5 Famous People Who Blatantly Lied (And Barely Paid For It)
Honesty is the best policy, unless you are just super good at lying. In that case, the world is but an all-you-can-eat buffet respect, fame, and riches. If you want proof, well ...
Senator Joseph McCarthy Lied About His Whole Military Career
Joseph McCarthy is to date the only U.S. senator notorious enough to have an entire "-ism" named after him. He was almost single-handedly responsible for elevating Cold War America's suspicion of left-wing politics to the status of foaming, tinfoil-hat paranoia.
But when he was elected in 1947, it was largely on the back of his outstanding war hero record. He campaigned with the nickname "Tail-Gunner Joe" and used the slogan "Congress needs a tail-gunner," referring to his outstanding service in the war as a -- give us a moment to look it up here -- tail-gunner.
He'd been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous air medals, received a letter of commendation from Admiral Chester Nimitz, and even held the record for most ammunition expended in a single day in the Pacific Theater. If you asked him, he was Rambo 30 years before Rambo was a thing, and America needed him in Congress, although, when you really think about it, there's no reason why being good at shooting should be a requisite for political office.
Here's the thing, though -- pretty much none of that even happened. It eventually came out that McCarthy's entire war record was a collection of embellishments and outright bullshit.
Most significantly, Tail-Gunner Joe was, hilariously, never actually a tail-gunner. He did sit in the tail-gunner's seat a few times, but only as a passenger. He even shot the gun! But never in combat. McCarthy was as much a tail-gunner as your 10-year-old nephew is a trucker because he got to sit on your lap once and you let him pull the air horn.
He did earn the record for expending the most ammunition in a single day. Technically. Because apparently, shooting at trees in a non-combat zone because he was bored actually counts.
He did receive a commendation from Admiral Nimitz, but he wrote it himself and Nimitz signed it among a plethora of other medal commendations. Also, despite only flying nine missions, his Distinguished Flying Cross lists 32. Why? Because McCarthy said so. That's why.
Jack Kerouac's Famous "Spontaneous" Novel Was Actually Written Over Ten Years
Jack Kerouac gave birth to the "beat generation" with his 1957 book On The Road, and with it came Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and bad jazz poetry. When asked about it, Kerouac would claim he wrote the entire thing in one, frenzied, three-week bender, having jury-rigged his typewriter with a single continuous roll of butcher paper because changing sheets would have ruined his flow.
The scroll, at least, is true -- it's kept in pristine condition at Indiana University. And it may be true that he hammered it out in just three weeks, sweating booze and pills. But that's much less impressive considering that he had the whole thing pretty well memorized by that point -- it was the sixth or seventh draft.
Kerouac claimed that On The Road was a work of "spontaneous prose," cultivating the legend that he was one of those assholes who could vomit out a whole book perfectly on the first attempt. But when you hear the word "spontaneous" you don't usually think "ten years," which is how long the book actually took to write.
The first notes were actually scribbled down in journals as early as 1947, and the next decade was spent cranking out draft after draft while getting shot down by publishers who weren't interested in his quirky book about a couple of guys driving around, listening to jazz, and doing drugs.
Eventually, in 1957, Viking finally agreed to publish the damn thing, and that's when Kerouac began promoting it as something he pulled out of his ass in under a month. After all, what kind of lame-ass square spends years tweaking, editing, and perfecting a story word by word? A true artist can just mash the keyboard and shit out a classic!
The Head Of FEMA During Hurricane Katrina Got The Job Because Of A Fake Resume
In 2003, virtually no one noticed when a relatively unknown bureaucrat named Michael Brown was appointed by President Bush to the head of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). This seemed like a pretty significant promotion, given that Brown had, until then, only been Assistant City Manager of Emergency Services in Edmond, Oklahoma. Going straight from coordinating fire engines in a city of 80,000 to managing the emergency services in all of America is a big jump, but hell, his record seemed pretty solid, and given that FEMA isn't that important an agency anyway, he was as good a pick as anyone. Right?
Unfortunately for Brown (and, you know, everyone else), he was still the head of FEMA when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. You might recall that the emergency response to Katrina didn't go very well. Almost as if, say, the person organizing the response had no goddamned idea what he was doing.
Brown resigned after the Katrina disaster, but after a little journalistic investigation, it turned out that he was even less qualified than anyone had suspected. It turned out Brown wasn't actually Assistant City Manager of Emergency Services in Edmond at all, as his resume said. He was Assistant to the City Manager. Those extra words matter, because they're the difference between being second-in-charge and being the guy who buys the Starbucks.
