We’ve all experienced a moment in time when we felt like this isn’t real. When we question: Did this actually happen? Is it really over? There have been deaths, the last-ever episode of our favorite TV shows and celebrities who have gone so far off the deep end, we become enamored and can’t help but enable their behavior. These past 35 years have given us so many of these wonderful, funny, sad, “winning” and too-good-to-be-true moments in the cultural domain that they’ve redefined our lives and become part of our lexicon. The virality and their significance have — and always will — stand the test of time. And if you don’t like our rankings, well, “No soup for you!”
35. Pee-Wee’s Big Misadventure
Pee-Wee Herman arrested for public masturbation
Pee-Wee Herman, aka Paul Reubens, was arrested at an adult theater, in Sarasota, Florida, on July 26, 1991. The beloved TV star of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was seen by an undercover cop playing too much with himself while viewing Nancy Nurse, Turn Up the Heat and Tiger Shark at the South Trail Cinema. Before there were memes there were a million snickering jokes, mostly about which two famous Americans got shot in the back of the head in a theater…
Reubens made his triumphant return just five weeks later at the MTV Video Music Awards, poking fun at himself when he asked the audience, “Heard any good jokes lately?”
– Jason Stahl
34. The Need for Stream
Netflix begins streaming
Netflix launched in 1997 with its DVD-by-mail business, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they changed the way we watch television. For a small monthly subscription, you had access to videos on demand — Netfilx launched with about 1,000 videos, including Casablanca and the BBC version of House of Cards; today they have over 70,000 (!) — but with bad resolution due to slow bandwidth. Fast forward, and streaming has become the new norm to viewing. Netflix is still at the forefront of this technological marvel and somehow quickly developed a hypnotic power to suck us into a time vortex called “binge-watching.”
33. More Than Friends
Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie: Gay or straight
Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie’s very close friendship — two male friends living in the same house and sleeping in the same room, albeit in different beds — lead many to believe that they were also gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the public wanted them outed. Creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz never intended them to be gay, but Mark Saltzman, a former Sesame Street writer said he wrote them based on his real-life relationship with his partner. Sesame Street denied this, saying they are best friends, but Oz tweeted in response in September of 2018: “A last thought: If Jim and I had created Bert and Ernie as gay characters they would be inauthentic coming from two straight men. However, I have now learned that many view them as representative of a loving gay relationship. And that’s pretty wonderful. Thanks for helping me understand.”
– Mary Elisabeth Gibson
32. No, you ask for it back
New York City Pizza Rat
New York is full of underground creatures, but its most famous might be the rat who was videoed dragging a full slice of cheese pizza down the stairs into the subway in 2015. The video was uploaded to the interwebs and became an immediate viral sensation, which is not to be confused with that actual scratchy feeling you get while riding a NYC subway.
31. Girl You Know It’s True
Milli Vanilli caught lip-syncing
Rob and Fab of the dance music duo Milli Vanilli took the world by storm in 1989 with their hit song “Girl You Know It’s True.” Except they didn’t know how to sing. They were a fabrication, perfect for the video age. SPIN reporter Bonz Malone was kicked out of the Grammys that year for very loudly calling them out as fakers backstage before the secret came out.
The charade started to unfold during a July 1989 performance in Bristol, Connecticut that aired on MTV, when a recording of the track started skipping, repeating the partial lyrics “Girl You Know It’s…” over and over and over again. Rob and Fab pretended to sing and continued dancing before running offstage. A few months later one of the actual singers came forward and admitted the deception. Finally, the duo’s German producer revealed they never sang a note on the album or in any concert. Rob and Fab were subsequently stripped of their Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The German-accented imposters blamed it on the rain…
30. Family Feud
Jay-Z gets a beat down — from his sister-in-law
Beyoncé, husband Jay-Z and her sister Solange Knowles were in an elevator at The Standard Hotel in New York City on May 5, 2014, when Solange went postal on her brother-in-law and kicked and punched him until she was restrained by their bodyguard. The 58-second grainy security cam footage shows Beyoncé not exactly hurrying to intervene. Jay-Z claimed it was a disagreement between him and Solange, though the prevailing theory was he got the beating he deserved for living the big pimpin’ lifestyle a bit too realistically.
– Tomas Pacheco
29. Sticker Shock
Parental Advisory labels
The first album to have the black and white parental advisory label on it was 2 Live Crew’s anticipatorily named Banned in the U.S.A., released in 1990. These advisory labels were also known as the “Tipper Sticker” after Tipper Gore, former Vice President Al Gore’s wife, who, with three other influential Washington, D.C. women, began the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), after hearing her daughter singing explicit lyrics from Prince’s Purple Rain album. The PMRC lobbied for a warning on the front of “offensive” albums so parents could monitor the type of music their children were listening to. As you’d imagine, there was a massive uproar in the music world opposing what was clearly an attempt to censor artists (and not too coincidentally, particularly black artists). Ultimately, the Recording Industry Association of America caved and agreed to begin affixing parental advisory labels to records containing explicit lyrics or “vulgar” subject matter, though whether this effectively prevented children from listening to explicit music is highly unlikely. What’s little remembered from this time is that the record labels embraced the sticker, and used it whenever they could remotely justify it, after they discovered that it increased sales!
