Most political leaders are extremely well polished, with focus groups and other experts helping them stay on message, and makeup artists and other professionals making sure they stay perfectly coiffed at all times. All little flaws, wrinkles or quirks are ironed out or hidden, as the politician wants to avoid even the tiniest thing that could be seen as a scandal. However, some political leaders have managed to get in office either in spite of, or because of their quirkiness, and their willingness to sometimes create their own gimmick if necessary. In today’s article, we will go over some of the strangest political leaders in history.
10. Saparmurat Niyazov AKA Turkmenbashi, The Deceased Ruler Of Turkmenistan
If you’ve watched the television show Archer, you may have seen the episode “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” where the crew goes to Turkmenistan. We’ve previously covered some of the odd rules forced on the country’s people, and the show — despite being a satirical cartoon — has a lot of truth to its weird claims. And it all comes from the man known as Turkmenbashi.
As a sampling, he banned ballet, circuses, beards and gold fillings in teeth, changed two of the months of the year to his and his mother’s names, respectively, and made a national day for both horses and melons. From 1991 until 2006, the country was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov — aka Turkmenbashi — who styled himself as a god to be worshipped by his people.
When the citizens of the country were interviewed after his death — as his successor slowly but surely destroyed the quirks of his forced cult of personality — nearly everyone who was talked to had met the man himself at some point or another, and many described him as rather shy. Saparmurat was orphaned at the age of eight, and grew up in what was basically a Soviet Group Home, so he didn’t exactly have a normal life, or a lot of stable friends or guardians. Perhaps all the odd rules, and the visits with so many random citizens, was an attempt by a very lonely man to reach out to others, and find some way, somehow, to connect with them on some level.
9. Rob Ford, The Crack Smoking Former Mayor Of Toronto
Rob Ford was a troubled and bombastic individual who was, for a time, the Mayor of Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, as he passed away from cancer in 2016, but he left behind a bizarre legacy, and left the media, and the Canadian public (as well as the rest of the world) with something to talk about for quite some time.
He was a relatively overweight individual with a large personality to match, and in May 2013, a claim surfaced that he had been in a video in which he smoked crack cocaine. He at first denied it, but eventually the video surfaced fully, and in November 2013 he admitted he had used crack, but said he only did so very occasionally and that it had been during one of his drunken stupors. He refused to resign.
However, in April 2014, yet another video emerged of Ford smoking crack, and this time he entered rehab for a few months to deal with his drug problem (but still refused to resign over his hard drug use while in office). In the end he decided not to run for Mayor again in 2016, instead focusing on city council as his health had taken a turn for the worse. He was soon diagnosed with a rare type of cancer known as liposarcoma, and was frequently in and out of the hospital. Despite his crack smoking and his odd behavior, Ford was still known as a mayor who meant well by the people of his city, and on March 22, 2016, he passed away in palliative care, leaving behind many family members and friends who loved him dearly.
8. Marion Barry, The Second Elected Mayor Of Washington D.C.
Marion Barry was the second ever elected Mayor of Washington D.C., and also the fourth. He first served from 1979 to 1991, and again from 1995 to 1999. He was so popular that he was nicknamed “Mayor for life,” and only briefly left office between his two stints as Mayor of D.C. because a misconduct scandal caused him to end up not being able to seek reelection. Oh, and he even spent six months in federal prison. You see, Marion Barry had a bit of a crack problem and in 1990, he was caught by an FBI sting buying drugs from a woman who had been a former girlfriend. As he was arrested, he continually complained that he “shouldn’t have come up here” (to the hotel room he was caught in), and that the “b**** set him up.”
Despite this, he became Mayor again, and later served on the city council after that. He was once tried for a DUI, but managed to successfully fight the charges. However, he clearly did have a drinking problem, as he had once before been in a traffic stop incident where alcohol was involved (although both times he blew below the limit). He was known for visiting gentlemen’s clubs late at night, and admitting when caught to it that he was “a night owl.” However, while he was known for saying a lot of crazy or silly or even mixed up things, he actually didn’t say much of what people have attributed to him. Snopes has an exhaustive list of all the actual things he did (or did not) say that have been attributed to him over the years, in case you wonder which ones you had wrong and want to check.
