The 10 Famous People You Didn't Know Were Really Huge Badasses
5. Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer
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If the thought of a tiny, wrinkly Jewish lady who doles out advice to ladies who want to know how to keep their man’s attention without setting themselves on fire makes you laugh, just imagine that same person pointing a high-powered, semi-automatic M89 at your skull.
The therapist and author grew up in the thick of World War II when her mother and grandmother helped her escape from Nazi-infested Germany, shortly before they died in concentration camps. She joined the Israeli Army after the war and trained as a sniper and sharpshooter. Her tour of duty ended when she was struck by an exploding shell in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, an injury that almost crippled her for life. Of course, millions of men across the nation thank God it didn’t every time their girlfriends and wives show them new and exciting uses for ripened cantaloupes in the bedroom.
4. Author George Orwell
It takes a lot of guts to stand up to the oppressive forces of tyranny and destruction the way that the 1984 and Animal Farm author did with his immortal words of rebellious warnings. He developed his fearlessness for the threat of death by staring it in the eyes until it cried like a little girl and made his momma kiss his boo-boos.
The Bengali-born writer had a lifelong distrust of the privileged and powerful and signed up for the Spanish Civil War as an infantryman with a military militia in 1937. During a heavy and heated battle, a sniper shot him in the neck and narrowly missed his carotid artery. When World War II broke out, he tried to sign up again as a soldier but the military turned him down.
3. Actor and director Mel Brooks
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Some of Brooks’ most memorable movie moments are dedicated to turning Adolph Hitler into a giant punchline. His harrowing stint in the military, however, prepared him well for that.
Brooks worked as a combat engineer in World War II where he spent most of his tour defusing destructive land mines. He escaped serious injury during the 40 operations he went out on, but came very close to setting off a German S mine known as a “Bouncing Betty,” which shot lethal shrapnel in a horizontal pattern and could cut a man clean in half.
2. Scientist Marie Curie
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Being a toughie doesn’t require a set of testicles. It takes stamina, passion, and a willingness to face danger and devastation in the face of unrelenting opposition. Marie Curie, however, has a bigger pair of fuzzy dice than most men on the planet.
Her undying devotion to the study of physics and furtherance of education lead her to lead an underground equality revolution by educating and increasing literacy among female factory workers long before the Suffragists would take to the streets. She also tried to further her research into radioactivity and medicine by applying her theories on wounded soldiers in the battlefield during World War I, helping to develop the first set of X-rays that could help doctors locate bullets and shrapnel in a wounded soldier’s body. She spent so much time around radiating materials in her scientific life that it is believed to have been a major contributor to her passing.
Then again, all that exposure to radiation might explain how she grew such a huge set of balls.
1. Actor and comedian Graham Chapman
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He might seem like a foppish British gentleman with a penchant for wearing ladies’ dresses and pretending to be a high-pitched pepper pot, but he has been through more dangerous and harrowing situations than the brashest of Americans...and he did it for fun.
The late member of Monty Python had the kind of reckless rap sheet most hardcore punk bands can only dream of achieving without scoring a disorderly conduct charge. He was a fairly heavy drinker who had to have a drink or two a day just to face the world, an addiction that eventually became a big problem on the set of the Pythons' Holy Grail movie since he couldn't remember most of his lines. He was also a very close friend of Keith Moon, the drummer for The Who, who had a penchant for trashing hotel rooms long before trashing hotel rooms became a prerequisite for rock stardom (along with heavy drug use, public hallucinations, and issuing press releases about how you've sobered up and found Jesus).
The most impressive part of his resume, however, was his longtime membership with the Dangerous Sports Club, a group of rugged individualists who spent their free time finding new and unique ways to laugh in the face of danger. The group made bungee jumping a regular activity long before it became popular among drunken college students and Travel Channel segment producers. They also invented their own brand of athletic competitions to indulge in like “Human Catapulting,” swimming the English Channel in kangaroo outfits, and sliding down huge snowy mountains in Venetian gondolas and double-decker buses.
Attention Winter Olympics committee, I think we've found out a way to get your groove back (up next on NBC Sports, it's the Gondola Long Jump! O sole mio!).