This week, ABC and the Academy of Motion Pictures had tapped a new celebrity Oscars host who seemed to have the Midas touch with brands—Kevin Hart—to help reverse the ceremony’s ratings spiral. “I will be sure to make this years Oscars a special one,” Hart said on Tuesday night. “Now it’s time to rise to the occasion.”
Instead, in a rare marketing misfire for the comedian, Hart stepped down as Oscars host late Thursday night—just two days after he got the job—after a growing controversy over old homophobic tweets of his that had resurfaced this week.
“I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscar’s….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past,” Hart tweeted last night.
He added, “I’m sorry that I hurt people. …My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart.”
Soon after he was announced as host, several old anti-gay tweets from Hart began to make the rounds on social media.
Among the controversial tweets, Hart wrote in 2011, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.'” A year earlier, he wrote that a person’s pro-life pic looks “like a gay bill board for AIDS.”
That led to a heated debate over whether the Oscars should fire Hart as host.
Earlier Thursday night, Hart had posted an Instagram video, in which he said the Academy told him he either had to apologize for his old tweets, or step down as Oscars host. But “I passed” on an apology, he said. “I’ve addressed this several times.”
That had come after an earlier Instagram video Hart had posted Thursday that had seemed to make the situation worse. Both times, Hart avoiding making a straightforward apology—ironically, like the very one he gave when finally announcing his exit—that might have quelled the controversy.
It was a surprising misstep for Hart, who has excelled at branding and marketing in a way that few of his Hollywood peers have.
“I have the talent to make other people feel very comfortable in any environment that I’m in,” he explained to Adweek in September. “I’m not threatening, and that’s how I’m able to put myself in front of all audiences, all ages. It doesn’t matter your race, your size, ethnicity, age. I’m comfortable in all of those environments because of the person that I am, which allows me to build my brand even more. That’s the talent of being a likable personality.”
Hart has become a proven marketing and business guru, giving huge social bumps to brand partners like Tommy John, Lyft and Old Spice.
“I bust my ass for a reason,” he said in September. “I’m not doing it to lose; I’m doing it to win big.”
This time, however, he lost big. And the Academy and ABC are back to square one as they search for someone to host the 91st Academy Awards, set for Sunday, Feb. 24.