[- Alkan, Charles -]The French composer Charles Alkan (1813-1888) was one of the great pianists of his day. Yet he would perform only on rare occasions, stating that he wished to spend all his spare time reading the Jewish scriptures, especially the Torah. Alkan passed many years absorbed in the study of his beloved religious works until one day a massive volume of the Torah fell off a shelf, hit him on the head, fractured his skull, and killed him.
[- Bates, Roy -]In 1966 a former British major named Roy Bates moved, with his wife and son, to a 10 by 25 foot cement caisson built 7 miles off the British coast during World War II. Bates named the platform "Sealand," declared it to be an independent country, crowned himself king and his wife queen, issued postage stamps, designed passports, and even created a Sealand dollar. Today Sealand is the world's smallest country and King Roy still reigns. Since they are beyond the 3 mile limit, Bates and his kingdom are outside the jurisdiction of any other country.
[- Benitez, Manuel -]Before Manuel Benitez, the famous Spanish bullfighter, retired from the ring in 1972, he was earning more than $3 million a year.
[- Beethoven -]Beethoven's music teacher once said of him, "As a composer, he is hopeless."
[- Bly, Arnold -]Arnold Bly was able to inscribe the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice and to write legibly on a strand of human hair. Bly gave demonstrations of his remarkable lettering ability at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, and several of his inscribed grains of rice still survive.
[- Eric Clapton -]Musician Eric Clapton grew up thinking his mum was his sister.
[- Congreve, Henrietta -]When William Congreve, the great English playwright, died 1792, he left his worldly goods to his eccentric and devote mistress, Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough. Henrietta became so deranged with grief at the death of her paramour that she ordered a death mask made of Congreve's face, attached it to a life-size dummy, and spent the rest of her life treating the mannequin as if it were alive. Visitors were obliged to bow to the dummy, exchange pleasantries with it, and pretend that it was really Congreve himself. Every morning Henrietta dress the dummy, and every night she undressed it and laid it next to her in bed. She held long conversations with it, had her servants treat it like a living lord, called doctors to examine when it became "ill" and ordered that it be buried in her coffin with her when she died.
[- Disney, Walt -]A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas."
[- Edison, Thomas -]When Thomas Edison was a youngster, his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. He was counseled to go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality.
[- Einstein, Albert -]-Einstein was 4 years old before he could speak. -Einstein tutored a girl in math for some homemade cookies.
[- Famous -]The famous British playwright Noel Coward, the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, the Irish playwright Sean O'Gasey, the British novelist Charles Dickens, and the American humorist Mark Twain never Graduated from grade school.
[- Famous -]King Henry III of France, Louis XIV of France, and Napoleon suffered from Ailurophobia... commonly known as fear of cats.
[- Famous -]Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, John Marshall, and Stephen A. Douglas, four of the most famous lawyers the United States has ever produced, never went to law school.
[- Franklin, Benjamin -]Benjamin Franklin is credited with originating the following famous proverbs, which appeared in the 1758 edition of his Poor Richard's Almanac:
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
- God helps those who help themselves.
[- Jagger Mick -]Singer Mick Jagger from the band The Rolling Stones was once a porter at a mental hospital.
[- Jones, John Paul -]John Paul Jones (1747-1792), famous naval hero of the American Revolution, was a bastard by birth, an actor by trade, lived under an assumed name most of his life, practiced piracy, was wanted for two murders, was tried for the rape of a young girl, and died penniless. Born out of wedlock in Scotland and originally named John Paul, he became an actor with a stock company in Jamaica at the age of eleven, playing a role in Steele's Conscious Lovers.. He later shipped out as a sailor on a West Indies slave ship, where he flogged one shipmate to death and killed another (many say in self-defense) on the island of Tobago. Fleeing to America, he assumed the name Jones to avoid detection and eventually distinguished himself during the American Revolution. After the war, Jones became a mercenary sailor, at various times consorting with pirates and selling slaves. Later, when sailing under the Russian flag, he was accused in St.Petersburg of assaulting a young girl and only after a lengthy trial was he acquitted. The latter part of Jones's life was lived more or less in embittered anonymity, and he died forgotten in France, buried in an unmarked grave in St. Louis Cemetery. It was not until a century later, through the efforts of an American ambassador named Horace Porter, that his remains were exhumed, brought back to the United States, and buried in a tomb at Annapolis which today is a national shrine.
