The past is essentially one Butterfly Effect away from completely changing the world as we know it at any given moment, which is what makes time travel so illogical (a controversial topic first explored in the docudrama Timecop). So many of the people who went on to shape the modern world were nearly wiped out of the timeline, only to be saved at the last possible moment by some minor, ridiculous coincidence. For example ...
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Clint Eastwood was in the Navy during the Korean War, and although he never saw combat, he nearly became a casualty of war in a much stupider way. While on leave, Eastwood decided to visit his girlfriend in Seattle, but rather than take a bus or something, he decided to hitch a ride on a Naval torpedo bomber. The only issue was that the plane wasn't designed to carry any passengers. That wasn't about to stop Eastwood, who crammed himself into the radar compartment (the small area of the plane housing its radar equipment) and prepared for a flight experience two categories below economy class, or roughly on par with a trip on Spirit Airlines.
But as the plane began to climb, the door in his compartment swung open, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if nothing inside that compartment needed to breathe. Unable to get oxygen as the air was sucked out, Eastwood fell unconscious and nearly reenacted the end of Dave Chappelle's hilarious part in Con Air.
This is one of the few times in history that the phrase "thankfully, the plane crashed" makes sense. When Eastwood came to, he found himself hurtling toward the ocean -- the bomber had run out of fuel, and the pilot was aiming to ditch the plane in a water landing. You'd assume that making sure you have enough fuel for the journey is one of the first things a pilot would check, but it seems the Universe was a big fan of Paint Your Wagon.
After crashing into the sea, Eastwood had to swim two miles to reach the shore, after which he collapsed on the beach and decided to take on a career that would only involve pretending to cheat death, while simultaneously allowing him to afford passenger tickets on commercial aircraft. And speaking of air disasters ...
Lyndon B. Johnson was one of America's most controversial presidents. On the one hand, he passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it a law that you can't deny someone's basic human rights simply because their skin is a shade darker than yours or because they don't have a penis. On the other hand, he's largely responsible for that whole Vietnam War thing. Regardless, for better or worse, American society would look different if Johnson had, for example, died back in World War II. Which is exactly what almost happened.
On June 9, 1942, as a young man in the Naval reserve, Johnson was part of a bombing mission that was supposed to attack a Japanese air base in New Guinea. Johnson was assigned to a plane called the Wabash Cannonball, which is appropriate, because it sounds like a nickname Johnson would give a bullying maneuver he would later subject lowly Secret Services agents to.
However, moments before the plane was to take off, Johnson suddenly realized that he really needed to pee. Now, peeing your pants as an adult is taboo in any social situation, but doing so while tightly packed into a plane with seven other men is easily the most egregious. Not wanting to make waves (hold your applause until the end of the article), Johnson excused himself to visit the toilet. When he came back, he found that Lieutenant Colonel Francis R. Stevens had taken his seat, for no reason other than to play the same kind of prank that your buddy does when he sits in your chair as soon as you get up for a beer -- e.g. the same sort of prank Lyndon B. Johnson would play on people.
LBJ Presidential Library
Look at his eyes. He's already planning something for the photographer.
Johnson was forced to board a different plane, the Heckling Hare, and the mission began as scheduled. But the Heckling Hare didn't make it to its destination -- engine trouble forced the plane to turn back before it saw any combat. That was fortunate for Johnson, because the Wabash Cannonball never returned -- it was shot down by the Japanese, killing everyone on board.
Johnson wound up getting the Silver Star medal for basically no other reason than not dying in that plane crash, and later used that same, "I wasn't present when people were killed" luck to become president. Doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would work more than once, but who are we to argue?
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Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the other two make up the legendary rock group the Rolling Stones. And if you've heard of the Rolling Stones, then you've no doubt heard of how the continued existence of guitarist Keith Richards is one of the greatest mysteries of modern medical science. According to all known laws of biology, Richards, who has looked like the host of a late-night cable horror show for around 50 years and at one point was more heroin than man, should have died before Pope John Paul II, let alone David Bowie.
But his legacy very almost came to an end way back in 1965, right as the band was beginning to take off in America. During a concert in Sacramento, the Stones were part of the way through their soon-to-be-iconic song "The Last Time" when Richards' enthusiastic stage prancing brought the neck of his guitar in contact with his microphone stand. In an oversight almost certainly caused by the fact that everyone involved with the production of this event was swimming through various dazzling hazes of contraband euphoria, the stand had not been properly grounded. This is another way of saying that it was coursing with more electricity than a robot wizard. Richards was immediately hit with enough voltage to either stop a man's heart or create a comic book superhero, and according to witnesses, there was a bright flash and a loud bang. When Richards collapsed, everyone present initially thought that he had been shot.
Michael C. Peart
This was years before we realized that bullets were the least dangerous shots Richards would be taking.
The only reason he didn't die right there in 1965 was because of his choice of footwear. As it turned out, Richards was wearing Hush Puppies suede shoes, which had rubber soles thick enough to absorb the shock. If he had been wearing loafers or Crocs or some shit, his heart would've exploded like a frog in a microwave.
