Four Strange Celebrity Cameos in Historical Events

Elvis was the King of Eradicating Polio, too
Four Strange Celebrity Cameos in Historical Events

Considering how much politicians love photo ops and serial killers love California, it’s honestly surprising that more celebrities aren’t involved in historical events. Sure, plenty of them are veterans, and plenty of the other kind have gotten involved in some form of activism, but it’s pretty rare that a future or current famous person finds their pretty face in the history archives. Sometimes, though, the stars literally line up just right.

Samuel L. Jackson Worked Martin Luther King Jr.’s Funeral

In 1968, Samuel L. Jackson was only a baby-ass motherfucker going to school at Morehouse College in Atlanta when he found out Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Although he “hadn’t been that political before,” he immediately flew to Memphis to protest, only to return to find that Dr. King had followed him. Morehouse was King’s alma mater, too, so that’s where the final leg of his three-stop funeral tour was taking place. “They needed volunteers to help people find their way around campus, and I became an usher,” Jackson said, guiding people like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, “people that I thought I’d never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life.” 

It wasn’t Jackson’s last encounter with a Martin Luther King either. Having been decidedly Civil Rights-pilled, he and several other Morehouse students petitioned the school board for curriculum changes and greater student board involvement, and when the board refused to meet with them, the students locked them in a room on campus. One of the board members held hostage was Martin Luther King Sr., who began having chest pains, “so we just put him on a ladder, put him out the window and sent him down,” Jackson said. 

That’s not a super-clear description, so we like to think they strapped the revered reverend to a ladder and slid him out a window like some Home Alone shit.

Angela Lansbury Funded the Manson Family

As the head hippie in free love Hollywood, Charles Manson made connections with plenty of celebrities — from the Beach Boys to a preteen Bryan Cranston — but possibly the least likely to float into his orbit was Angela Lansbury. Sadly, she didn’t go Jessica Fletcher on his ass. It was more of a Taken situation, involving her teenage daughter, Deirdre.

“It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deidre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson,” Lansbury said, remembering him as “an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it.” One biographer called Dierdre “Charlie’s prime money catch,” as he often picked her up from school to go on spending sprees with credit cards stolen from her mother. Can you imagine? How grounded would you be if you not only stole your mom’s credit card but gave it to a serial killer? You’d never see your Xbox again.

It’s unclear how grounded Dierdre became, but she did quickly become in Ireland. “We upped sticks and moved the family to a house I found in County Cork,” Lansbury explained. “I refused all work for a year and simply kept house.” If our math is correct, that means Charles Manson is the reason Angela Lansbury left Mame on Broadway, possibly his biggest crime.

All the Best 1980s Music Came Out of the Kent State Massacre

If we asked you to locate a likely incubator for future rock stars, you probably wouldn’t think “Ohio,” but an alarming number of them were students at Kent State University during the infamous shootings of 1970. In fact, it was what inspired them to become rock stars instead of teachers or agricultural engineers or whatever they were studying.

One of them was Chrissie Hynde, who dropped out of school, moved to England and joined the Pretenders in the wake of the massacre. Another was Jerry Casale of Devo, who was close friends with fully half of the students who died. “In all seriousness, Devo probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for May 4th,” he has explained. “I had always been making art and music, but the events of May 4th and beyond galvanized my creativity, infusing it with an existential anger and urgency that would otherwise not have happened.” Specifically, the urgency to put on a silly hat and crack that whip.

Others who left the school after the incident include Christ Butler, who founded The Waitresses, and Joe Walsh, who was studying English. To think, were it not for the tragic events that day, you could be sitting in a lecture hall listening to Professor Walsh warn you that he don’t need the ladies crying ‘cause the story’s sad.

Elvis Helped Eradicate Polio

Rock stars don’t generally make major contributions to public health. If anything, between cocaine and chlamydia, they’re a downright hazard. In 1956, however, health officials found an opportunity to use musically-induced lust as a force of good. To put that in Elvis terms, that’s between “Heartbreak Hotel” and Love Me Tender — in other words, his underage-hormone-spiking prime. It was also a crucial moment for the polio vaccine, which had been approved for a year but health officials were dismayed to find wasn’t getting much traction with the youth, who boasted a dismal 0.6 percent vaccination rate. Somehow, their “Get your bobby shots before your bobby socks!” campaign wasn’t connecting.

That’s when they turned to the King. The request was simple: Get the jab, and get it in the highest-profile possible way. Presley was about to make his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and his first one was watched by more than 82 percent of all Americans who owned a television, so it didn’t get much higher-profile. He didn’t actually get the shot on the air, but in front of plenty of photographers onstage before the show. There were probably rules about penetrating guests — at least the male ones.

It worked. Within six months, the teenage vaccination rate shot up to 80 percent. To be sure, there were other factors, but almost none of them were so sexy.

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