From antiquity to today, people have a hidden desire for fame, power, and glory. We find this reflected in our admiration towards people who stand out and excel in a certain field of activity.
This attention and admiration are not wrong if the individual has stood for a noble cause. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Since these icons and beloved figures are a projection of our own desire for admiration, we can tend to follow such people and idolize all their deeds. In some respects, we tend to treat them like “gods” although they remain nothing more than human beings. As everyone else, even those we admire have both strengths and weaknesses.
As one of the most loved and admired figures of all times – Jesus Christ – used to say (paraphrased), “Nobody’s perfect.” The 25 Unpleasant Facts About History’s Best People that follow will definitely convince you of this!
Alexander the Great murdered his best friend
We literally need a whole list (if not book) to mention this legendary Greek king’s accomplishments. He is mainly remembered for being undefeated in battle and is possibly the most successful military commander that history has ever witnessed.
He’s also responsible for the spread of Greek culture worldwide and the birth of the so-called ”Hellenistic civilization,” aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th-century AD.
However, there are some not-so-nice things to say about the greatest general of all time. Most remarkably, he killed his best friend, Cleitus, while extremely drunk. Truth be told, Cleitus kept pushing and insulting the great conqueror but he probably didn’t expect that this would be the last thing he would do during his lifetime.
For the record, other than being his close friend, Cleitus had also saved Alexander’s life in battle.
Chuck Berry made a few bad decisions
Chuck Berry was one of the most significant early rockers. Actually, he was the first artist to exhibit many of the traits that would come to define rock n’ roll.
First, he featured his own electric guitar prominently in his music, building blocks this way for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and many more.
He wasn’t as good of a person in his everyday life though. See, the famous musician had already been convicted of armed robbery by the time he graduated from high school.
Later in life, he had many more troubles with the law, including one in which he took a 14-year-old girl across state lines in 1962, and one in 1979 for tax evasion.
Charlie Chaplin dated under-aged girls
Famous for his character “The Tramp,” the sweet little man with a bowler hat, mustache, and cane, Charlie Chaplin was an iconic figure of the silent-film era. For that matter, he elevated the film industry in a way few could have ever imagined.
Can you imagine how bad his legacy would have tarnished if Chaplin lived and worked in today’s society?
John Lennon mocked disabled people (among other things)
John Lennon’s status as a legend of music is set in stone. However, The Beatles icon had a much darker side. Love or hate it, the fact is that John Lennon wasn’t the “saint” that media portrayed him to be after his death.
Archive footage revealed in 2015 from Channel 4’s show It Was Alright In The 1960s showed the legendary singer mocking disabled people.
John Lennon’s attitude towards hitting women isn’t something he shied away from either. In fact, he openly admitted it during a 1980 interview with Playboy while insisting his earlier violence motivated his later calls for peace and love.
Oprah Winfrey's overlooked hate speech
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most beloved women in American history. Her influence is literally out of this world.
She has become a feminist and anti-racist symbol by American media, which loves and worships her for her efforts to bring people of all cultures, races, and religions together.
However, when she’s discussing racism, she doesn’t appear to be all that peaceful or colorblind. During an interview, Oprah pretty much said that all old white people need to die for the world to become a better place because, according to her, all older white people are racist.
Walt Disney wasn't the best boss out there
Walt Disney is one of these “immortal” figures that have inspired, inspire, and will continue to inspire millions of people worldwide with his creations.
He liked to express his wonders of imagination and invention. When he made Mickey Mouse, he became a hero to others. Undoubtedly, he was a very creative person. When Disney jumpstarted his career, it was the animation that he and a team of artists came up with that really helped with their success in the industry.
But Mr. Disney also had another side. It seems that Walt Disney refused to hire women. He apparently replied to an aspiring female animator in a letter saying he wouldn’t hire her because he didn’t believe women should do that sort of job.
Further, he frequently fired his animators. At one point, his animators went on strike because of pay disparities. Many of them never got the checks they thought they deserved. He cycled through many staff members so frequently that a bunch of them came together to start a rival company.
John F. Kennedy was pretty much a hypocrite
JFK is another figure the media has worshiped to a ridiculous extent. However, it seems like the former president was only human, with some unhealthy and bad habits.
Before enacting the Cuban trade embargo in 1962, he made sure to secure for himself 1,200 Cuban cigars. Not exactly the selfless American icon that history books and modern media have taught us.
