Now he appears in low-budget productions that go straight to video.
An FBI affidavit detailed allegations that Seagal hired private eye Anthony Pellicano to terrorize one of the reporters, a freelancer working for the Los Angeles Times.
The investigation soon changed course, focusing on allegations that Pellicano spied on celebrities and other members of the Hollywood elite. The onetime detective-to-the-stars is in federal prison, awaiting trial on wire-tapping and other charges.
FOR THE RECORD:
Steven Seagal: An article in the Aug. 17 Section A about actor Steven Seagal stated that journalist Anita Busch was a freelance reporter for The Times when her car was vandalized in 2002 in an apparent attempt to frighten her off a story about Seagal. At the time, Busch was working for the paper under contract, and the byline accompanying her articles identified her as a Times staff writer.
Seagal and the alleged plot to intimidate journalists became a footnote. The actor was never charged, and federal authorities have privately told reporters they have no persuasive evidence against him. But the FBI has never publicly cleared him.
Seagal said the publicity has been devastating to his career. He wants an apology.
"False FBI accusations fueled thousands of articles saying that I terrorize journalists and associate with the Mafia," Seagal, 56, said recently in his first public comments on the case. "These kinds of inflammatory allegations scare studio heads and independent producers -- and kill careers."
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, said she could not comment on Seagal's demand for an apology or on questions about the case. They "relate to an ongoing investigation which we are not at liberty to discuss," she said.
Seagal was past his prime earning years even before the Pellicano scandal broke in 2002. His career peaked in the 1990s with such blockbusters as "Under Siege." His last hit, "Exit Wounds," was released in 2001. Since then, he has made a dozen films that generated an estimated $25 million in total DVD sales, a fraction of what his movies used to take in.
"This controversy made the studios very nervous," said longtime Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman. "Let's be honest: Steven Seagal was no Harrison Ford when this happened. But these accusations certainly hastened his decline."
Seagal, sipping tea in his Mandeville Canyon home, in a dining room filled with Japanese art, said the premise of the allegations was preposterous.
Seagal said he and Pellicano have not been on speaking terms since the early 1990s. The detective worked on a legal matter for the actor, and Seagal was dissatisfied with both his performance and his fee, according to people familiar with the dispute.
Seagal said the idea that he would hire Pellicano to intimidate a reporter was "laughable."
The Pellicano investigation dates to June 20, 2002, when reporter Anita M. Busch, then working on contract for The Times, awoke to find a dead fish and a red rose on the punctured windshield of her car below a note that read: "Stop!"
Busch told the FBI she suspected that the threat stemmed from research she was doing on Seagal and his former producing partner, Julius R. Nasso. Earlier that year, Nasso and New York mob figures were indicted on charges of plotting to extort money from Seagal.
An FBI informant in Los Angeles claimed to have information about the threat against Busch. He identified the perpetrator as Alexander Proctor, a career criminal with a string of drug convictions. The informant secretly recorded a series of conversations with Proctor for the FBI.