At the turn of the millennium, That ’70s Show proved one of Fox’s most successful programs. Its eight-year run was a launching pad for some meteoric careers, not least those of Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and main protagonist Topher Grace. But it also gave birth to tragedy, as some of its stars suffered dark times.
That ’70s Show was actually quite hard-hitting in its first season. It dealt with class and generational distrust, drug use among teens, the recession that hit America that decade and more. At one point the main character Eric Foreman was in danger of losing his home. However, as the show went on it dropped some of the drama and went for full comedy.
But there was plenty of drama going on behind the scenes. Some of it involved personal tragedies and private matters which were reported in the press. Other stories, though, are harder to hear about. There are scenes of That ’70s Show which you might see in a different light after learning what was happening with the actors.
Perhaps you remember the story arc where Donna’s mother Midge, played by Tanya Roberts, split from her husband and abandoned her daughter? Real life necessitated that plot. Roberts’s husband Barry became terminally ill with cancer, and she decided to leave her acting career behind for a while in order to care for him.
In the That ’70s Show episode of E! True Hollywood Story, which aired in 2006 – the same year Barry passed away – Roberts explained it. She said, “My husband got very, very ill, and I needed the support of people who were my friends on the show… It was traumatic in a whole lot of ways.”
Unfortunately, that more or less brought the curtain down on the popular actress’s career, although she did briefly return to That ’70s Show in 2004. Since then, Roberts hasn’t done much acting-wise. Her last credits are from 2005, quite a way back, when she appeared on the TV shows Eve and then Barbershop.
Roberts was not the only cast member who had to leave the show for unavoidable personal reasons. During season five, the characters find that their stoner friend Leo has gone missing. They search for him and find only a note. But the real reason Leo was gone was because actor Tommy Chong was in prison.
Tommy Chong made a name for himself as half of Cheech and Chong, famously stoned comedians who lived for marijuana use. But that lifestyle was real for Chong. Come 2003 he was arrested as part of a police investigation called Operation Pipe Dreams, due to selling bongs and water pipes for drug use over the internet as part of a company he ran with his son. The actor pleaded guilty to the charge of “conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia.”
Many people thought that Chong had been treated unfairly by the police just because he was famous. There was a “Free Tommy Chong” campaign while the actor was behind bars. Many people thought his son, Paris Chong, should have been charged with the crimes instead, as he was actually the CEO of the company.
Chong was sentenced to nine months in prison plus fines. Curiously, his cellmate at the Taft Correctional Institution was Jordan Belfort, the “Wolf of Wall Street” who inspired the movie of the same name. It was apparently Chong who suggested Belfort write his autobiography. And believe it or not, they’re still friends.
And on the topic of friendships, there’s been some debate about whether Topher Grace, aka Eric Foreman, is still on good terms with any of the That ’70s Show cast. He did after all leave the show pretty abruptly at the end of seventh season, wishing to advance his career and move on to bigger things.
Ashton Kutcher also left the show at around the same time, but he did stick around as a special guest star for a couple of episodes in order to tie up loose ends surrounding his character’s plotlines. And while Kutcher always seems to be present whenever the That ’70s Show cast reunites, Grace on the other hand isn’t.
During a 2012 interview with Broadway.com, Grace claimed he was still “close” with the cast. And he went on, “I’m really bummed because I was in such intensive rehearsals for [the play Lonely, I’m Not], I didn’t get to be part of a TV show celebrating the last 25 years of FOX. Danny Masterson couldn’t make it either, but the rest of the kids got together. I wish I could’ve been there.”
Yet, Grace was also absent when the cast reunited again in 2016. Kutcher, Kunis, Danny Masterson, Laura Prepon and Wilmer Valderrama gathered on the set of The Ranch, a comedy fronted by Kutcher and Masterson, but there was no sign of Grace. Masterson wrote on his Instagram, “Last episode of the season. Had three friends come by and say hello.”
The interviews shown on E! True Hollywood Story perhaps shed a little light on the situation. Mark Hudis, the executive producer of That ’70s Show, said that Grace had never been on Kutcher’s show Punk’d, which “kind of said something. I mean, I don’t know if there’s animosity, but I just know it was kind of a strange relationship.”
And then there’s the tragic story of Lisa Robin Kelly, who played Eric’s sister Laurie on the show. She suffered a miscarriage, which triggered drink problems. She explained to TV news broadcaster ABC in 2012, “I had lost a baby. As a result of that I lost it. I lost everything and I was abusing alcohol.”
And the substance abuse got too much for the producers of That ’70s Show. By the end of the third season, Kelly had been written out altogether. She returned for season five, but it didn’t last. Towards the end of the show she was replaced entirely, with Laurie being played instead by Christina Moore.
Kelly’s downfall continued after That ’70s Show ended. In 2010 she was arrested for driving under the influence, a charge she admitted. Then two years later in 2012 she was arrested again, this time for “corporal injury upon a spouse”, the partner in question being her ex, John Michas.
In the ABC interview, Kelly denied that she had ever hit Michas. She also mentioned the role she had lost, saying “With That ’70s Show, I was guilty of the drinking problem and I ran. And I am not running from this. And I have paid my dues. And if I can make it through this, I can make it through anything.”
