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GTA Characters That Caused Real-Life Controversies

The "Grand Theft Auto" franchise is no stranger to controversy. Ever since its inception, the series has drawn criticism for its intense violence and graphic language, in addition to an abundance of other forms of adult content. With "Grand Theft Auto 6" on the way, the series' satirical take on organized crime is sure to invite even more conversations and condemnation from concerned parents and would-be censors. However, gameplay and story aren't the only factors that have gotten the "GTA" series in trouble over the years; sometimes, the very existence of a particular character has been enough to draw the ire of outside parties.


Though "GTA" games are populated with some of the most over-the-top ridiculous characters in gaming history (including some that haven't aged particularly well), a few of Rockstar's creations have hit a little too close to home for people in the real world. And when someone feels like their image is being used without permission in a wildly profitable video game, it can lead to a bitter lawsuit. Here are the most prominent examples of "Grand Theft Auto" characters that resulted in real-life legal cases.

Lindsey Lohan sues over Lacey Jonas

The feud between Rockstar Games and Lindsay Lohan has become fairly legendary at this point, and it all sprang from an infamous character named Lacey Jonas. Voiced by Bridget Burke, the deceptively bubbly Lacey Jonas is a frequent target of the paparazzi, her once-promising career having been derailed by a series of scandals and an eating disorder. At one point in the game, Lacey mentions being a singer and actress with a filmography full of rom-coms. She also gets noticeably upset if the player character doesn't immediately recognize her. Unfortunately for Rockstar Games, the star of "Mean Girls" and "I Know Who Killed Me" recognized herself in Lacey Jonas.


Lohan filed multiple complaints against the developers of "GTA 5," arguing that Jonas not only resembled her physically, but had a similar voice and mannerisms. One of Lohan's points of comparison was the fact that Jonas was frequently depicted flashing a peace sign in promo material, which Lohan felt was a pose closely associated with her own brand. Judges working for New York's Court of Appeals disagreed, finding Jonas to be a generic parody of Hollywood starlets and not close enough to Lohan to justify litigation. Judge Eugene Fahey concluded that the game's "artistic renderings are indistinct, satirical representations of the style, look and persona of a modern, beach-going young woman... that is not recognisable as plaintiff." Lohan's claims that her privacy had been invaded by Rockstar's game were subsequently thrown out.


Florida Joker isn't laughing at GTA 6

Florida-based tattoo model Lawrence Sullivan gained notoriety on the internet back in 2017 when he was arrested and a video of his court hearing was uploaded to the internet. His numerous facial tattoos and dyed hair earned Sullivan the nicknames "Florida Joker" and "Miami Joker," and he's continued to cultivate an online following in the ensuing years. Because of this, the presence of a visually similar character in the first "GTA 6" trailer raised eyebrows on the internet, including Sullivan's own (which are also tattooed).


With Vice City being a parody of real-world Miami, the "GTA 6" trailer is unsurprisingly full of references to real-life Florida Man incidents, but Sullivan has expressed unique displeasure at the prospect of being parodied in Rockstar's next game. Since the trailer premiered in December 2023, Sullivan has uploaded multiple videos calling Rockstar out and demanding financial restitution. His asking price jumped from two million to five million dollars in just under a month, but Rockstar has not responded to the Florida Joker's demands. That hasn't stopped other folks connected to the company from responding to the controversy, however.

Though a number of fans online have embraced Florida Joker's videos and encouraged him to secure that bag, both "GTA 5" actor Ned Luke and "Red Dead Redemption 2" star Roger Clark have made light of Sullivan's complaints. In a snarky video response, Clark quipped, "[Rockstar knows] exactly what they can and can't get away with. If I were you, I would use the notoriety that they just threw your way to my advantage ... You ain't getting a job in Home Depot with that face."


#stitch with @L no disrespect but for real

♬ original sound – Roger Clark

Tom Goldberg hits too close for Jack Thompson

In "Grand Theft Auto 4," protagonist Niko Bellic is tasked with hunting down Tom Goldberg, a lawyer who is using his connections to commit terrible crimes in secret. Goldberg comes into possession of some photos that could be used against corrupt police commissioner Francis McReary, which leads to Niko pretending to look for a job at Goldberg's firm. This ruse gets Niko close enough to steal the blackmail material and assassinate Goldberg before he can build a case. It's a pretty standard "GTA" mission, but it ended up drawing the ire of former attorney and anti-"GTA" activist Jack Thompson.


Thompson may sound familiar to gamers for his crusade against violence in video games, with "Grand Theft Auto" as a frequent focus. Before he was disbarred, Thompson represented multiple clients seeking damages from Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, with a common thread being that they held violent video games responsible for influencing young minds to commit horrible crimes. Thompson also attempted to halt the release of multiple Rockstar titles, including "GTA 4." He was none too pleased to discover that, shortly before being killed in "GTA 4," Tom Goldberg says a phrase associated with Thompson himself: "Guns don't kill people, video games do." 

Thompson briefly threatened to pursue further legal action against the developer unless Rockstar removed the elements of the game that he felt were directed at him. Nearly two decades later, the offending missions and Goldberg remain in the game, and Thompson has seemingly dropped this particular case.


Karen Gravano feels ripped off by Antonia Bottino

Karen Gravano is the daughter of famous mobster Salvatore Gravano, a familial connection that led to her being one of the stars of the long-running reality series "Mob Wives" in its first three seasons. Among "Grand Theft Auto" circles, Karen Gravano has also become famous for suing Rockstar Games to the tune of $40 million, claiming that the developer based "GTA 5" character Antonia Bottino off of her life story. The character in the game is also the daughter of an infamous mob boss who has notably forbade his kin from appearing in a reality show, so it makes sense that Gravano saw some similarities between the character and her own experience.


In reply, Rockstar Games noted that Antonia Bottino looks a bit different from Karen Gravano, also arguing, "the major event befalling "Bottino" – being kidnapped and nearly buried alive – undisputedly is not an element of Ms. Gravano's life." Despite Gravano's claims that the game infringed upon her personal history and a planned memoir, the satirical bent to Rockstar's storyline and the differences from her real-life story led to the case being tossed out.