[- Kirilow -]A peasant named Kirilow was presented to the empress of Russia in 1853 for the following reason. He had been married twice. His first wife bore fifty seven children, including four sets of quadruplets, seven sets of triplets, and two sets of twins. His second wife gave birth to fifteen children-six sets of twins and one set of triplets. At the time of his presentation to the empress, all seventy two of Kirilow's children were still alive.
[- Mezzofanti, Joseph Caspar -]Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti, an Italian priest born in 1774, could learn a foreign language in a single day. Once called on to hear the confessions of two foreign criminals condemned to die the following morning, Mezzofanti learned their language in one night and conversed with them at sunrise before their execution. At his death Mezzofanti was fluent in thirty nine languages (including Chinese, Coptic, Chaldean, Gujarati, Persian, Turkish, Russian, all the Romance languages, Hindi, Hebrew, Old English, Suriac, Arabic, Greek, Geez, Algonquin, and Armenian), was able to speak eleven more languages moderately well (including Welsh, Serbian, Kurdish, Bulgarian and Angolese), and could understand, though not speak, twenty others, including some of the most obscure tongues known to man: Tibetan, Old Icelandic, Lappish, and Chippewa.
[- Issac Newton -]Issac Newton did poorly in grade school and was considered "unpromising."
[- Nijinsky, Vaslav -]Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950), the famous Russian ballet dancer, was able to cross and uncross his legs ten times during a single leap, an elevation known in ballet as an entrechat dix. No other dancer has ever been able to duplicate this feat.
[- Parr, Thomas -]Thomas Parr, known as "Old Parr," an English servant born in 1483, lived 152 years. He did not marry until he was eighty years old, and his first wife lived thirty two years after the couple was wed. Eight years after his wife's death, Parr married again. At the age of 130 he still worked diligently on his master's farm, plowing the fields and pounding the grain. By the time he was 150, his age and his great intelligence attracted the attention of King Charles I, who sent for him. Perhaps because of the excitement of the journey to London and the attendant celebrations (he was mobbed by admirers), Parr took sick and died at the age of 152 years and 9 months, having lived under nine kings of England, The famous physician William Harvey examined his body and found all his internal organs to be in a perfect state. No apparent cause of death could be determined, and it was assumed that Old Parr had simply died of overexposure. A monument to him was erected at Westminster Abbey.
[- Pereira, Javier -]The longest recorded life span in modern times, was that of Javier Pereira, a Zenu Indian from Colombia Pereira died in 1955 in his hometown of Monteria at the age of 166. His age was attested to by friends, municipal records and Pereira himself, who could remember with great clarity the battle of Cartagena (fought in 1815), various Indian massacres and famous famine. Toward the end of his life a bemused Pereira was brought to New York, where he was examined by a coterie of medical experts. Though they found him remarkably well preserved, with the blood pressure of a young man. arteries intact, a good heart, and a clear mind, they conceded that he was indeed a very, very old man, "more than 150 years old." When quizzed on his formula for longevity, Pereira advised, "Don't worry, drink lots of coffee, and smoke a good cigar."
[- Pierce, Jane -]Jane Pierce, the wife of President Franklin Pierce, was a recluse for more than half her husband's term in office (1853-1857). She did not even attend her husband's inaugural ball. Her seclusion began scarcely two months before Pierce's swearing in ceremony, when she saw her eleven year old son Benjamin die in a railroad accident. She withdrew to her White House bedroom for the next several years and almost never appeared in public. Newspapers referred to the melancholy first lady as "the shadow in the White House." Though she eventually began venturing out, Mrs. Pierce remained in mourning and wore black for the rest of her lite.
[- Revere, Paul -]Paul Revere, famous American patriot, was once court martialed for cowardice. Revere was in command of a garrison of soldiers at Castle William, near Boston, from the beginning of the Revolutionary War until 1779. In the last year of his command he participated in the so-called Penobscot Expedition, an attempted invasion of a British stronghold in Maine. The invasion failed miserably, Massachusetts lost a considerable number of ships in the effort, and Revere was accused of cowardice and insubordination. Though his court martial was short and he was cleared on all counts, the famous silversmith left the military in some disrepute and was never able to clear his name completely of the scandal.
