4 Real People Who Claimed to Have Inspired Famous Characters (But Totally Didn’t)

Are they secret pop-culture muses or randos seeking attention?
4 Real People Who Claimed to Have Inspired Famous Characters (But Totally Didn’t)

Some folks get pretty upset when discovering that they’ve inspired famous fictional characters — case in point, the architect named “Goldfinger,” who was reportedly less than thrilled to have his name forever associated with the megalomaniacal villain who tried to laser James Bond’s junk off. On the other hand, certain people have actively tried to claim credit for inspiring pop culture icons — even when the available evidence doesn’t totally back up those claims. Like when…

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A CNN Anchor Argued That ‘Rick and Morty’ Had ‘Hijacked’ His Name

There’s no doubt that Rick and Morty began with the thought experiment “What if Doc Brown was a sex offender?” and the ensuing super-gross animated short it produced. But when it came time to give the lead characters names that wouldn’t prompt legal action from Universal Pictures, they became “Morty Smith” and “Rick Sanchez.”

This prompted former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez to claim that the cartoon “hijacked” his name. Sanchez previously made headlines after being fired from CNN for making anti-Semitic comments concerning Jon Stewart, so, yes, the cartoon drunk who sold weapons to aliens and turned into a pickle to avoid therapy is somehow the less problematic “Rick Sanchez.”

As proof, the real Sanchez pointed to an earlier comedy video made by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, featuring a news anchor named Rick Sanchez.

Except Roiland’s short premiered in 2006, pre-dating Sanchez’s CNN show (and firing) by several years. Sanchez also said he reached out to Roiland, who claimed that “he had no idea who Sanchez was and that the whole thing was merely a coincidence.”

A Real-Life Swedish Chef Believed That the Muppets Appropriated His Identity

The Swedish Chef, the wildly incomprehensible Muppet with the disturbingly human hands, may seem like far too silly a character to have originated from a real person. But an actual Swedish chef has claimed credit for inspiring the puppet and, by extension, the ‘80s breakfast cereal, which astonishingly didn’t spark some sort of international incident.

Real-life culinary whiz Lars Bäckman from Rättvik, Sweden, claimed he was the “real-life model” for the Swedish Chef, telling reporters: Yes, I‘m sure it‘s me. I used to look exactly like that. Bäckman speculated that Muppet creator Jim Henson likely saw his comically inept appearance on Good Morning America in the 1970s.

While Bäckman unquestionably does resemble the puppet, Muppet performer Jerry Juhl has pushed back against the idea that he was the inspiration. According to Juhl, “I wrote, rehearsed, rewrote, brainstormed and giggled uncontrollably a thousand times with Jim Henson as we dealt with the Swedish Chef, and I never ONCE heard him mention an actual Swedish chef. I mean, that‘s a story Jim would have told!”

An English Heavy Metal Band Billed Itself as ‘The Real Spinal Tap’

You may think that any real rock groups would prefer to avoid being associated with Spinal Tap, a fake band known primarily for their volume, punctuality and deceased drummers. But the English heavy metal outfit Saxon has routinely bragged that the mockumentary was based on their band, with two members even penning a book called Saxon Drugs & Rock n' Roll: The Real Spinal Tap.

Their claim stems from the fact that This is Spinal Tap’s Harry Shearer tagged along with Saxon for a few shows to “watch them in action” in preparation for the movie. And while Shearer admits that he did borrow a few quirks from the band’s bassist for his character, Derek Smalls, Christopher Guest later revealed that the primary inspiration for Spinal Tap was really an unknown group he inadvertently overheard checking into a hotel in 1974. According to Guest, the dopey rockers spent 15 minutes talking about a missing bass guitar.

As for the famous scene in which Spinal Tap can’t find their way to the stage, that was “directly inspired” by a similar mix-up involving Tom Petty.

The ‘Real’ George Costanza Sued Jerry Seinfeld

Seinfeld is famous for mining real life for story ideas; there was an actual Kramer, a real Soup Nazi and the holiday of Festivus was one writer’s secret family shame. Oh, and Jerry Seinfeld really was friends with a guy named “Costanza.”

Yup, Seinfeld went to college with a guy named Mike Costanza, who attempted to capitalize on his fictional, neurotic namesake by publishing a book called The Real Seinfeld (By The Real Costanza), and also by suing Seinfeld, Larry David and NBC for a whopping $100 million, alleging that they “violated his privacy by basing the character George Costanza on his life.” 

Costanza stated at the time: “George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. Georges high-school teacher nicknamed him Cant Stand Ya. So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I.”

Of course, having a “thing” about bathrooms and parking spaces isn’t especially unique. And, even if Seinfeld did borrow George’s surname from an old pal, it was pretty clear to everyone that, as the defense argued, “the George Costanza character was based on Larry David.” Plus, Costanza obviously couldn’t have been too upset, seeing as how he had previously accepted a cameo role on Seinfeldplaying a “disgruntled truck driver” in the episode “The Parking Space.”

Had later seasons included a storyline in which George attempted to sue Jerry and NBC for a massive sum, then he might have had a case.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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