Uncovering the "human side" of historical figures
August 26, 2006 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm composing a list of major political and/or spiritual leaders, past and present, who had a positive and lasting influence on society... but who had disruptive idiosyncrasies and/or disorders that drove people close to them absolutely bonkers.

An example would be Reverend Martin Luther and his oft out-of-control scrupulosity, but I'm looking for all kinds of stuff (albeit non-sexual please).
posted by rinkjustice to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Abraham Lincoln was a sad man. Does that count?
posted by lemuria at 7:33 PM on August 26, 2006

Ezra Taft Benson was notorious for his dietary idiosyncrasies.
posted by orthogonality at 7:48 PM on August 26, 2006

Henry David Thoreau was so judgemental, he was almost impossible to be around. At least that's my impression from reading Emerson. I'm thinking specifically of an event where he was imprisoned for refusing to pay his poll tax.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:01 PM on August 26, 2006

Here's a less-flattering-than-usual description of Mahatma Gandhi.
posted by Quietgal at 8:14 PM on August 26, 2006

Winston Churchill battled "the black dog" of depression much of his life.

I always wonder what all of the listmakers on AskMe are doing with their lists.
posted by amro at 8:16 PM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Steve Jobs.
posted by mmdei at 8:16 PM on August 26, 2006

Bill Clinton.
posted by rbs at 8:40 PM on August 26, 2006

Oh, wait, you wanted non-sexual. Sorry.
posted by rbs at 8:40 PM on August 26, 2006

Socrates was probably a tough fellow to be married to.
posted by Ø at 8:47 PM on August 26, 2006

Winston Churchill battled "the black dog" of depression much of his life.

Didn't he also walk around nekkid allatime?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 PM on August 26, 2006

I'm not sure if this counts, but Franklin Roosevelt often tried to hide his polio-related weakness by grabbing onto aides while walking in public. He'd appear to be walking along normally with an aide, but in reality he had a death grip on the guy's arm and the aide would hold him up. Roosevelt refused to use a wheelchair.
posted by christinetheslp at 9:15 PM on August 26, 2006

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned LBJ's tendency to talk to his aides while sitting on the toilet.

Then again, maybe nobody thinks LBJ was a great leader?
posted by brina at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

either lewis or clark of the lewis and clark expedition committed suicide sometime after his adventure out west.

mary todd lincoln was bipolar i think. she drove abe crazy.
posted by brandz at 10:07 PM on August 26, 2006

ayn rand had some problems with her inner circle.
posted by bigmusic at 10:16 PM on August 26, 2006

Cesar Chavez.
posted by Kirklander at 10:26 PM on August 26, 2006

Merriwether Lewis shot himself in the head (probably). There are some die-hards who believe he was murdered, but most suspect bi-polar disorder, coupled with a crippling inability to finish ediitng the journals from his trip and, one would imagine, astronaut's syndrome -- it must be hard to come back to earth.

He also had spells on the trip during which he didn't record anything in his journal. Nevertheless, he and Clark got on pretty well considering the circumstances.
posted by one_bean at 10:28 PM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

This fascinating Wikipedia entry discusses Tourette's syndrome, and those who have suffered from it. TS's naturally off-putting symptoms have affected, among others, Samuel Johnson, André Malraux, and philanthropist Howard Ahmanson. Dan Aykroyd claimed to have been diagnosed with mild TS, and cured while a teenager. Even Mozart may been afflicted, though many, including Oliver Sacks, are doubtful.

Mock me, Amadeus?
posted by rob511 at 10:30 PM on August 26, 2006

Richard Stallman drives many, many people nuts, whether by virtue of personal oddities (spontaneous Bulgarian folkdance and extreme literalism) or his monomaniacal dogmatism. Nonetheless he is a very important force for the free exchange of ideas in the form of software.

From what I've been reading Karl Popper was a jerk in real life too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:44 PM on August 26, 2006

I have heard that Gandhi beat his wife. Not that wife-beating was uncommon among men of his times, but it's directly contrary to the principle of ahimsa.

