5 Ruthless Dictators Hiding in Plain Sight as Normal People

Countries change leadership all the time via wars, revolutions, and coups. If you happen to be the indisputable ruler of one of those countries when it happens, you're going to have a bad time -- typically, you can expect to be murdered, murdered, or forced into exile and then murdered. But every once in a while, if fate smiles on you, you just might escape punishment ... only to find that you have to try to adapt to being just some regular asshole again.

#5. The President of South Vietnam Ran a Liquor Store

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Nguyen Cao Ky began his career in the South Vietnamese air force, but got himself made prime minister of South Vietnam in 1965 after the last guy to hold the title came down with a bad case of assassination. Ky had a reputation as a suave, attractive playboy -- with his stylish purple scarf and porn star mustache, he'd been described as looking like "the saxophone player in a second-rate nightclub," and apparently he once tried to woo a woman by landing a helicopter in her yard, which, to be fair, is a pretty baller move.

Universal Images Group via Getty Images
"Shit, son. I didn't earn this mustache from masturbating."

Don't think he was just the harmless, happenin' swinger of the dictator scene. Ky once said Vietnam needed "five Hitlers to impose discipline." In a world where even the most brutal dictators try to avoid comparison to Hitler, here's a guy who wanted to be five Hitlers.

"Like a Voltron of Hitlers."

In the course of eliminating his rivals, Ky sparked an uprising of Buddhists that left about 300 dead. Man, you have to be a serious dick to piss off several hundred Buddhists.

The Downfall:

As you no doubt learned in history class, Ky wasn't able to stop the Viet Cong from marching into his embattled country and kicking its ass, even with America's help. Just before the fall of Saigon, he gave one final speech to the people to inform them that anyone who fled Vietnam was a coward. The next day, he fled Vietnam. Climbing aboard his helicopter, he escaped to an American warship, while presumably shouting, "Do as I say, not as I do!"

Ky and his wife ended up in California, where his lifestyle took a bit of a downgrade. He went from "exotic scarf-wearing multi-Hitler" to "Orange County liquor store manager." That is not exactly a lateral move.

Alexlukin/iStock/Getty Images
"Why do you think I picked a job with large amounts of whiskey in arm's reach?"

Yes, the former dictator of South Vietnam was working a cash register with a Muppet sitting on it. According to one local, "I don't know about him, but his wife is the best looking doll in the neighborhood."

Well, hell -- he's still got a hot spouse, and at least he's in charge. There are worse fates, right? Unfortunately for Ky, he was overthrown again -- this time in a brutal coup by the open market. His store eventually went bankrupt.

But at least he's got some great helicopter stories to tell in the welfare line.

#4. The Last King of Yugoslavia Worked as a Banker

E.G. Malindine

Growing up in the magnificent Royal Compound in Belgrade, Peter II of Yugoslavia became king at the age of 11, and he penciled in "be God-anointed leader of the Balkans" on every single page of his day planner for the rest of his life. Then World War II broke out, which caused every world leader on the European continent to do a bit of rescheduling.

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Fucking Hitler. He knew I had a tee time."

Yugoslavia was offered the opportunity to join the Axis powers and partake in the glory of a fascist-run Europe, but Peter declined. In response, the scorned nations of Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy postponed all their other plans and simultaneously led a massive smackdown on Yugoslavia, forcing Peter to shimmy down the drainpipe of his own palace and flee into exile, where he waited calmly for Yugoslav rebels to take back his country.

The Downfall:

And so they did. Unfortunately for Peter, said Yugoslav rebels were communists who, upon liberating the country, immediately declared their own leader, Josip Tito, president and canceled the monarchy.

Royal Air Force
"Honestly, we couldn't allow hair that perfect to be confined to a crown a second longer."

Suddenly finding himself in a Coming to America-style fish-out-of-water situation, the now broke King Peter bummed around Europe and America, facing such indignities as bouncing checks, presumably while demanding "Don't you know who I am!?"

Eventually, the surviving members of Yugoslavia's government-in-exile were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were just regular folks now. Peter's cousin, Prince Alexander, became a washing machine salesman, while Peter himself got a position at a local savings and loan out in California.

gabe palmer/iStock/Getty Images
"Look, Ky, about the liquor store ..."

It's always a bit awkward when you ask your new boss to refer to you as "your majesty," but overall the new gig seemed to go pretty well. The king even managed to spin his deposed monarchy to plug his new job, which was probably a first in the hectic world of savings and loans. Sadly, he died of liver failure three years later (you'd probably drink, too). Prince Alexander apparently did all right in the washing machine gig, though -- we will eat our shoes if, at some point, he didn't declare himself "prince of savings" and warn the customers to hurry because "these prices will be exiled soon!"

#3. A Former Sierra Leone President Lives With His Mom


In 1991, Sierra Leone was thrown into civil war. Despite the severity of the 12-year conflict, President Joseph Momoh wasn't terribly worried about such minor concerns as "equipping soldiers" or "paying soldiers." A disgruntled group of young soldiers led by 25-year-old junior officer Valentine Strasser eventually decided to march on the inaccurately named capital, Freetown, to demand their unpaid salaries. They raided the president's lodge and found Momoh hiding in the bathroom in his dressing gown. He promptly surrendered, leaving the perplexed officers standing around scratching their heads. And that's how Valentine Strasser became the world's youngest head of state.

"Head of wha?"

Initially, Strasser was not a terrible dictator: People liked him, and his government cut inflation, waged war against the rebels, and got the national TV station back on the air just in time for sweeps. A ruler's gotta have priorities.

But power eventually goes to nearly everybody's head. Strasser soon took up residence in Kabasa Lodge, an imposing mansion built by a former corrupt dictator, where he held decadent parties. He began to crack down on dissidents, swiftly and brutally.

"Name one leader this ever backfired on. One."

The Downfall:

After his government executed two dozen alleged coup plotters, Strasser was overthrown by his second in command and forced to flee the country in 1996. Strasser left Africa and went to law school in England on a special scholarship arranged by the United Nations (the Bright Futures for Ex-Warlords Program?). After that didn't pan out, Strasser followed the path of most 20-something grad school dropouts. He moved back home with his parents and spent his days playing games and drinking cheap hooch.

Strasser returned to Sierra Leone and shacked up with his mother after angry soldiers burned down his house in 1999. In 2001, the government actually requested that people stop throwing stones at Strasser, who, without a car, wanders around Freetown by foot like a scrub. That's the best definition of pathetic we can think of: when even people who hate you find your plight so pitiful that they have to ask an entire country to stop throwing rocks at you if they see you on the street.

"Actually, guys, those rocks were like half of my diet."

In 2002, an interviewer found Strasser in the midst of the ex-dictator's weekday morning routine: hanging out at a bar, playing checkers, joking around with friends, and drinking cheap booze. As of 2012, Strasser, still living with his mom, received a pension of about $45 a month, which is probably not enough to get her off his case about finding another dictator gig.

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