The rebellious Emmeline Pankhurst died an unabashed imperialist
Emmeline Pankhurst was a pivotal figure in the fight for women’s right to vote. Thanks to the militant tactics of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the organization she founded in 1903 and led until 1918, British women won their right to vote roughly a century ago.
Without Pankhurst’s courageous, committed and radical leadership, none of this would have happened – not back then anyway.
Partly thanks to her fear of communism, Pankhurst became surprisingly conservative in later life. An unabashed imperialist, she was prone to zealous defenses of the British Empire, something that casts an unpleasant shadow over her popular image as a progressive and radical figure of the early 20th century.
Winston Churchill caused Indians to starve
Undoubtedly the most famous British prime minister in history, Churchill is best remembered for successfully leading Britain through World War II. He was famous for his inspiring speeches, and for his refusal to give in, even when things were going badly.
What most don’t know, however, is that the extra supplies he used for the British people and military during World War II came from India. To make it simpler to understand, Churchill intentionally starved India, to the point he sparked the devastating Bengal famine of 1943. This famine led to the loss of three million Indian lives, mainly kids.
Muhammad Ali was a separatist
Ali is another modern icon that has been worshiped by Western media as an anti-racist rebel when in reality many of his beliefs were racist and misogynistic.
Other than being unfaithful and considering women inferior human beings, Muhammad Ali called fellow African-American boxer Joe Frazier ugly, an “Uncle Tom,” and a gorilla.
During a racist delirium he had on live TV, Ali openly admitted that interracial relationships and marriages are pretty much a mistake and a sin against God and Mother Nature.
Somehow, American media still refers to Ali as an anti-racist hero.
Karl Marx didn't attend his father's funeral
Nelson Mandela was not a family man
Nelson Mandela led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president. He became an international emblem of dignity and forbearance.
Despite being a great man on the world stage, he wasn’t a good father or husband in his home life. To get a better idea, Mandela didn’t even attend the birth of his daughters.
To put it simply, Mandela was not a family man. Could he have been? Taking into account all his troubles with the racist South African laws of his time and his imprisonment, the answer is, probably not.
Napoleon was a cheater
Napoleon Bonaparte was a very intelligent general, possibly the most intelligent to ever live. Like most dominant conquerors of history, Napoleon didn’t like to lose … not even when he was playing games such as cards.
See, the keen instinct he developed for finding an enemy’s weak points and exploiting every advantage was of little use during his exile on Elba. There, he turned that instinct toward chronic cheating at card games he played with his companions.
One way or another, Napoleon always found a way to win. Even when he was really losing.
Enid Blyton was a horrible wife and mother
Way before J. K. Rowling, there was Enid Mary Blyton. An English children’s writer whose books have been among the world’s best-sellers since the 1930s, selling more than 600 million copies.
Blyton’s books are still enormously popular and have been translated into 90 languages. Some of her most famous books include The Famous Five and The Secret Seven.
The millions of children and adults who know her through her work may love her, but her own daughter wasn’t even fond of her. She described her as arrogant, insecure, pretentious and without a “trace of maternal instinct.”
We also learn that Blyton had an affair while married to her first husband, and he filed for divorce. She wouldn’t allow him visitation rights with their children after that while her various boyfriends had everyday access to them.
Roald Dahl's possible antisemitism
In case his name doesn’t ring any bells for you, Roald Dahl authored the legendary children’s book all of us know and love, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
During a 1983 interview, Dahl pretty much justified Hitler’s hate over the Jews, suggesting that there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity. Thank God he didn’t include any such beliefs in his wonderful books.
Isaac Newton was a massive jerk
Isaac Newton is well known for his discoveries in optics (white light composition) and mathematics (calculus). However, it is his formulation of the three laws of motion—the basic principles of modern physics—for which the whole world is grateful to him.
Despite his greatness as a scientist, Isaac Newton was ruthless, calculating, cunning, and quick-tempered! To make a long story short, the man had no real friends and never got married simply because he treated everyone like dirt.
Mother Teresa may not be as "holy" as portrayed
Mother Teresa may have become a saint from the Catholic Church, but the work of the most famous Catholic nun in history has received mixed reactions from prominent people, governments, and organizations.
Her practices and those of the Missionaries of Charity, the order which she founded, were subject to numerous controversies. These include objections to the quality of medical care they provided, suggestions that some deathbed baptisms constituted forced conversion, and alleged links to colonialism and racism.
Mother Teresa has also received extensive media coverage. Some critics suggest that the Church used her image to promote Catholicism and divert the public’s attention from sexual abuse cases.