Shadi Khadivi / Wiki Commons
"Not your time. Get off of my cloud." -- God
So despite getting blasted with what was essentially a bolt of lightning, Richards managed to survive and remain alive for another half a century and counting, saving Johnny Depp from having to base his Pirates Of The Caribbean performance on a much less interesting rock musician, such as Don Henley.
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Pablo Picasso is easily the most famous painter to have never given his name to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Despite missing out on that particular honor, Picasso still left a pretty good legacy, including being the founder of cubism and being the only person in recorded history with whom Kanye West considers himself on equal footing. But the world very nearly missed out on that legacy before the ink had dried on his birth certificate. (Though to be fair, Picasso's full name was 23 words long, so that might have taken some time).
When little Pablo was born in Spain in 1881, the nurses declared him dead on arrival. The baby wasn't crying and didn't even seem to be breathing, so the distraught mother was given the tough news that he was stillborn. Modern medicine was still in its infancy and CPR didn't exist yet, so there wasn't really anything that the doctors could do except shrug and tell Pablo's mother to try again in nine months.
Via Wiki Commons
Or work really hard on convincing his sister that drawing people that look like people is the worst idea.
Ironically, the very fact that hospitals were tragically incompetent back in those days is exactly what saved Picasso's life. According to the artist himself, as recounted by Norman Mailer, baby Pablo's uncle was present at the birth, and was puffing away on a cigar right there in the delivery room. As he leaned over the seemingly dead child, he breathed a cloud of smoke right into the baby's face, presumably figuring, "This baby is already dead, so a little cigar smoke directly into his face isn't going to hurt anything." Picasso immediately started coughing, and one of the greatest artists of the 20th century was granted a second chance at life.
"TOLD YOU SO, FDA!"
Picasso would go on to revolutionize art in the way that only someone whose first breath was full of addictive chemicals and carcinogens could. Hell, why don't we do this with all babies?
Handel was one of the most important composers of all time, right up there with the three B's (Beethoven, Bach, and the Barenaked Ladies). He wrote nearly 50 operas in his lifetime, and his "Messiah" oratorio has been performed and recorded by everyone from Mozart to Leonard Bernstein. But we would have lost one of the greatest musicians of all time had he not insisted on wearing a fabulous jacket.
Edouard Jean Conrad Hamman
Not that he didn't do that every day of his life, but still.
Handel was friends with fellow conductor and composer Johann Mattheson. On December 5, 1704, Handel attended Mattheson's opera, Cleopatra, and stood in for Mattheson as the conductor of the orchestra, because Mattheson himself was busy playing the role of Marc Antony on stage. It was sort of how like Woody Allen makes himself the main character in half of his movies.
After Antony's death scene, Mattheson returned to the orchestra pit to resume his role as conductor, only to find a Handel-sized ass still occupying his seat. Apparently, Handel had gotten a little too into his role, and he refused to budge. As was the custom of the time, Mattheson decided that the only way this disagreement could be resolved was through the gallant exercise of murder. So after the opera had ended, Mattheson approached Handel and gave him a brisk but firm slap across the face, which was the universally-accepted starting pistol for a fight to the death. Both composers immediately unsheathed their swords (because this was Europe in the 1700s and sawed-off shotguns hadn't been invented yet).
Arthur A. Dixon
"Shall my hand be forced to cut a bitch?"
As the two men fought, Mattheson saw his chance to deliver a killing blow, and thrust his sword at Handel's heart -- only to strike a button on Handel's fancy coat and snap his sword in half. The awkward silence that surely followed must have been the longest in the history of civilized assault. Understandably, neither composer felt the need to continue their duel, because both men appreciated the value of physical comedy. They remained friends for the rest of their lives, presumably because Handel didn't want to get murdered and Mattheson thought Handel was an indestructible cyborg.
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Even given the history of human atrocity and the climate of the current election, Adolf Hitler is still really the only person who can be fairly compared to Adolf Hitler. It's well-known that he dodged a few assassination attempts in his life, but what's less known is that Hitler was almost wiped out years before World War II ever began. The world could have been spared the Holocaust, had it not been for one man's ill-timed need to take a furious dump.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
According to researchers James Duffy and Vincent Ricci, in 1929 -- four years before Hitler became the leader of Germany -- he was due to speak at a Berlin arena, where an unknown assassin planned to make his last stand against the future dictator before he could become the mass-murdering psychopath we all love to name-drop in heated Internet arguments. Rigging up a bomb under the podium, the assassin lay in wait for his victim to approach, but was suddenly taken with the unavoidable need to visit the bathroom.
Given that Hitler was never someone known for short, concise speeches, the assassin figured he had more than enough time to relieve himself and still make it back in time to destroy history's greatest monster. Unfortunately, once he was done pooping, the assassin discovered to his horror that he'd been locked in the bathroom.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The worst part was that he could still hear him fucking talking.
Unable to free himself, the assassin wound up trapped in the john for the entire duration of the speech, emerging only after Hitler had finished speaking and was safely out of the public arena that had left him momentarily vulnerable to shitting hitmen. And so, this little-known failed attempt joined numerous other future failed attempts in proving the fact that, ultimately, the only person capable of vanquishing Hitler was Hitler.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They're all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9th at 7:00 p.m., where Jack O'Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
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