A Brief History of Celebrities and Crypto
Celebrities are some of the most prominent -- albeit not always well-informed -- supporters of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. As early as 2013, celebrity athletes, musicians, actors and actresses have publicized their support of crypto, from Bitcoin to blockchain projects to their own tokens.
Just last week, Madonna and blockchain payment services company Ripple partnered on charity, with the latter matching donations for the Queen of Pop's non-profit Raising Malawi.
While celebrities have the power to spread awareness around Bitcoin and blockchain to mainstream audiences, quite a few celebrity-crypto partnerships have ended badly. Some celebrity-sponsored blockchain projects have turned out to be fraudulent. In other cases, celebrities have even sued crypto projects for trademark infringement. At the same time, segments of the crypto community have argued that celebrity crypto endorsements can have the opposite effect of bolstering the industry.
Here are some of the most memorable celebrities in crypto (in no particular order):
1. Ashton Kutcher
Though Kutcher is best known for his acting roles, the That 70’s Show actor is also a formidable venture capitalist in the tech industry. He’s made a number of high-profile investments, including in Uber, Airbnb, and Robinhood (which added crypto-trading to its stock trading app this year).
The Iowa-born actor is also a big supporter of cryptocurrency and blockchain. A-Grade Investments, a venture capital firm co-founded by Kutcher, invested in Bitcoin payment service BitPay as early as 2013. More recently, Kutcher and his business partner Guy Oseary donated about US$4 million worth of XRP, Ripple’s cryptocurrency, to Ellen DeGeneres’ wildlife fund.
2. Mike Tyson
Boxing star Mike Tyson is also an early supporter of cryptocurrency. In 2015, Tyson launched a chain of “Mike Tyson” Bitcoin ATMs in Las Vegas. A year later, the ex-boxer partnered up with Bitcoin Direct to release a crypto wallet, whose menu background is decorated with Tyson’s tribal face tattoo.
3. Paris Hilton
Heiress and TV star Paris Hilton was a proud supporter of LydianCoin’s initial coin offering last year, but her enthusiasm quickly cooled after the project’s founder, Gurbasksh Chahal, became embroiled in a series of lawsuits involving harassment, discrimination, and violence against women. He has since returned as CEO and Chairman of DaVinci Marketing Cloud (previously Gravity4, the company behind LydianCoin).
Out of all the celebrities who have put their support behind crypto, perhaps none have been as invested as Akon. The American rapper is building a “Crypto City” in Senegal, which will use his eponymous cryptocurrency, Akoin. Akon, who is of Senegalese descent, is also the founder of Akon Lighting Africa, which is dedicated to developing and installing solar power products (ex: street lamps) across the continent.
"I think that blockchain and crypto could be the savior for Africa in many ways because it brings the power back to the people,” Akon said during a panel at the Cannes Lions Festival this year. “Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology offer a more secure currency that enables people in Africa to advance themselves independent of the government.”
5. Imogen Heap
Indie singer-songwriter Imogen Heap was one of the first musicians to put her music on the blockchain. In 2015, Imogen Heap partnered with ConsenSys-backed Ujo Music to release her single “Tiny Human” on their blockchain-powered platform.
She is also running her own blockchain project called Mycelia, which aims to develop tools for artists, like Creative Passport, a digital identity and payments platform for musicians. Imogen Heap regularly attends and even performs at large-scale blockchain conferences.
6. Floyd Mayweather
Like Paris Hilton, ex-boxer Floyd Mayweather also made the mistake of backing the wrong blockchain project. Last year, Mayweather publicized his support of multiple initial coin offerings (ICOs), including that of Hubii Network and Centra. In April, the latter was charged with fraud by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which warned celebrities last year about promoting ICOs on social media platforms.
7. Ghostface Killah
There’s something about rappers and crypto. Last year, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah co-founded a cryptocurrency ATM project called Cream Capital (an acronym for: Crypto Rules Everything Around Me). The project also has its own Cream Network Tokens, which are used to buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies through its ATMs, as well as on its asset management platform. Though the project initially planned to raise an initial coin offering, Cream Capital decided to suspend its token sale “indefinitely” last November.
8. Kanye West
Kanye West isn’t an advocate of blockchain, but his lawsuit against the “Coinye West” token project made rounds in the crypto world (some have even speculated about how much Coinye West tokens would be worth today if Kanye hadn’t shut it down).
According to an interview with Noisey, developers of the parody coin were actually quite hopeful about West's reaction, even offering him 100,000 COINYE tokens at launch if he gave his blessing: “We'd love if Kanye named dropped Coinye. I think he's gonna love that there’s a CURRENCY named in his honor. We don't want to pay him off to name check us, but it'd be sick if he does so.”
Alas, Kanye’s reaction was the opposite -- “With each day that passes, Mr. West's reputation is irreparably harmed by the continued use of the Coinye West, Coinye, and/or COYE [ticker symbol] mark,” stated the musician’s complaint against the parody crypto project. In the end, Kanye won the lawsuit against Coinye West, which was shuttered soon thereafter.