It's easy to forget that the people involved in iconic photos are, well, people. For every image that instantly became a part of history, there were lives forever changed both behind and in front of the camera -- they are instantly famous, due to pure circumstance. And sometimes these lives are in no way changed for the better. We're talking about the bizarre and often tragic stories like ...
WARNING: SOME OF THESE IMAGES ARE DISTURBING. We have censored where necessary, but if you're sensitive, you might still want to stay away.
#6. The White Guy at the 1968 "Black Power" Olympics Photo
You've almost certainly seen this photo somewhere, but may not know the background, other than "It was at the Olympics, right? Aren't they standing on that medal thing?"
It was at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, and American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos won medals in the 200-meter finals. But what catapulted them into notoriety was this photo of them doing the "black power" salute at the podium. The photograph became an iconic image in the history of civil rights, but what's not often discussed is the awkward-looking white guy on the left.
"Man, I never know what to do with my hands during a photo. What do you guys usually- oh."
That's the Australian silver medalist, Peter Norman. While he looks kind of jittery in this scene (and is clearly not participating in the black power bit), he knew very well what was going to happen behind him -- he'd spoken to Smith and Carlos before the ceremony. Not only did he support their cause, but the black gloves were his idea, and he wore a civil rights pin on his tracksuit when he took to the podium.
Unfortunately for him, Australia wasn't any more progressive than the United States at that time, being under the grip of a whites-only immigration policy, so having one of their own support racial equality in front of the entire world was like a kangaroo punch to the groin.
It's the third leading cause of death among Australian males.
So even though he was a world class runner and No. 2 in the world, Norman was blacklisted from any future Olympics. And they really meant it -- with Norman out of the picture, Australia didn't send anybody to sprint in the 1972 Munich Games.
After he was ostracized from the Aussie establishment, Norman went through a severe period of depression and substance abuse. Although he'd hoped to receive recognition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics -- it being his home country and in a more enlightened world -- he was again snubbed, being the only Australian Olympian who wasn't given a chance to run a VIP lap of honor.
Nick Laham/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
"Hey, it's only the year 2000; social issues take time ... try again in 2115."
All because he didn't, what, do a "white power" salute in response? In our opinion, that would have made things even more awkward. And speaking of stupid racist controversies ...
#5. The Man Who Filmed the Rodney King Beating
George Holliday was a simple drain rooter (the guy you call when your drains are backed up from all the candy bar wrappers and cigarette butts you've flushed down there) who lived a happy life until the night of March 3, 1991, when he heard the sirens that would turn his life upside down. Grabbing his video camera and heading into the street, he wound up capturing the infamous scene of half a dozen police officers beating the living shit out of Rodney King. It was a tape that never found its way to the family memories collection.
Other notable exceptions: Cousin Steve's wedding and Mother's Day '89.
This being before the days of smartphones, there were certain police officers who figured they could do pretty much whatever they wanted in public, because who's going to believe the word of some doped-up black guy? And they were still kind of right -- despite the clear footage of cops trying to make pancake batter out of a near unconscious man, the police were acquitted of all charges, which sparked the LA riots that led to 54 deaths, almost 3,000 injuries, and hundreds of buildings torched.
And a "very special" episode of The Fresh Prince.
Everybody wanted somebody to blame for the wreckage, and although many pointed their fingers toward more deserving targets, a depressing number of people turned their ire against Holliday for having the presence of mind to film the events. He started getting death threats in the mail, and once the media put a face to his name, he became known locally as "the guy who started the riots," in much the same way that NBC is responsible for the trauma of 9/11, we guess.
Holliday lost his job and his marriage because of the media circus. He works as a freelance rooter these days, but can't advertise for fear of people tracking him down. And the final kick in the balls of the whole thing was that his trivia card in Trivial Pursuit misspelled his name as "Halliday."
Michael Kelley/Los Angeles Times
"My only solace is having the best beard in the tri-state area."
#4. The Other Guy in the RFK Assassination Photo
In June of 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy lived up to the family tradition of being shot dead by a madman for a stupid reason. In this case, it was by Sirhan Sirhan, who we can only assume was pissed off that his parents neglected to give him two separate names. At the moment of the assassination, this iconic photograph was taken as Kennedy lay dying, head propped up by some random, surprised dude.
Sirhan shot first.
That random dude was Juan Romero, a 17-year-old Mexican immigrant who worked as a busboy at the hotel that Kennedy was staying at when he was shot. He was snapped in the photo because Kennedy was shaking his hand at the moment when Sirhan took his life.
After the photograph circulated the world media, grieving citizens who have an unhealthy habit of blaming anyone but the crazy dude with the gun began to latch onto Romero as the culprit. Bags of mail flooded into the hotel where Romero worked, many accusing him of putting Kennedy in harm's way by stopping to shake his hand, or even demanding to know why he hadn't taken the bullet himself. In fairness, many praised him and hoped, we guess, to rub his head for luck.
If he had jumped in front of Kennedy, he probably would have gotten hate mail from racists for taking bullets away from "real Americans."
Being that he was just a simple immigrant from the projects, Romero couldn't deal with the newfound fame that now haunted him, and he fled from town to town in an effort to return to the simple life. It didn't help that he always harbored guilt over the role he believed he had in delaying Kennedy long enough for Sirhan to get a good shot in.
National Archives/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Similar to Jackie's "It's a beautiful day! Let's put the top down!" guilt.
While he did eventually settle down and raise a family, Romero missed out on attending college and, as of the last time a reporter forced him to talk, never fully learned to cope with the celebrity caused by the infamous picture. It's so weird, it's like some people don't want to be famous. Hey, speaking of which ...