Mel Gibson's ''''The Passion of the Christ'''' and Madonna's ''''Sex'''' book caused an outrage among our readers

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand (angry) words.

Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ Feb. 20, 2004

Gibson’s public anti-Semitic rant had not yet occurred when EW hit stands with this religious rendering pegged to his directorial effort The Passion of the Christ. The illustration caused a hue and cry among many readers, including Michael Prywes, who called it ”an equal-opportunity offender to Christians and Jews.” Explains artist Matt Mahurin, who produced the portrait: ”Directors do have god complexes, and it was appropriate that he was making this movie. Mel was very passionate about it, and I used the metaphor of the film as a strand of thorns to make it cinematic.”

The Dixie Chicks May 2, 2003

”Can we put ‘Saddam’s Sluts’ on their bodies? Is it too provocative?” photographer James White remembers thinking when frontwoman Natalie Maines suggested the trio get painted with the insults they’d heard after Maines said she was ”ashamed” of George W. Bush. EW received 526 letters about the cover — 199 pro, 327 against — calling it everything from ”gutsy” to an ”embarrassment.”

Madonna, Sex book Nov. 6, 1992

Hundreds of people wrote in criticizing the singer’s nude image — a reprint from her notorious Sex book — as unfit for a family magazine. The outcry earned a published apology from our editorial team — though we didn’t atone for Madge’s fashion choices. ”Madonna should be ashamed of herself,” scolded reader Gary Denis. ”Everyone knows one shouldn’t carry a black purse while wearing white shoes.”

Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt Jan. 31, 1997

”I chose a comical route so that I would not be making [Larry Flynt] heroic,” says photographer Firooz Zahedi about the image that reader Shelley Young likened to ”something that should be on the cover of Hustler.” Recalls Zahedi, ”The American-flag bikini and fingernails were my idea. Woody chose the jacket and shirt.”

Arsenio Hall, The Arsenio Hall Show April 17, 1992

Hall’s crude threat toward soon-to-be Tonight Show host Jay Leno had readers crying foul, and the issue even inspired a parody on The Larry Sanders Show. Ironically, the quote almost didn’t happen: ”It was the last thing he said in the interview,” recalls EW columnist Mark Harris, who wrote the story. ”He said, ‘Don’t you want to ask me something about Jay Leno?’ And out it came.”