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35 Beloved Historical Figures Who Weren't As Great As We Remember

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is often referred to as one of the best Prime Minister’s England has ever had. On top of that, he led the Allies to a victory during WWII. And that's that, right? Well...not quite. He might have had a hand in the destructive Bengal famine of 1943, and even if he didn't, don't get him started about his feelings on Hindus. 

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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, most famous for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though he began the first steps in abolishing slavery, he wasn’t so peachy keen. Lincoln was actually quite racist and regularly used slurs to describe African-Americans. He even initially opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. He only started it to preserve party unity. 

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John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy--great president, terrible husband. Notorious for his numerous affairs, Kennedy just couldn't seem to keep it in his pants. Although, if we looked as good as JFK, we probably would too. 

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Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was one of the most peaceful men in the world, who constantly preached love. He should have taken his own advice. He routinely told married couples to take a cold bath to avoid urges while carrying on an affair with his physician—this is after he took a vow of chastity. He also slept with young girls, sometimes multiple at a time. 

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus landed in North America, and he’s considered a great traveler. That being said, he’s a huge douche. The way he treated native peoples was appalling. He enslaved and mutilated them, going as far as to say that they “should be good servants.” 

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Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote a lot of books that are now considered quintessential children’s classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. But don't expect him to attend your Bar Mitzvah--he was a notorious anti-semite. 

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Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, the film legend, was a master of slapstick comedy. He was also a master of marrying teenagers--three of his four wives were in their teens. And the one that wasn't lied and said she was--which raises some eyebrows of its own. 

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John Lennon

John Lennon is many people’s favorite Beatle, mostly since he promoted peace later in his life. While he’s responsible for many musical hits, he also had some bad interpersonal issues. It’s now well known that he beat his first wife, Cynthia, something he didn’t deny. He also had numerous affairs during both of his marriages.

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Mother Teresa

Even literal saints can't catch a break. Mother Teresa has been canonized by the Catholic Church, but some folks are not as enthusiastic about her legacy as others--especially the late writer Christopher Hitchens. But then again, who did he like? Despite her humanitarian record, he and others take issue with her belief in the spiritual value of suffering--including the suffering of those she aimed to help. 

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John Wayne

John Wayne is a western hero, but he was far from a hero in real life. In a 1971 interview, he stated, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” 

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Steve Jobs

Some people talk about the "dark side" of Steve Jobs--his cruelty to employees, his cruelty to his daughter, his cruelty in general. But I would say there's nothing about this tech genius that isn't dark. Who in their right mind would say that the invention of the iPhone has been a net positive for humanity? 

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Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is one of the greatest guitarists ever, made obvious by his three-time inductee status to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. He's also incapable of holding his liquor. Once in the 70s, Clapton, who was visibly drunk, began ranting at a concert about "keeping Britain white." 

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers of the United States, and he was also our third president. He famously wrote “all men are created equal,” but he didn’t actually think all men were equal. Not only did Jefferson own slaves his entire life, he engaged in a long-term affair with one of them. 

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Dr. Seuss

Say it ain’t so, Dr. Seuss! Even though he was responsible for things like The Cat in the Hat, he was also responsible for several WWII-era cartoons that were less-than-flattering towards the Japanese. 

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T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is one of the best poets of the 20th century, most known for his 1922 poem The Waste Land, which includes lines like “this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot was also known for being a douche and anti-Semite. In 1933, he called “free-thinking Jews undesirable.” Eliot also only married his first wife so he could stay in England, even though he hated being with her. 

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Elvis Presley

Shakira move aside—Elvis has hips that don’t lie. Or do they? This King of Rock ‘n Roll made women swoon, but he also worked his magic on underage girls. Priscilla was 14 when they fell in love—Elvis was 24. They spent all their time together after they met and were basically inseparable the whole time.

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Henry Ford

Henry Ford is an industry visionary, and we can’t deny that. He is responsible for creating Ford Motor Company, but there’s more you should know about him. Ford was anti-Semitic. He bought and used Dearborn Independent as a platform to rant. He even insisted that Jewish people started World War I. Hitler even cited Ford in Mein Kampf. If you agree with Hitler, you’re in the wrong, okay?

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Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra had a voice that made women weak at the knees. He influenced music in a way that many musicians can only dream about. That being said, he also had strong ties with the mafia and was extremely abusive. During an argument with actress Ava Gardner, he fired a gun at a mattress to threaten her. He then threatened to take his own life. Red flags as far as the eye can see!

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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is the King of Pop and dominated the charts with hits like “Thriller.” He also dominated headlines when the things he did to children behind closed doors at his Neverland Ranch came out. It wasn’t until after he died that people started to come forward, saying the accusations were true.

