2013 was a year of dramatic reinvention for a number of public figures. And the vast majority of these celebrity and political figures are probably wishing they had spent more time at the drawing board before stepping back into the public eye.
Ask almost anyone in 2013 what they think of Dennis Rodman, Anthony Weiner or the Lululemon clothing company and their answers are sure to be quite different than if you’d asked them just one year ago.
Maybe they should enlist in life coaching seminars with Steven Seagal, who just may have transformed himself from fading martial arts movie star to master of international diplomacy.
Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood. It’s not unusual to see a celebrity trying to exert their influence in politics. But they usually keep those efforts closer to home on U.S. shores. Not so for the 1980s martial arts movies star. In May, Chechnya leader, Ramzan Kadyrov invited Steven Seagal to the republic. "I invited him to my residence. We had a talk. I told him that I watch his films, and I like them a lot," Kadyrov, a former militant fighter, wrote on his Instagram page. "Nobility. Willpower. Honor. Qualities characteristic of Chechens. So we can say he is almost a Chechen!"
Turns out, the former action star has been trying to get his congressmen to visit. As humorous as it sounds, Seagal’s ties to Chechnya and Russia run deep. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Seagal are both black belts in Akido and reportedly have a friendship going back many years. Even Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) praised Seagal’s diplomatic efforts in an interview with CNN, saying, "Because of his black belt in karate and things, he's gotten to know many of the leaders of Russia, including Putin, and was able to use that influence to make sure we got to talk to the very top people, so that we could try to find ways of expanding our areas of cooperation."
[Photo gallery: Top 10 WTH Moments of 2013]
A segment for a new HBO TV show launched the brief and maligned career of Dennis Rodman, statesman. In March, the basketball player tried to follow-up on his headline making travels, making an impromptu visit to Vatican City, and saying he hoped to hold court with the Pope. In September, Rodman made a second visit to North Korea, saying he would train the North’s basketball team and encouraging President Obama to reach out to the much-maligned dictator. Of course, even that apparent diplomatic push was little more than an attempt by Rodman to promote a brand of vodka. "Everyone knows (President Barack) Obama drinks beer," Rodman said. "I'd love to see him with a 'Bad Ass Vodka' shot in his hand, toasting to Kim Jong (Un) and me. That would be awesome." Before the month was over, Rodman was already bottoming out in his attempts to cash in on the story, starring in a commercial for pistachios. As the commercial’s narrator explains, "Dennis Rodman does it because he’s nuts."
Two years seems to be the waiting period for disgraced politicos, which was about the time that Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford took to run for another office. But there was no greater political meltdown in 2013 than the dramatic rise and fall of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner’s time in Congress ended after it was revealed that he had sent a number of explicit photos and messages to women via Twitter. After apologies and dropping out of sight, he came back with a mayoral bid. Early polling actually showed Weiner surging to a lead over his three Democratic primary opponents in the race.
Then another sexting scandal surfaced. Even more bizarre, Weiner created an online pseudonym for these trysts, referring to himself as "Carlos Danger." While his wife continued to stand by her embattled husband, the public quickly soured on Weiner, who embarked on a truly bizarre barrage of media appearances where he appeared to become increasingly hostile to his own electorate. Inexplicably, Weiner stayed in the Democratic primary until the bitter end, finishing with less than 5 percent of the vote. When asked by one reporter what he planned to do next with his life, Weiner responded by giving the reporter the middle finger.
While Weiner’s sins were embarrassing, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s possibly criminal act, smoking crack cocaine, was reportedly caught on video. For a while, it appeared the story might go away. After all, Ford had survived previous embarrassing stories about his drug and alcohol use, including being kicked out of a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game after heckling other crowd members and a previous DUI arrest in Miami. After an August incident in which Ford was videotaped appearing intoxicated at a public event, he publicly admitted to having smoked marijuana in the past. "I won't deny that, I smoked a lot of it," he said. Finally, on Halloween, Toronto Police Chief publicly admitted that his department was in possession of the alleged crack-smoking video and seemed to confirm its validity, saying the video, "depicts images that are consistent with those previously reported in the press."
Still, Ford refused to resign. "I have no reason to resign, I'm going to go back and return my phone calls, gonna be out doing what the people elected me to do and that's save taxpayers money and run a great government," he said in a public address. In fact, Ford challenged police to release the video to the public. However, by early November Ford finally admitted that the video was accurate, saying, "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine but ... am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago." Since then, Toronto’s city council has stripped Ford of some of his governing powers but he still refuses to resign and may even run for reelection in 2014. And as crazy as that may sound, it’s not unthinkable. After all, Ford remains popular with nearly half of all Toronto voters and even has maintained a higher personal approval rating than President Obama.
For someone pretty much in the public eye every weekday — plus special events —"Today" weatherman Al Roker still figured out the secret to going viral: Confess to being boweled over in a White House visit.
"When you have a bypass [surgery] and your bowel has been reconstructed, you think you're pretty safe," he confided in a Dateline interview in January. "I probably went off and ate something I wasn't supposed to." And that’s when the nearly unthinkable happened. At first, Roker says he thought he just needed to pass a little gas. "Only a little something extra came out," he declared. "I pooped my pants. Not horribly, but enough that I knew." While there’s no denying that’s a truly, er, unique story, why on Earth would Roker feel the need to share this extremely personal detail with a national audience? He says he wanted to do his small part to raise awareness about side effects of his weight loss surgery. "It told me that I've got to be very vigilant about what I eat," he said. And maybe in 2014, he can work on being vigilant about what comes out of his mouth.
