Great over-achievers who weren't monsters
December 10, 2017 10:11 PM   Subscribe

Are there any examples of famous artists, scientists, leaders in history who weren't also dicks?
posted by storybored to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
According to the reviews and articles that came out when he won, the latest literature Nobel Prize laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro, is an exceptionally nice guy.
posted by ipsative at 10:27 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Caroline Herschel, astronomer and first woman scientist to earn a salary for scientific work
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:49 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Einstein didn't seem like a dick.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:56 PM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

"From various accounts of Fra Angelico’s life, it is possible to gain some sense of why he was deserving of canonization. He led the devout and ascetic life of a Dominican friar, and never rose above that rank; he followed the dictates of the order in caring for the poor; he was always good-humored. All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form. He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ. It is averred that he never handled a brush without fervent prayer and he wept when he painted a Crucifixion."
posted by praemunire at 10:56 PM on December 10, 2017

Fred Rogers.
posted by ejs at 10:59 PM on December 10, 2017 [25 favorites]

Fred Astaire was a nice guy.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:21 AM on December 11, 2017

George Washington Carver.
posted by clew at 12:58 AM on December 11, 2017

Randy Pausch was an American professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and author of "The Last Lecture".
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:47 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Alan Turing. Over achiever. Not a dick.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:56 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ansel Adams seems to have been a solid dude and he worked very well with other creators throughout his lifetime.
posted by Mizu at 3:05 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Although James Watson was and remains a terrible human being, by the accounts I'm familiar with, Francis Crick was a good guy who remained a friend to Rosalind Franklin until her early death.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:16 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Neil Gaiman seems a really thoughtful, kind person.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:48 AM on December 11, 2017

Einstein was pretty horrible to his wife.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 5:00 AM on December 11, 2017 [10 favorites]

Jimmy Stewart "was almost universally described by his collaborators as a kind, soft-spoken man and a true professional."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:03 AM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Chris Long seems to be a good person in a field that is more prone towards toxic masculinity than most - the NFL. Among other things, he's donating his entire salary this year to charities that work for education equality.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:49 AM on December 11, 2017

Jim Henson.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:23 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Karen Kain, former prima ballerina in Canada, now artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada. I remember seeing a doc on her eons ago where she said "I don't think you have to be a... bitch to succeed" or something like that. She even paused before saying "bitch" - my sense is that she didn't want to say such a negative word.

Also, Sarah Polley.
posted by foxjacket at 7:38 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

The incredibly multi-talented Terry Crews (who is perhaps my favorite living human) is by all accounts a gracious and wonderful person.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's always hard to think of standouts in the modest field of non-shittiness, and having these discussions is of course inviting myself to learn things I wish I hadn't known.

But Mark Twain has, so far as I know, a good reputation. The worst that comes to mind is that he didn't handle finances well at one point and the family nearly went bankrupt and had to move to Europe while Twain went on lecture tours to make money.

Emily Dickinson? I mean, pretty hard to be shitty if you avoid others...

Keats? Of course I feel like I might be playing on easy mode suggesting someone who died at twenty-five. Alas, how many decades did we miss of latent Keatsian shittiness?
posted by desert outpost at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2017

Julia Child was, IIRC, a generally nice person.
posted by matildaben at 8:30 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

As mentioned above, it's hard to call Einstein's relationship with his Mileva Marić anything but dickish, and his initial response to Friedmann's solutions was arguably professionally dickish.

I've never heard anything less than glowing about either Stevie Wonder or Enrico Fermi. (But, I haven't gone looking for it either.)
posted by eotvos at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2017

Alexander Graham Bell was, as far as I can tell, a genuinely nice man.
posted by JanetLand at 9:57 AM on December 11, 2017

From what I have read, Boris Karloff seems to have been a genuinely good dude.
posted by darchildre at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2017

Alexander Graham Bell wasn't all that great.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Emmy Noether was pretty awesome. (Apparently Hilbert considered her the greatest mathematician of the 20th century.)
posted by heatherlogan at 10:54 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Eleanor Roosevelt seems to have been a decent, compassionate person.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:02 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's an article about how great a dude W H Auden was. He did a huge amount of charity work, a lot of it in person, and kept it very private. It's like a laundry list of selfless acts.
posted by Rinku at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's a good article on 6 super nice famous people (includes Freud and Stan Lee).

In the world of baseball, Roy Halladay who was absolutely dominant as a pitcher and died recently (RIP) was an even better person and wanted to leave baseball better than he found it. In 2015, David Price bought his Blue Jays teammates scooters and bathrobes.
posted by foxjacket at 12:11 PM on December 11, 2017

Prince gave away a ton of money in secret on a regular basis and was incredibly supportive of younger artists, women and men.

Wright says when Prince gave he had only one request. “Just don’t say anything about it,” Wright said.