Perhaps this is just residual bitterness toward Gandhi or gossip, because Googling turns up the same information without a citation for it.
posted by anjamu at 11:18 PM on August 26, 2006

Have to agree with Ghandi. He slept naked with teenage girls to test his chastity and had a strange thing for enemas. But, Ben Kingsly won an oscar playing him, so who am i to judge?

Mother Teresa took Keating S&L money, and her mission has some accounting irregularities.

John Nash was one of the greatest minds of his age, and totally of his rocker. (Perhaps you saw the movie.) World changing, but for a pretty narrow subset.

Zora Neale Hurston
and Langston Hughes were both titans of their day and had a good relationship till they wrote Mule Bone together. They never spoke again, I don't think.

Steve Jobs for real. Read or watch Pirates of Silicon Valley. It kind of gives an interesting picture of both Jobs and Gates.
posted by absalom at 11:24 PM on August 26, 2006

Lots of interesting answers thus far. Sara Anne, Quietgal and others also deserve best answer recognition, but due to my own idiosyncratic nature I myself do not fully understand, I chose others instead.

Thank you all, and I hope more is coming (but let's lay off Ghandi for awhile... sheesh ;) )
posted by rinkjustice at 4:49 AM on August 27, 2006

And to answer amro's question: My teenage daughters say I can be annoying (big revelation there), hence this list to make me feel a bit better (as jayder identified).

However, I can see the list being ripped off by some print publication (my guess is Maxim or Stuff) or by a web portal ala Yahoo or MSN. I've seen it before.
posted by rinkjustice at 5:27 AM on August 27, 2006

Father Yod, progenitor of Yahowa 13 &c...

posted by cottoncandyhammer at 5:53 AM on August 27, 2006

one more, to sate the curious: http://www.furious.com/perfect/yahowa13.html
posted by cottoncandyhammer at 6:03 AM on August 27, 2006

Well, I kinda want to cite Nixon (ended the Vietnam War, Started the EPA, Built relations with China) but I guess his "idiosynchrasies" are what he's really remembered for anyway, and were too nationally damaging to count for much on your list.

Einstein was notably horrible to his wife, instituting a set of rules demanding absulte obedience, and referring to her as "an employee whom I cannot fire." To his wife. Again, maybe not the point you're trying to make to your daughters.

And, of course, if you've seen The Road to Wellville, you know about Kellogg.

Darwin made up a list of pros and cons before proposing to his wife, which included comparing her companionship to that of a dog. Harry Truman drove his wife crazy with his incessant public swearing. I too, have trouble thinking of LBJ in much of a positive light, but he was surely one for maddening eccentricites. My personal favorite:

When JBJ would go back to his estate in Texas, he would often hold large functions, at which the press was welcome. Johnson would drink copiously, and then invite some of the first time members of the press to ride in the back of his pick-up with him. These were dirt roads around the house, of course, and with the harsh rains and toasty sun of Texas, they got to be ridiculously bumpy. While the reporters waited for Johnson to let something slip that they could make a story out of, Johnson would hit the bujmps asa hard as he could until all of the reports had fallen off the back of the truck, and then drive home, letting them walk back to their laughing coworkers.

The truth is, anybody with a forceful enough personality to rise to great prominence in the public mind is going to drive people mad being around them for too long. And all teenagers think that their parents are annoying, so don't worry about it too much.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2006

Mother teresa was far from a saint
posted by petsounds at 10:45 AM on August 27, 2006

I flagged your post petsounds, because the source you link to is garbage. I hope your offensive comment is deleted post haste.
posted by rinkjustice at 11:20 AM on August 27, 2006

petsounds' source may be garbage (there are lots of better sources, why link to something like that?), but Mother Teresa really was far from the saint she's portrayed as.
posted by biscotti at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2006

Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the longest-serving PM in Canadian history (albeit with interrupted service). He saw the country through the Great Depression and World War Two.

Unfortunately, he also had a nasty habit of conducting seances to commune with his dead mother and dogs to ask them for advice.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:04 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

They say Ralph Nader is a real pain in the ass as an employer.
posted by Clay201 at 8:03 PM on August 27, 2006

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