7. Arnold Schwarzenegger AKA The Governator
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a larger than life personality, and mostly known for all the movies he did during his most celebrated period during the 1980s and 1990s. Whether a Terminator, or a tough talking Marine taking out alien predators, or anything in between, he has a cinematic place in almost everyone’s hearts. However, long before Donald Trump decided that celebrities could become higher office politicians in the USA — even without experience — Arnold (as well as his Predator co-star Jesse “The Body” Ventura) was paving the way for him by becoming the Governor of the state of California in 2003.
His biggest sticking point in life is that he is originally from Austria, so as a naturalized citizen, he cannot run for president. He has tried lobbying efforts to change the law before, and has considered a constitutional legal challenge as well. Unfortunately for Arnold, no one seems interested in changing the laws just so that he can run for office. Fortunately for the rest of us, though, as he might not be the most mature politician. He once spelled out a letter explaining his veto, with the phrase “f*** you” hidden as an acrostic within the letter. He has also openly talked about his addiction to fancy cigars, despite being a bodybuilder and general health nut, and lobbied briefly after his election as Governor to have an open air atrium added to the capital, where people could smoke in contravention of state law, so that he could have important meetings in the building while enjoying his fine stogies.
6. Muammar Gaddafi Was Practically A Real-Life Bond Villain
Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist from 1969 until his death in 2011, when the country finally revolted against him, partly due to the activism centered around the Arab Spring. Now, Gaddafi had been known as a lot of things, such as the Mad Dog of the Middle East, and a real charmer in many personal situations, despite the fact that he was such a tyrannical and hardheaded dictator. However, while he may have managed to come across as charming in person to other world leaders, he was not so charming to the people he abused.
While he does seem to have kept his family living a life of luxury, he was also known for keeping a cadre of 30 “Amazonian” bodyguard (that were all female), who were to take a vow of virginity before joining, and wear camouflage and heavy mascara. While some people found this fascinating and just quirky, when he died his secrets came out, and it turned out even a Bond villain surrounded by suggestively-named female bodyguards would have found him overly cruel. Some of his bodyguard claim that they didn’t join voluntarily at all, but were blackmailed into it, and many also reported being raped by Gaddafi and his sons, and then thrown aside when they had gotten bored of them, like a toy they no longer cared to play with. He may have charmed a lot of people, and made them think he was just quirky, but underneath it all was a very evil and abusive man who saw women as nothing more than objects to be used and discarded as he willed.
5. Marianne Williamson, The New Age Writer And Activist Running For President
Most people hadn’t heard of Marriane Williamson before, but now with the Democratic Presidential primary, she is starting to become a familiar name. She has never been in politics before, but instead has been an activist (helping fight against AIDS) and has written 13 books, mostly of the self-help advice nature, blanketed with spiritual phrasing and sayings. Many of her new age sayings on Twitter from the past have been giving people great amusement, as she sounds like a cross between a new age faith healer, and sort of like a modern day witch. She had never even held a political office before, but made it onto the debate stage regardless, because that was not a requirement to qualify for the debates.
Many of those who support her, some of whom started out supporting her “ironically,” call themselves the orb squad, and find her constant talk about energies and forces of darkness and light to be refreshing in a world where everything is about political points and wonky policy debates. She has gotten criticism, though, for being against psychotropic drugs, especially for children, and for calling vaccine laws “draconian and Orwellian.” She seems to have completely embraced her quirkiness as a gimmick, and is using it to the fullest in the hopes that it will bring her name recognition, when otherwise voters likely would not have given her the time of day. One of her strangest points in the debates was her saying that there were dark spiritual energies surrounding Donald Trump, and that she would overcome him with the power of love.
4. Herman Cain, The Former Pizza CEO Who Became A Presidential Candidate
Back in the 2012 presidential race, Barack Obama was looking for (and won) his second term, and a very wide field of Republican candidates were hoping for a chance to become president… or at least boost their name recognition from a robust challenge against him. This meant many people who were not previously well known politicians, or even politicians at all, were going for a bite of the apple.