Janelle Monae celebrates her 'fearless' mentor, says 'He stood for the weirdos'
posted by hydropsyche at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

What's your criteria for "not dicks?"

A lot of responses are discussing how friendly people "seem," but is that what you mean? People who seem and are nice to everyone else, who donate money to good causes and all that, abuse their partners all the time, etc. There are some pretty damning stories about Prince and Bowie, for example.
posted by kapers at 12:44 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would guess that the definition is "people who weren't outed as total assholes somewhere along the line." Which makes me think we need to limit this to dead people.
I hate to say it, but ...Mark Twain.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:31 PM on December 11, 2017

I am not sure that this counts as famous "enough" as my examples are Australian and you've probably not heard of them. However, Kerry Greenwood, whose main claim to fame these days is writing the Phryne Fisher series of books, is a genuinely lovely person. I've met her professionally and personally (I live a suburb away from her) and she is always warm, funny and gracious, as well as being very much human. My favourite story is when I ran into her in the cat food aisle at the local supermarket on a hot day. She saw me debating which of the luxury cat foods my dying cat would be able to eat and suggested that hers quite liked one variety, enquired after mine. I explained that mine had liver cancer and wasn't able to eat much and often threw up but I kept trying to tempt her (my cat) with delicacies. She spontaneously gave me a hug right there in the supermarket. I am still not sure if she remembered that she had met me before; either way it was a lovely thing to do. Her partner David Greagg (who is a practicing wizard) is also a really lovely man, though even less famous.

Singer/songwriter/actor Clare Bowditch is also a really genuinely lovely person. She started a creative business called Big Hearted Business with the aim of helping creative people make money from doing what they love and making contributions to others. She mentors young and emerging musicians, giving them guest spots in her show and collaborating with them. She has a wicked sense of humour, smart as a whip, a great musician and all round a pretty awesome person.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:08 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Prince was a deeply generous man and a genius and gave great joy to millions of people but it's hard for me to put anyone who makes his wife get out of bed a week after their baby died to give an interview to Oprah in which she was required to smile and not mention the kid or the death in the "not a dick" pile.

I've never heard a bad word about JK Rowling and she gives a TON of money to charity.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:03 PM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not particularly knowledgeable about him so there may be skeletons I'm unaware of, but Buckminster Fuller seems to have been the opposite of a dick.
posted by bricoleur at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2017

How many people can honestly say they’ve never ever been dicks? For Oscar Wilde, there are stories of incredible kindness and generosity, but I wouldn’t want to be his wife. In reading Beatles biographies, Ringo Starr seems to be the least dickish of the Beatles, but I’m sure he’s done some shitty things. Because pretty much everyone does. That’s called being human. I mean, Christopher Hitchens (definitely a dick) rather famously took down Mother Theresa.

Also, people do change and grow. If you do something terrible in your twenties, are you a dick for life? Don’t mean to derail. Just wondering if Prince doing a few bad things makes him a bad person. And can we even know enough about any famous person, living or dead, to say?
posted by FencingGal at 7:14 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can tell you from personal experience that Joe Dante and Keb' Mo' are terrifically nice, generous people.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:19 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not sure if the above comment was aimed at me, but I agree with it. My broader point was that the black and white of the question isn't realistic or likely to get you an accurate answer.

Literally nobody is "perfect." Even people who do great good (Prince is an example) sometimes also do bad (sometimes monstrous things, as I would classify Prince's treatment of his wife in the wake of their baby's death.) Look at Harvey Weinstein - he was famously generous and kind to people he liked - there were lots of folks to whom he was the exact opposite of a dick.

I doubt you are going to find anyone, accomplished or not, who's never done anything someone else didn't find objectionable. Even famously generous and kind JK Rowling protects her IP vigorously (which I have no problem with, but there are people who resent it.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:44 AM on December 12, 2017

[Quick reminder that Ask Metafilter is for answering specific questions rather than having extended discussions, and if the parameters of the question seem too fuzzy to you, probably better just to skip the thread, rather than arguing against the thesis (there are nice people, some of them are famous/accomplished, who are they?)]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:11 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Louis Armstrong was supposedly a nice guy, even to weak players he happened to be paired with. For someone of his talent, that seems pretty exceptional to me. Of course, the biography I read was somewhat ... positive ... so maybe he was a closet Nazi or something. I won't check back because a man needs to have a few heroes in his life.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Donny Osmond is pretty cool in real life. I know a couple of different people who have met him or worked with him, they all said he was really nice.

(regarding Prince, I had the impression that he could be kinda hostile or paranoid around people he didn't know very well. I'm sure he was generous with his close friends, of course).
posted by ovvl at 11:20 AM on December 13, 2017

Admittedly the only evidence I have is this podcast, but according to its account James Cagney was a prince of a guy.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:40 PM on December 14, 2017

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