake I’m still completely embarrassed about. I was in the middle of a strange mind state, having just come off a three-month window of focus. I can’t diminish what happened at all. But I can say this: I’m not the first 21-year-old to be arrested for a misdemeanor. There are lessons in life I need to learn, and I’m learning all of them in front of the public.”
At the time, though he was a veteran actor, it was still a little early on to consider his comment about being in “a strange mind state” coming off “a three-month window of focus” to be vintage Shia.
But hindsight is 20/20.
That July, LaBeouf, by then 22, was in a rollover crash in his Ford F-150 pickup in L.A. that crushed his left hand, requiring extensive surgery, and left his passenger, Transformers co-star Isabel Lucas, with minor injuries. The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department ultimately backed up his claim that the accident, in which he collided with an oncoming car when the driver ran a red light, was not his fault. However, he was still arrested on suspicion of DUI for exhibiting signs of intoxication; in September 2008 the L.A. District Attorney’s Office decided not to move forward, citing a lack of evidence. A DMV hearing, at which he risked having his license suspended because he refused to take a breathalyzer test, also concluded with no action being taken.
Jaime Trueblood/ DreamWorks Pictures
Dating Wall Street co-star Cary Mulligan for about a year between 2009 and 2010 now appears to have been a great stabilizing force in his life, because LaBeouf didn’t make any headlines for bad-boy behavior while they were together.
In February 2011, however, a few months before Transformers: Dark of the Moon hit theaters, LaBeouf ended up in handcuffs after getting punched during a bar fight in Sherman Oak, Calif. The other guy was cuffed too and both were ultimately let go without being arrested. That October, the actor was involved in another dust-up outside of a bar in Vancouver, where he was shooting The Company We Keep; again, he wasn’t arrested.
Also that year LaBeouf was accused of plagiarizing a story by author Daniel Clowes for his own short film “HowardCantour.com” which resulted in a stream of tweets that also borrowed from apologies made by other notable people, including Mark Zuckerberg. Ultimately on New Year’s Day, 2014, LaBeouf arranged for a pilot to sky-write “I’m sorry Daniel Clowes.” That week CNN reported that another publisher was considering taking legal action, accusing LaBeouf’s graphic novel Stale N Mate of ripping off Benoit Duteurtre‘s The Little Girl and the Cigarette.
Later that month LaBeouf described any and all plagiarism as “meta-modernist performance art,” which sure enough was becoming very much his bag.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Before Fury came out in October 2014, however, LaBeouf embarked on his personal artistic blue period, where seemingly everything he did had a social statement attached to it, or at least he liked to think it did. He walked out of a press conference for Nymphomaniac Volume I during the Berlin Film Festival in February 2014, silently objecting to questions about all the sex scenes, and then at the film’s premiere he dressed traditionally in a simple tuxedo, but put a paper bag on his head with holes cut out for his eyes and “I am not famous anymore” written in thick black marker.
So…that was a little weird.
LaBeouf was sorrier in June, however, when he was arrested for disturbing a production of Cabaret at Studio 54 on Broadway, starring Michelle Williams. The actor, who by then was getting a bit of a reputation, later explained that he had slapped star Alan Cumming‘s behind (he was reprising his Tony-winning role as Master of Ceremonies) and refused to put out a cigarette when asked. Whisky was also involved, he recalled.
He was escorted out during intermission, so as to not further disrupt the show—”do you know who I am?!” he tried to insist to the officers, according to court documents—and a rep for Liza Minnelli, who won an Oscar for playing Sally Bowles in the 1972 film, sent him a copy of the movie—so he’d know how it ended!
In September 2014, perhaps to show off the new healthy leaf he had turned over, he ran at least 144 laps around the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, some with fans and some solo, calling it a #Metamarathon.
Then, in a shocking interview printed in the Winter 2014 issue of Dazed magazine, LaBeouf claimed that he had been sexually assaulted during his week at the gallery for #IAMSORRY.
“On top of that my girl was in line to see me, because it was Valentine’s Day and I was living in the gallery for the duration of the event—we were separated for five days, no communication. So it really hurt her as well, as I guess the news of it travelled through the line. When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.”
His collaborators, Rönkkö and British artist Luke Turner, confirmed that an incident did occur, and that once they realized what was going on they immediately put a stop to it. “Nowhere did we state that people could do whatever they wanted to Shia during #IAMSORRY,” Turner tweeted. He explained that the woman in question ran away, for those who were wondering why she wasn’t arrested or otherwise detained.
“If I’d have stayed there, I would have killed her,” LaBeouf then told the small group of people he left the scene with in a car, which then took him to the airport.
LaBeouf penned an essay for the 2015 book Prison Ramen, featuring stories from celebrities who had been in jail (as well as recipes they had actually tried behind bars), in which he said that he’d been to jail five times—the first time being when he was 9 and spent six hours in custody for shoplifting a pair of sneakers. Trip to jail No. 2 was when he was 11 and had shoplifted a Gameboy from K-Mart. Trip No. 3 came when he was 20 after he (this was news) tried to stab his neighbor. (He just told Esquire that the guy’s car had dinged his mother’s car, and so he went after him with a knife.) And then 4 and 5 were for the Walgreens incident in Chicago and his Cabaret interruption.