Mahatma Gandhi abandoned his father's deathbed to have sex
Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against the British. Also, in South Africa, he advocated for the civil rights of Indians.
Born in Porbandar, India, Gandhi studied law and organized boycotts against British institutions in peaceful forms of civil disobedience.
What most people don’t know about Gandhi the peacemaker is that he abandoned his own father’s deathbed to have sex with his wife. His father died during his son’s absence, a fact that haunted Gandhi the rest of his life.
Sigmund Freud was a hater
Freud’s contributions to psychiatry abound, and a good argument could be made for him to be first on this list of influential thinkers. The “father of psychoanalysis,” Freud, championed the idea that much of mental life exists at a level that is outside of our awareness, and that these unconscious forces yield great influence on human conduct.
The ideas of the famous Jewish psychiatrist permeated American psychiatry throughout much of the 20th century, and Freud is responsible for opening up psychiatry to outpatient practice.
However, he despised all things American. “America is a mistake,” Freud stated in an interview once and continued, “a gigantic mistake it is true, but none the less a mistake.” Sorry to all his fans, but your man was a hater and a racist.
Johnny Cash was a "firestarter"
Johnny Cash, much like Elvis and the Beatles, revolutionized music. His western, folk, and blues genres were seen by Americans as the epitome of American music at the time.
Not only did the music sound catchy and danceable, but it really catered to the American style of music at the time. He was also very creative in his songwriting.
What we learned after his death, however, is that a drunk and totally wasted Cash accidentally ignited an infamous 1965 wildfire at Los Padres National Forest. The blaze ended up killing 49 of the park’s 53 endangered California condor vultures.
Frank Sinatra's mafia ties
Frank Sinatra was an American singer, actor, and producer. He’s one of the most popular and influential musical artists ever, with many music experts describing him as the greatest American singer of the 20th century.
Other than his great vocal skills and big hits, Mr. Sinatra is also notorious for his connections with the mafia and for being a very jealous husband. During one argument with his then-wife and famous actress Ava Gardner, he supposedly fired a gun into a hotel room mattress to threaten her.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a certified plagiarist (among other things)
Martin Luther King Jr. is considered the face of the civil rights movement and one of the most respected men in contemporary (American) history. However, in his personal life, he wasn’t all that great.
King allegedly plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis on systemic theology, while many of his famous speeches have been proved to be the result of plagiarized content as well.
However, the most eye-opening part of Dr. King’s personal life were his numerous extramarital affairs, which led to Lyndon B. Johnson calling him a “hypocritical preacher.”
Albert Einstein's "genius" was overrated
Although the famous scientist didn’t do something evil or wrong, the truth is that his genius has been ridiculously exaggerated by modern media.
To begin with, Albert Einstein’s failures, including the first seven proofs of E=mc2, and his early understanding of clock synchronization, appear to be far more than his “correct” theories.
There’s no doubt that, for his time, he was one of the greatest geniuses in physics. However, if he were magically transported to today’s physics environment, he would only be decent.
In other words, Einstein was a big fish in a small pond, but in the big ocean of physicists that we have today, there are undoubtedly bigger fish.
Abraham Lincoln didn't see black people as true Americans
There’s no doubt that Abraham Lincoln is one of the most influential and important Americans to ever live. For all the good he did for this country, though, he definitely wasn’t perfect.
As history has rightfully taught us, Lincoln often expressed moral opposition to slavery in public and private. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” he stated in a now-famous quote. He eventually became the president that abolished slavery.
Soon after that, however, he contemplated sending freed slaves back to Africa. In other words, Lincoln may have been against slavery but at the same time, he didn’t really see black people as an intrinsic part of American society.
Aristotle didn't think highly of women
The Greek philosopher Aristotle made significant and lasting contributions to nearly every aspect of human knowledge; from logic to biology to ethics and aesthetics.
In Arabic philosophy, he was known simply as “The First Teacher” while in the west he was considered “The Philosopher.” According to a seven-year study conducted by MIT University Media Lab, Aristotle was found to be the most influential human being to ever live, even ahead of religious figures such as Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha.
For all his greatness and contributions to the world, Aristotle had his flaws too. To be more specific, he saw women as subject to men (but considered them to be higher than slaves). He thought that a good woman should raise the kids, be a good housewife, and lack any kind of social authority. He suggested that the husband should exert political rule over the wife.
I am not sure if modern feminists would like to be around Aristotle.