Enter former turnaround CEO Herman Cain, who had successfully brought the Godfather’s Pizza chain back from the brink of bankruptcy, and made them a relatively stable business. He felt that as a turnaround CEO, and the only African American in the race, he had a significant chance to make a big splash, and maybe even draw off black support from Obama in the general election. His main claim to fame was his 9-9-9 tax plan, which would put federal sales tax, income tax and corporate tax all at a flat 9%. This sounds like someone who has played too much Sim City, as it is incredibly over-simplistic, and would also greatly benefit the rich and not the poor or middle class. Recently he was in the news yet again, when Trump was floating him as a member of the board of the Federal Reserve. After a lot of news stations pointed out his lack of fitness for the office, Cain withdrew claiming the reason was that the position would mean taking a pay cut.
3. Francois Duvalier, AKA Papa Doc, AKA Baron Samedi, The Loa Of The Dead
Francois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc (later to be succeeded by his son Jean-Claude, who would be known as Baby Doc), was ruler of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. While he was originally elected to the office, his regime quickly turned despotic, and he only left office when he finally died (and basically sent birthright rule on to his son). He did this through a combination of his own death squad, called the Tonton Macoute, and a cult of personality around himself.
He styled himself as an incarnation of the Loa (spirit) of the dead of Haitian Voodoo, Baron Samedi, and regularly talked about his voodoo spells and the way he used them on his enemies. By doing so, he made many afraid to talk or plan against him, even in private, when they knew absolutely no one was listening, and no one would tell of the goings-on. The craziest thing he did was claim, upon JFK’s assassination, that it had been his voodoo spell that had done in the president of the United States. Now, while Duvalier did claim to put a death curse on Kennedy, it is unlikely he stabbed a voodoo doll 2,222 times, as some sources at the time claim, as voodoo dolls are not usually associated with Haitian Voodoo.
2. Idi Amin, The Ugandan Leader Who Called Himself The Last King Of Scotland
Idi Amin was the President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, and was known for being a brutal butcher and a despot, even becoming nicknamed “the butcher of Uganda.” However, he himself did not think of himself as the butcher of Uganda, but instead liked to style himself as the last king of Scotland — which is a tremendously bizarre claim to make for a leader of a country that is not even on the European continent. In fact, people found his claim so bizarre, they made a movie about the quirkier aspects of life, called — you guessed it — The Last King of Scotland.
Now, perhaps his claim to the throne of Scotland had something to do with the fact that he helped wrest control of Uganda from the British and give it back to the people, but that love for him quickly started to fade. He was ousted in 1979 due to accusations of mass genocide, but he continued to have delusions of grandeur up until his death. In fact, while he was a world leader, other world leaders were worried about his mental stability and what he might try to do at a diplomatic event.
The Queen of England, who had received some rather strange love letters from Idi Amin, was worried he would show up at her Silver Jubilee (despite not being invited), and had already come up with a tongue in cheek plan to deal with him if he gatecrashed and caused trouble (she planned to hit him over the heat with the flat side of her ceremonial sword). Unfortunately for history, Idi Amin wisely chose not to come to a celebration he had not been invited to, and the history books do not have a page where the queen lays into a rival head of state with her trusty ceremonial weapon.
1. Boris Johnson Is Both The UK’s Next Prime Minister, And A Very Odd Man
For those who don’t know too much about him, Boris Johnson recently became much more important, as he became Prime Minister of the UK on July 24, 2019. Many have called him the “British Donald Trump,” but the similarities are a lot less than many people think. While both look similar, can be somewhat brash or eccentric for politics, were both born in New York, and both of them have a nationalistic bent to their philosophies, that is where the similarities end.
Trump is the type of man who can sometimes take himself too seriously, but Johnson will walk out looking like he just jumped out of bed while still wearing his suit from the night before, quickly ran a comb through his hair without looking in a mirror, and rushed outside to make his way to his first engagement of the morning. He also once got stuck on a zipline during a publicity stunt during the 2012 Olympic games in London, and instead of getting upset, tried to use the opportunity and attention to play to the crowd.
Johnson cut his teeth in the famous Oxford Union debating society. Those who knew him at the time described a man who seemed to sometimes lose his thread, because he would momentarily think of a good argument for the other side, and forget which side he was advocating for. Even if you disagree with him on his Brexit position or his nationalism, Johnson is a legitimate intellectual, and not to be underestimated as some kind of simple-minded buffoon.