A newscaster in Oakland, Calif., didn’t seem to understand what was coming out of hers when she reported on pilots involved in the July 12 crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco. More than 200 passengers were onboard the flight at the time of its crash and two individuals were killed. So, it seemed like a very newsworthy scoop that KTVU had on its hands when they reported the names of the plane’s four pilots. "KTVU has just learned the names of the four pilots who were onboard the flight," anchor Tori Campbell said in a video that immediately went viral. "They are Captain Sum Ting Won, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow."
Of course, those were not the names of the pilots. So, what went wrong? "The NTSB has confirmed these are the names of the pilots onboard flight 214 when it crashed. We are working to determine exactly what roles each of them played during the landing on Saturday," Campbell continued. It turns out the station had received the names from a trusted source who is also a pilot. And while the name were technically confirmed by the NTSB, it turned out the individual providing confirmation was actually an intern who was taking an online joke that had begun two days before to epic new levels.
The fallout was swift, as the video was quickly viewed by tens of millions of people. Asiana threatened to sue, the NTSB fired the intern and apologized and KTVU did their best to have the video pulled from online sources, to little avail. KTVU ended up firing the four producers who had read the names before they were spoken on-air. Ultimately, the story proved to be a precursor for a number of so-called “pranks” that were entirely fabricated. It just goes to show, that even with experienced fact-checkers, even the best news organizations can fall prey to a lie.
That seemed to happen with Manti Te’O: In early 2013, then 21-year-old was finishing his acclaimed college career and seemed on top of the world. As Notre Dame headed into the National Championship Game against Alabama, Te’o commandeered headlines with his sad story of his girlfriend of leukemia. Add in the fact that Te’o is a devoutly religious man with a stellar personal reputation and you had the recipe for a great, touching story.
Turns out Lennay Kekua of Stanford never even existed. Te’o was allegedly the victim of an extensive hoax, in which a man pretended to be a woman and entered into an ongoing phone relationship with the football star. "Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," read a statement from Notre Dame. The story took another crazy turn when it was revealed that longtime Te’o family friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to being behind the hoax, even claiming to have provided the voice of Kekua himself. Tuiasosopo said he “fell in love” with Te’o and maintained the hoax "as an escape." Despite intense skepticism from the media, Te’o maintains he was not in on the hoax and was angered at being tricked by Tuiasosopo. So, why did lie about meeting Kekua in person to his family and friends? Te’o said he was afraid they would think he was "crazy" for maintaining a serious relationship with someone he had never actually met in person.
Yoga – it’s how millions of people around the world find their spiritual center. In recent years, it’s also become a trendy, billion-dollar industry in the U.S. for entrepreneurs looking to make a buck (or several) off of fitness and wellness minded individuals. And one of the biggest companies in that market is the Lululemon Athletica apparel company, founded by Chip Wilson. Since its founding in 1998, Lululemon has become a giant in the industry, with nearly 3,000 employees and an estimated revenue of more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2012.
But Wilson has become equally famous for his off-color remarks. That backfired when he theorized his company’s yoga pants showed off way too much during uttanasana, much less prasarita padottanasana because his loyal customers were "overweight." "They don't work for some women's bodies," Wilson said. “It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it." Wilson later apologized, sort of, saying he was "sad" for employees of the company. The firestorm over his behavior resulted in several other past comments falling under scrutiny, including a comment by Wilson saying he chose the company’s name because he thought it was “funny” to hear Japanese people try to pronounce it. The outrage proved to be too much, and in December, the company announced that Wilson was stepping down as CEO.
For the Carnival cruise ship "Triumph" 2013 proved to be anything but. In February, more than 4,000 passengers were stranded aboard the cruise ship and suffered through a series of unfortunate experiences after the ship broke down at sea, including non-functioning toilets and air conditioners. But even after making it back to port in Mobile, Alabama the ship just refused to right itself, both literally and figuratively. First, the rescued passengers just couldn’t catch a break, when the bus taking them away from the Triumph broke down. Then in April, Triumph itself broke away from the shipyard where it was undergoing repairs. The Triumph finally left Alabama in May, heading down to the Bahamas for more scheduled repairs and maintenance.
An Elvis impersonator, a martial arts instructor and a struggling actress walk into a mailroom. In 2013, two unrelated ricin incidents involved political threats and bizarre frame-ups. The first occurred in April, when two letters containing ricin, a toxic protein derived from the castor oil plant, were sent to Capitol Hill offices in Washington, DC. The first letter was addressed to Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker while a second letter was addressed to President Obama. The letters contained a vague, threatening message, which in part read: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still 'Missing Pieces.' Maybe I have your attention now even if that means someone must die. This must stop. To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance."
Initially, police arrested a 46-year-old Elvis impersonator named Kevin Curtis. But charges were quickly dropped when they moved on to current suspect Everett Dutschke, a Taekwondo instructor. The pair then engaged in a bizarre series of allegations against each other, each claiming one was jealous of the other’s personal accomplishments. Dutschke has denied the charges but the FBI claims it has a mountain case against him and authorities indicted Dutschke on charges of producing ricin in June.
Just a month after the ricin letters incident, actress Shannon Richardson called police saying her estranged husband had mailed similar letters to President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Police confirmed the letters had been sent but were in fact mailed by Richardson, 36, an actress with credits on "The Walking Dead," and "The Vampire Diaries," and not her estranged husband. After months of potential plea bargain agreements, in December, Richardson finally confessed to mailing the letters herself.