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Can Wesley Snipes’ career survive prison?

April 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Entertainment, News

( A few years ago, Robert Downey Jr. was known for abusing drugs, doing jail time and skipping out on rehab sessions.

Next week he’s starring in one of the summer’s biggest movies, “Iron Man.”

Downey is not the only celebrity to bounce back from hard times with the law.

Willie Nelson was fined $32 million by the Internal Revenue Service during the early ’90s. The country singer sold most of his possessions and paid back about $16 million. Today, Nelson is as popular as ever, a beloved music icon.

Four years ago, Martha Stewart also did jail time for lying about a stock sale. Now the domestic diva is back on her throne as America’s homemaking queen.

Which brings us to Wesley Snipes.

This week Snipes was sentenced by a federal judge in Ocala to serve three years in prison for willfully failing to file tax returns. Snipes also faces paying millions of dollars in back taxes, interest and penalties. His lawyers have said they will appeal the sentence.

Even well-intentioned people can make mistakes,” Snipes told Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges on Thursday, before his sentencing. “I never lost faith. I have forgiven those who have hurt me deeply because I seek forgiveness.”

But will movie fans and Hollywood forgive Snipes?

Four or five years from now, will Snipes be a washed-up ex-con showing up on a reality show, or can he still carry some juice at the box office?

No matter what happens, Wesley will survive because Wesley is a strong man,” said TV Judge Joe Brown, a close friend of Snipes who spoke up for him at the trial. Brown compared Snipes’ acting persona to John Wayne or Sidney Poitier. At Snipes’ sentencing Thursday, Brown said he didn’t think Snipes’ personal problems “would interfere with his (screen) image.

Snipes usually plays a tough, macho action hero. He became a huge star during the ’90s with such films as “New Jack City,” “Jungle Fever,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” and “Blade.”

Snipes wasn’t just one of the most popular African-American actors in Hollywood; he was fast becoming one of its biggest stars, period,” Chris Nashawaty wrote in Entertainment Weekly.

In recent years, however, Snipes’s film career has nose-dived. The last five films he made haven’t been shown in theaters but went right to DVD. Most were filmed in foreign countries and had little-known casts. Snipes’ personal and legal battles added to his decline.

For much of the past decade, Snipes has been mired in one legal scandal and publicity nightmare after another,” Nashawaty wrote. “Some of these were due to bad luck. Others seem to have been the result of bad judgment.”

Despite his problems, some fans support Snipes.

The income tax stuff doesn’t matter because Wesley Snipes is an excellent actor,” said Linda Staten of Ocala. “I like the way he played a vampire [in “Blade”]. If he goes to jail, it doesn’t change anything for me.”

Melissa Safford of Wauchula also remains smitten with Snipes.

He’s my favorite celebrity,” she said. “I like all the roles he plays. Right now his future is a question mark, but he’ll always be popular.”

But the pending jail sentence may cost Snipes a role he coveted: playing James Brown in an upcoming movie biography directed by Spike Lee.

There are other emotional scars for Snipes from the income tax case.

The amount of aggravation, hurt, embarrassment and degradation is immeasurable,” Carmen Hernandez, an attorney for Snipes, said in court. “Wesley is fighting for his life in an embarrassing public way,” added Daniel Meachum, Snipes’ lead attorney.

If he does end up doing prison time, he may have to fight for something else after he’s freed: his career.

Written By Anthony Violanti

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