[- Rothstein, Arnold -]Arnold Rothstein, the famous American gambler, never went out without $100,000 cash in his wallet. Because of this idiosyncrasy, and his willingness to take enormous risks (he once bet $250,000 on the turn of a card), he was known among gamblers as "The Big Bankroll."
[- Shoichi, Yokoi -]In 1972 a Japanese Soldier named Yokoi Shoichi was discovered hiding deep in the jungles of Guam, living on a diet of rats, snails, frogs, insects, and wild nuts. He had been there for twenty-seven years, since the end of World War II, and was unwilling to give himself up because of "shame and dishonor." Finally, by being persuaded to "surrender," Shoichi was returned to civilization in Japan, where doctors declared him to be in normal health, though slightly anemic. An exhibition of his jungle clothes and artifacts at a Tokyo department store drew more than 350,000 curious visitors. After some time in civilization Shoichi met a forty four year old widow. The two fell in love, married, and set out on a honeymoon back to Guam!
[- Strength -]Czar Alexander III of Russia, the Duke of Aquitaine, Godfrey of Bouillon the Crusader, and Leonardo da Vinci were all famous in their time for having uncommon physical Strength. Leonardo was said to be able to lift great weights and to throw a metal ball farther than any of his contemporaries.
[- Turner, Joseph M. W. -]Joseph M. W. Turner (1775-1851) one of the greatest and most successful of all English painters, spent the latter part of his life as a recluse, living in seclusion under the assumed name of Booth. Although Turner was loved and respected throughout Europe, he lived alone amid mounds of rubbish, filth, and discarded canvases, rarely changing his clothes (his landlady had to bathe and dress him), and hoarding the vast fortune he had amassed.
[- Vergoose, Elizabeth -]According to some scholars, "Mother Goose" was an actual person. Her name was Elizabeth Vergoose, and she is believed to have collected and perhaps written some of the most famous English nursery rhymes. Her son in law, a printer named Thomas Fleet, is often credited with publishing the first book of her rhymes in Boston in 1719. Unfortunately, no copies of this book exist to prove the case.
[- Walker, Jimmy -]After Jimmy Walker, mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932, was asked to leave office because of "accounting problems," he went on to become an active member of the show business world. Walker wrote several hit tunes, one of which he performed with George Jessel in Madison Square Garden in 1938. He was elected president of the National Association of Performing Arts and eventually became head of Majestic Records.
[- Wenceslas, Duke -]The Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" is based on an actual historical personage. Wenceslas was not a king, however, but a tenth century duke who later became the patron saint of Czechoslovakia. Duke Wenceslas was famous for his piety and compassion, and is reputed to have gone to the woods during the severe Bohemian winters and chopped wood for widows, poor people, and orphans.
[- Willkie, Wendell Lewis -]Wendell Lewis Willkie, Republican candidate for president in 1940, was originally named Lewis Wendell Willkie. According to Willkie, when he enlisted in the army during World War I, the army mistakenly reversed the sequence of his first and second names, and try as he might, he could not get them to change it back. Finally Willkie accepted the alteration and was known as Wendell Willkie from then on.
[- Wright, Orville & Wilbur -]Orville Wright, who with his brother Wilbur invented the airplane, was himself badly injured in an airplane crash. The same accident also took the life of the first person ever to die in an airplane. On September 17, 1908, Wright and Lt.Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Signal Corps took off on a flight from Fort Meyer, Virginia. Midway through the trip the propeller snapped, and the plane plummeted 150 feet to the ground. Wright was hospitalized and Selfridge was killed.
[- Wyat, Sir Henry -]Sir Henry Wyat, a noble at the court of Richard III (1452-1485), was sent to the Tower of London by the monarch for political crimes, and was condemned to die of starvation. Sir Henry's pet cat, however, followed him to the Tower and every day crept down through the chimney and brought him a freshly killed pigeon. In this way Wyat was kept alive for months. The king, hearing of the miracle, relented and ordered Wyat released.