But sadly, she didn’t. In June 2013, she was caught by law enforcement once more for another suspected DUI. She failed the sobriety test, allowing celebrity gossip sites to once again run headlines in the vein of “That ’70s Show actress arrested.” Two months later Kelly checked into rehab.
Kelly went to the Pax Rehab House, a treatment center in California, to try and get herself the help she needed. But just a few days after checking in, she died there. She was only 43 years old. The news hit the internet the same day it happened, with her agent Craig Wyckoff confirming she had indeed passed away.
Wyckoff said in a statement released to the media, “Lisa had voluntarily checked herself into a treatment facility early this week where she was battling the addiction problems that have plagued her these past few years. I spoke to her on Monday and she was hopeful and confident, looking forward to putting this part of her life behind her. Last night she lost the battle.”
One of Kelly’s That ’70s Show co-stars paid tribute to her on social media. Danny Masterson wrote on his Twitter, “Terrible, awful news. Brilliant on 70s… See u next time LRK, kisses… #RIPLisaRobinKelly aka Laurie Foreman.” Many fans of the show left condolences in the replies.
And Kurtwood Smith, who played Laurie’s father Red Foreman on the show, released a statement about Kelly’s death. He said, “I am so sorry to hear about Lisa’s passing away. I know the last ten years have been such a difficult struggle for her but I will always remember the lovely, funny and very talented young lady I worked with.”
Kelly’s cause of death wasn’t given until January 2014, nearly six months after it happened. Her passing was an accident caused by “multiple drug intoxication,” although the exact drugs Kelly had taken remained a private matter. It was a very sad end for someone who’d had such success in her career at first.
What happened to Kelly was horrible, but a different kind of horrible story later engulfed another member of the That ’70s Show cast. In 2017, as the #MeToo movement was at its height, four women accused Danny Masterson of rape. They alleged the incidents took place in the 2000s, while Masterson was still on That ’70s Show.
Masterson’s church, the Church of Scientology, also were apparently involved. One of Masterson’s accusers claimed that the actor raped her and choked her in 2003, and she filed a police report the following year. But, she said, the Church of Scientology had ensured that the case was never taken further.
As the accusations gained more and more traction, Masterson was fired from The Ranch. Netflix released a statement on December 5, 2017 saying “Yesterday was his last day on the show, and production will resume in early 2018 without him.” Masterson gave a statement of his own to CNN, saying he was “very disappointed.”
Masterson’s own statement went on, “From day one, I have denied the outrageous allegations against me. Law enforcement investigated these claims more than 15 years ago and determined them to be without merit. I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one.”
In what appeared to be a reference to the #MeToo movement, Masterson went on, In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.” He also added that he looked forward to “clearing my name once and for all.”
Serious allegations have continued to follow Masterson around since then, however. In 2019 four women brought a lawsuit against both the actor and the Church of Scientology, claiming that after they accused Masterson of rape, agents for the church began stalking, filming and harassing them and their families.
Masterson did respond to this. One of the accusers was his ex-girlfriend, another her husband, and Masterson said to People magazine in August 2019 via his attorney, “This is beyond ridiculous. I’m not going to fight my ex-girlfriend in the media like she’s been baiting me to do for more than two years.”
In that same statement Masterson went on, “I will beat her in court – and look forward to it because the public will finally be able [to] learn the truth and see how I’ve been railroaded by this woman. And once her lawsuit is thrown out, I intend to sue her and the others who jumped on the bandwagon for the damage they caused me and my family.”
The disturbing case against Masterson rumbles on. But although there are some very unpleasant stories to come out of That ’70s Show, there are some good ones as well. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher met on the set of the sitcom, and now they’re happily married with two children.
Things were a bit awkward between them at first, since Kunis was actually only 14 when she won the role of Jackie Burkhart on the show. She lied about her age in order to get it. In 2001 she explained to People, “I told them I was going to be 18. But I didn’t tell them when I was going to be 18!”
In 2017 Kutcher revealed he hadn’t really enjoyed his first kiss with Kunis on the show. He told radio shock jock Howard Stern, “It was really weird. I was like, ‘Isn’t this illegal? Like… am I allowed?’ It was really awkward because I’m like a 19-year-old kid. She was 14! She was like my little sister. I wanted to make sure she was okay.”
Kutcher told Stern, “[Kunis] has like, a journal or like, a diary from when she was a kid where she wrote, ‘Oh, this guy’s hot.’ She thought I was cute!” He added, “At first I think she thought that I was good looking, and then shortly thereafter, I was just annoying to her, because I was like a big brother.”
In 2018 Kunis appeared on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and observed that although she and Kutcher would have had “20 years together” if they’d hooked up as teenagers, it was for the best that they didn’t. She explained, “We would have never been together if we didn’t both go through what we went through in order to be the people that we were when we reconnected.”
And then, Kunis explained, “We were at an awards show, and I was backstage. I was, like, looking around, and there was like a really beautiful man from the back. I was like, ‘What a very nice stature of a gentleman.’… And then he turned around, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God! It’s Kutch!’ I thought it was the weirdest thing that I was checking this guy out, and it was somebody I’d known forever.”
Kunis and Kutcher became engaged in 2014 and had their first child, daughter Wyatt Isabelle Kutcher, later on that year. They tied the knot in a quiet ceremony in July 2015, and the following year Kunis gave birth to their second child, Dimitri Portwood Kutcher. So currently there’s two people in the world who might not exist if not for That ’70s Show!