Physicist Richard Feynman, who we recently featured in The Experimenters, was a colorful and outspoken character – and unconventional enough to spark the interest of the FBI. Feynman’s FBI file was started after other members of the Manhattan Project (Feynman was a junior physicist on the project) turned out to be Soviet spies, but it was his liberal politics and anti-religious stance that kept him on their radar. The FBI’s interest in Feynman peaked when he was extended an invitation from the Soviet Union to attend a physics conference in Moscow. Some of Feynman’s friends and associates acted as informants for the FBI, even though Feynman himself had notified the State Department of the invitation and had asked for their guidance as to whether or not he should accept the invite.
Over the years, the FBI has collected information about many people in the public arena, and much of that information is now available to the public at vault.fbi.gov. Digging through those records, we saw a few names familiar to us – including a dozen past subjects of Blank on Blank episodes who also have FBI files.
Tupac isn’t the only rapper with a FBI file – Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A.’s Easy-E, and Wu Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard have dedicated files too. The West Coast rapper’s files concern death threats that he and others allegedly received from the Jewish Defense League, a group listed by the FBI as a domestic terrorist group. According to the files, they were extorting money from rappers by claiming that their lives were in danger, then offering protection in exchange for a pay out. The files indicate that rapper Easy-E was also a target, but the FBI was never able to find conclusive proof of the extortion plan or of any JDL involvement in Shakur’s death.
John Lennon was always upfront about his leftist and anti-war beliefs, and it’s no secret that throughout the 1970’s, the Nixon administration and the FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover desperately tried to have Lennon’s U.S. visa revoked so he could be deported. Rumor is that Nixon feared Lennon’s popularity among young voters would ruin his chances at re-election. The whole affair has been written about extensively – not just the surveillance that went on during Lennon’s life, but also the fact that it took the U.S. government 25 years to release the files to the public after Lennon’s death.
Compared to the others, Grace Kelly’s FBI file is downright dull. The movie star turned Princess of Monaco was given a file because of an invitation she sent to Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray and his wife for a gala and banquet honoring an organization for which she was the chairwoman.
The 400 pages of Liberace’s FBI file cover several different events, focusing on the 1974 robbery of hundreds of the pianist’s famous jewels. The FBI also looked into several extortion attempts threatening to expose his sexuality, as well as Liberace’s involvement in illegal horse race betting.
Jimi and Janis
Compared to some of the other rockers on this list, Jimi Hendrix has a relatively short files. Jimi’s concerns a couple arrests for car theft in his younger years
Oddly, much of the Grateful Dead’s file has been redacted. Continuing the FBI’s trend of going after long-haired hippies suspected of corrupting America’s youth, the Grateful Dead was investigated for potential connections to LSD suppliers in the Bay Area during the “Summer of Love.” They never found any substantial proof though, and the investigation never went any further.
Jackson’s files, released after his death, detail the investigations around his child molestation trials in 1993 and 2004. In both cases the FBI provided support to the local jurisdictions bringing the charges. Among the interesting tidbits are the revelation that FBI agents tried to convince Jordan Chandler, who had been the accuser in the 1993 case, to testify in the 2004 trial. Chandler had settled a 1994 civil suit against Jackson for $15 million, and he refused to testify in the new case.
Not surprisingly, Castro’s FBI files are extensive and cover a lot of ground. One interesting fact though, is that the files were released as part of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The act was a response to the interest peaked by Oliver Stone’s film “JFK,” which had recently been released and portrayed the Kennedy assassination as a government conspiracy involving the CIA and other government organizations. Castro denied any Cuban involvement in the assassination, and the released files show that he also believed the murder to be a conspiracy involving at least three people.
The FBI were not fans of Morrison’s particular brand of performance art. His FBI file lists ten arrests, mostly minor offenses like drunk and disorderly. One 1969 report mentions the Doors’ show at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium where Morrison “pulled out all stops in an effort to provoke chaos among a huge crowd of young people.” The report also says that Morrison screamed obscenities, writhed on the ground, exposed himself, and sang only one song during the concert. Another report indicates that a federal warrant was issued for his arrest in Miami on felony charges of lewd and lascivious behavior and several other misdemeanor charges.
In 1989, Brown was serving a six-year sentence for aggravated assault stemming from an incident that ended in Brown leading cops on a car chase through two states. It was at the request of Brown’s wife that the FBI became involved – she accused the local police and courts of violating her husband’s civil rights. She claimed that Brown had been harassed by local police for the 18 months preceding the car chase, and that the drug test which showed he was high on PCP at the time of his arrest was suspect. The FBI did investigate and referred their findings to the local U.S. District Attorney, who declined to prosecute. Brown was released from prison in 1991.