“When I’m nervous in my creativity, I think of my failures in life and in art,” he wrote. “Thinking about my screw-ups loosens the grip of fear. It’s freeing to f–k up and to recover.”
And so far, so good, he had recovered enough to still be an object of mass fascination. He had seemingly written the essay, however, before his sixth trip to jail following his October 2015 arrest in Austin, Texas, for public intoxication. He was booked but ultimately just released on his own recognizance.
Also that November, from the 10th to the 12th, he staged his own career retrospective, hunkering down at the Angelika Film Center in New York City to watch all of his movies in a row. The public was welcome to join, and the whole affair was livestreamed. “#ALLMYMOVIES” it was called, of course.
But he did conduct interviews after that as if he were a married man, telling E! News at the Man Down premiere in December 2016 that his own relationship had changed his entire outlook on marriage.
“It’s better on the other side,” he shared. “I’ve been lied to my whole life. You always hear these people who are all cynical, like, ‘Ah, man, once you get married everything changes. But for the better though!”
On Jan. 20, 2017, Inauguration Day, he set up inside the Museum of the Moving Image and invited passersby to come in and say on camera, “He will not divide us”—also the name of the overall project.
LaBeouf was arrested outside the museum on Jan. 25, supposedly after grabbing a man’s scarf and scratching him, but ultimately wasn’t charged with anything. The museum shut the project down on Feb. 10, explaining it had created an “unexpectedly volatile situation and serious public safety hazards,” after which LaBeouf moved it to the El Rey Theater in Albuquerque, N.M.
It was almost immediately vandalized with red spray paint, but other locals came voluntarily to help clean up.
“On the bright side as long as Shia and his team continue to maintain it, we’ll keep providing the space,” El Rey owner Stephen Segura told Fox News at the time. “Our biggest concern is not wanting to desensitize the artistic community in Albuquerque. We’re a community of artists; it’s bringing up a lot of conversation. Someone flashed nudity, and someone flashed a gun [at the camera], and it was promptly handled by police. We have plenty of cameras around the theater that people don’t notice, and if we see anything we’ll work as a community to stop it.”
On Feb. 18, 2017, the project was moved to a wall outside the theater. The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, adopted “He Will Not Divide Us” in March and then, according to the project’s website, it was taken over by Le Lieu unique, a contemporary art and music center, in Nantes, France, in October.
Alas, he didn’t learn.
And on July 8, in a stomach-churning turn of events that may, after everything that had come before, proved to be the tipping point, LaBeouf was arrested in Savannah, Ga., after flying off the handle when a police officer and another pedestrian reportedly refused his request to bum a cigarette.
“When LaBeouf wasn’t given a cigarette, he became disorderly, using profanities and vulgar language in front of the women and children present,” police said afterward. “He was told to leave the area and refused, becoming aggressive toward the officer.” Meanwhile, cameras were rolling. LaBeouf was caught on video ranting to the black cop who arrested him, “Who are you fighting for?! You got a president who don’t give a f–k about you, and you’re stuck in a police force who doesn’t give a f–k about you. So you want to arrest white people who give a f–k? Who ask for cigarettes?”
Once he was taken into custody, he was seen on camera again at the station telling a black officer he would be going to “straight to hell, bro” and explained to the black officer’s white partner, “because he’s a black man.”
“I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and make no excuses for it,” read a statement published to Twitter a few days later. “I don’t know if these statements are too frequent, or not shared often enough, but I am certain that my actions warrant a very sincere apology to the arresting officers, and I am grateful for their restraint. The severity of my behavior is not lost on me.
He went to the Toronto International Film Festival in September for the premiere of Borg vs. McEnroe, and in October he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and obstruction. He was sentenced to a year of probation, as well as ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and get anger management counseling.
LaBeouf has since kept up with posting updates about “He Will Not Divide Us” on social media, but otherwise… he seems to be taking recovery seriously. As in, he actually went to rehab. And, after preparing for the interview with his therapist, now he’s talking about the many highs and lows—and last summer’s low in particular—that he’s experienced in what, at 31, has already been a really long career.
Referring to himself as a “buffoon” with no method to his madness, he told the magazine, “I’ve got to look at my failures in the face for a while. I need to take ownership of my shit and clean up my side of the street a bit before I can go out there and work again, so I’m trying to stay creative and learn from my mistakes. I’ve been falling forward for a long time. Most of my life. The truth is, in my desperation, I lost the plot.”
It didn’t look as if Hollywood ever lost his number, though. Despite his stream of misbehavior he never went a year without a movie coming out, be it Michael Bay-big or Von Trier-weird, and after Borg vs. McEnroe, out in April, he’s got The Peanut Butter Falcon with Dakota Johnson and John Hawkes. That’s what he was shooting in Savannah last summer.
But LaBeouf said his behavior did catch up with him, telling Esquire, “I’m run out. No one’s giving me a shot right now. Spike Lee is making a movie. I was talking to him about it. He goes to the money and pushes to try to get me in the movie, the money says no, and that’s the end of me hanging out with Spike Lee for this film.”
“For a long time, I thought that life was secondary to art,” LaBeouf admitted. “And then you realize you can’t have this art thing without the life thing. I’m just trying to deal with my life right now, ’cause I don’t have f–k-all to offer the world until I do.”