He was just a step above "intern." Though, according to his boss (the actual City Manager) he was pretty good at his job -- he always turned up to work on time, and wore a suit every day (that's actually his defense).
In case you're tempted to believe Brown just worded his resume badly and accidentally stumbled into a major federal government position, that wasn't even his worst attempt to stretch the truth. Brown also claimed that he'd worked as a Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Oklahoma, but the University doesn't seem to have any record of him being on the faculty. He also claimed to have been a prominent lawyer, but there's almost no record of his law career beyond grading bar exams.
But, hey, who hasn't lied on an application before? The only way it could have gone wrong is if there was some kind of, we don't know, federal emergency that suddenly needed managing.
A Stand-Up Comedian Made A Career Claiming To Be A Millennial, Is Actually 56
Between 2012 and 2016, media outlets including Forbes and The New York Times published interviews with a young millennial stand-up comic named Dan Nainan. He had an inspiring story; he was a successful young dude working at Intel in New York, moving up the chain at a big corporation while still having wistful dreams of pursuing a career in comedy. Then 9/11 happened, and his life changed. He took comedy seriously, worked hard at it, won a bunch of stand-up contests and achieved his dream.
But amidst the flurry of attention given to Nainan, The Daily Beast started noticing a few odd details, such as his bizarrely fluctuating age. In 2012, an article mentioned that he was 36, but then in 2016, four years later, another article said that he was 35. Either Nainan was living some kind of slow Benjamin Button syndrome, or something fishy was happening.
So The Daily Beast decided to dig deeper, until they found a Maryland traffic court case with Nainan's name on it. His date of birth was listed as May 1961. The media's favorite "millennial" poster boy is so far outside the millennial age bracket that he could be a real millennial's dad.
It turns out that it's been something of an open secret for some time in comedy circles that Nainan might really be a guy in his late 50s pretending to be a hip youngster. It's just rarely brought up, because pissing off Dan Nainan is more trouble than it's worth -- he's actually kind of a giant asshole, who challenges other comics to physical fights and was once arrested for punching a journalist (who also worked for The Daily Beast, though they swear this isn't, like, a revenge thing).
When directly confronted with the overwhelming evidence that he was lying about his age, Nainan responded by doubling down. According to him, it's his birth certificate that's wrong. That doesn't explain the wrinkles, but you do you, man.
A Celebrity Chef Lied About His Entire Career, Continues To Be Famous
English celebrity chef Robert Irvine has hosted numerous food shows such as Dinner: Impossible and Restaurant: Impossible. He got those jobs on the back of an amazing resume that boasted feats such as helping bake the cake for Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding, being a personal chef to the President of the United States, attaining a knighthood, having a B.S. in food nutrition from the University of Leeds, and owning a castle in Scotland. What does Gordon Ramsay have? A colorful vocabulary?
These claims held for years because, well, nobody ever decided to check and see if they were true. At least, not in his home country. It wasn't until Irvine travelled to St. Petersburg in Russia and started throwing his weight around like he was top shit and referring to himself as "Sir Robert Irvine, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order" (seriously) that Russian journalists began asking the tough questions about who this asshole actually was. After a few phone calls, they realized that just about nothing he'd ever claimed about himself was correct, beyond knowing how to cook. Like, generally speaking, he knows how a stove operates, and that's about it.
According to The St. Petersburg Times expose, first of all, the biggest role he had in creating Charles and Diana's cake was helping pick out some of the fruit that went into it, and that's just because he happened to be studying at the school where it was being made. He did actually work at the White House -- cooking for Navy personnel. Never once did anything he cooked come within smelling distance of the president or any executive staff. Hell, there's not even any record of his B.S. from the University of Leeds.
"But the part about the knighthood, that was surely true, wasn't it?" is a phrase that zero of you are saying. Irvine claims that one was a rumor he started while drunk in a pub one night, as is the story about owning a castle. To be fair, which of us has never claimed to have a British knighthood after a few beers, not even once? Or owning just a small castle? Come on, you've all done that.
The devastating smackdown that unraveled Irvine's web of lies (which any journalist anywhere could have done, just, any time they liked, with a cup of coffee, a croissant, and a phone book) led to Irvine being fired from his TV show, and giving a public apology for lying about his entire career. And where is he now? Oh ... actually he's totally fine. He got another TV show, and still opens new restaurants like none of this ever happened. It turns out it really is that hard to un-famous someone.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Rachel P. makes up her own lies on Twitter. Follow her @plehcar.
Also check out 6 People Who Got Away With Living An (Implausible) Lie and 6 Famous Explorers Who Shaped The World (With Insane Lies).
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