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Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was (and still is) one of the best American writers that’s ever lived, writing classics like The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway was also bipolar and would start fights all the time. James Joyce got in bar fights, and he’d have Hemingway fight for him. His children also considered him a horrible father due to his mood swings.

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Aristotle

The great, “wise” Greek philosopher, Aristotle! We say “wise” because, in his mind, women weren’t humans. They were “deformed men.” Aristotle stated that women had fewer teeth than men (they don’t), rendering them incomplete. Women also didn’t contribute to the continuation of the human race because it was men who shaped children into human beings.

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Don King

Don King is one of the biggest hype men in boxing, but some people may not remember that he’s a murderer. King shot a man in the back after he caught the man breaking into one of his gambling houses. The other was the 1967 murder of an employee by stomping them to death. King was convicted of nonnegligent manslaughter and spent three years and 11 months in prison before being pardoned.  

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Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash changed the music landscape forever, and it’s hard to imagine life without this rugged outlaw. Being an outlaw, it may not surprise some that Cash was the cause of the 1965 wildfire at Los Padres National Park. This disaster ended up killing 49 of the park’s 53 endangered California condor vultures. Cash was later quoted as saying, “I don’t care about your d*mn yellow buzzards.”

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was one of the first legends inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 1986 because he laid the groundwork for the sound we all know. However, it wasn’t all great for Berry. He was convicted of armed robbery before he graduated high school. He had multiple legal issues, including taking a 14-year-old girl across state lines and tax evasion.  

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is one of the smartest men that’s ever lived, but he was also a pretty mean guy to his wife. He left a list of rules for her if they were to stay married like a misogynistic prenup. These rules included cooking three meals and delivering them to his room, she would forgo traveling with him (or sitting with him), and that she’d stop talking if he told her to stop.

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Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell is the man who invented the first practical telephone, but there was a darker side to the man we never hear about. Bell was involved in campaigns to eliminate deaf people. Why? He feared that deaf people would take over America.  

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Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant is known as a notorious drunk, but that wasn’t all the skeletons in his closet. Grant was so concerned that African Americans and white people wouldn’t get along that he wanted to buy the Dominican Republic, where all four million recently freed African Americans would live. That’s not even all. Apparently, he also banned all Jewish people from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.  

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W.E.B. Du Bois

Being an early American civil rights leader, you’d expect Du Bois to be pretty tolerant. Nope. The first red flag popped up when he accepted a five-month-long trip to Nazi Germany with the condition of not criticizing their treatment of Jews. When he returned, Du Bois wrote that the German hatred was “a reasoned prejudice or an economic fear.” Du Bois also spoke highly of Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man.  

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential men in history, but even he isn’t without his faults. While many know about him plagiarizing his doctoral thesis, the most surprising aspect of his life is his frequent extramarital affairs. He reportedly had affairs with over 40 women, and there have been claims that he watched a friend assault a woman.

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Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton is a beloved children’s book author who wrote stories like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. However, she wasn’t as great as everyone thought. Her own daughter called her “arrogant, insecure, pretentious…and without a trace of maternal instinct.” Blyton cheated on her first husband, and he filed for a divorce. Afterward, Blyton refused to allow him to see their children.

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Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson was very clearly a white supremacist. Wilson actually sent an envoy to France during World War I to inform African American troops that their situations at home wouldn’t improve when they returned. All this despite the fact they were fighting courageously and sacrificing themselves for our country. Wilson also regularly conducted raids on immigrants and activists.  

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Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama and Tibetan monks may push peace, but there’s more behind them than we may realize. Lamas are known to own slaves—thousands of them. Even the Party chief in Tibet called the Dalai Lama a “wolf in monk’s clothes, a devil with a human face.” After fleeing to India, it’s said that the Dalai Lama no longer owns slaves, but that doesn’t make the situation much better.  

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Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is celebrated as one of the best directors out there, but he was a pretty horrible person. During birds, he had one actress mauled by real birds to create realistic scars and wounds. Hitchcock also stalked this same woman because he grew obsessed with her. Hitchcock even had his assistants follow her around to make sure she wasn’t seeing any men.

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Teddy Roosevelt

Roosevelt led the country for a good amount of time, and that’s how most people remember him. For others, however, he’s remembered as being incredibly racist. At one point, he was quoted saying that Americans should “ultimately crowd out the Mexicans.” Additionally, he said, “It was out of the question to expect them [Texans] to submit to the mastery of the weaker race.”

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly a beloved historical figure, but his track record isn’t clean. Many may not know that Nelson Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, a group that’s responsible for unlawful violence. The group has reportedly committed over 100 acts of sabotage, over 100 deaths, and other atrocious acts.  

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