28. Prelude to a Kiss
Same-sex kiss on Roseanne
In the Roseanne episode airing March 1, 1994, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) goes with her friend Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) to a gay bar and has a close encounter with Nancy’s girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) who plants a three-second kiss on Roseanne. This wasn’t the first same-sex kiss on network television, but the first in a comedy. ABC didn’t want to air the episode but was strong-armed by Barr, and also realized they’d lose nearly $1 million in ad revenue if they didn’t air it. So they took the principled stand — and the million.
27. Oh My God, They Killed Chef!!
South Park takes on Scientology
South Park aired a hysterical episode called “Trapped in the Closet” on November 16, 2005, which created an uproar, even by their lofty standards. With chants for Tom Cruise to come out of the closet — R. Kelly singing about said closet — and the suggestion that Stan was the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology was particularly unhappy with this episode (we assume Tom Cruise wasn’t a fan too). To be fair, South Park has made fun of just about everything and everyone on planet Earth, but after this episode, Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, and also a Scientologist, quit the show, causing the character to be killed off in the following season’s premiere. Tom Cruise threatened Viacom, the corporate parent of Comedy Central, which produced the show, and Paramount Pictures to not make any more Mission: Impossible movies if the episode continued to air. You can still find the episode online (in case — cough, cough — you’re curious), so, booooo, it hasn’t…
– Quinn Hodge
26. You Lost Me at Hello…
Hello Kitty is a girl, not a cat
Perhaps the biggest WTF moment of 2014 came when the creators of Hello Kitty revealed the truth behind the by-then 40-year-old toy. In response to a museum exhibit’s description of Hello Kitty as a cat, Sanrio confirmed what we were all NOT thinking: Hello Kitty is not a cat (Hello? Kitty?), but a girl, who was born in London on Nov. 1 (so a Scorpio) and whose full name is Kitty White. Her parents are George and Mary White. She eats apple pie and is a perpetual third-grader. Oh, and has a twin sister. Obviously. Also, the multi-billion dollar licensing company that owns Hello Kitty doesn’t actually produce a product.
25. Gone Too Soon
River Phoenix overdoses
On Halloween, 1993, rising acting superstar River Phoenix went to the Viper Club in L.A. with friends, including his girlfriend Samantha Mathis, siblings Joaquin and Rain Phoenix, and Johnny Depp, who was also part-owner of the club. Upon arriving, Phoenix, who was already high, told Mathis he was asked to play with the band. Samantha went to the bathroom and when she came out saw her boyfriend getting pushed out of the club by a bouncer, went outside and started screaming in horror as River fell to the ground and began convulsing. Efforts to revive him failed and Phoenix died of a cocaine and heroin overdose. He was only 23.
He was perhaps the James Dean of his generation, he had that charisma and stardust. He also had a tragic premature ending.
24. Welcome to the Mushroom World
“Super Mario Bros.” is released on Nintendo
Introducing the world to the titular cast of Mario and Luigi, the ever-captured Princess Peach and the abominable Bowser, Super Mario Bros. debuted in Japan on the Nintendo Entertainment System on Sept. 13, 1985. When it eventually came to the United States arcades across the country were packed! (The exact date of arrival is a bit washy, though Nintendo claims the first Super Mario Bros. game sold in the U.S. was on Oct. 18, 1985, at famed toy store FAO Schwarz in New York.)
The immediate success of the game sparked the side-scroller as a video game and immortalized the plumbing brothers as the quintessential duo. Through more than 30 sequels across 35 years, and constant mentions amongst the greatest video games of all time, their chivalrous quest has spanned generations of childhoods.
23. Wakanda Forever
Chadwick Boseman dies of cancer
The death of Chadwick Boseman shocked the world as his passing of colon cancer was completely unexpected. The 43-year-old Boseman didn’t tell anybody he was ill. The actor played Black American icons such as James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson (his death came on the day Major League Baseball was honoring Robinson for being the sport’s first Black player) before becoming a household name starring in Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther. His role as T’Challa inspired Black children around the world that they can be anything they want, including a superhero.
Boseman, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, decided to keep the news from Marvel during the production of Black Panther. In a statement released on Twitter, Boseman revealed he filmed “during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy,” further inspiring cancer patients.
– Brianna Vacca
22. On Bended Knee
Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem
Having previously sat during the national anthem, at the recommendation of former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took it a step further. Before a preseason game against the Chargers on September 1, 2016, Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem. He was taking a stand against racial injustice in this country. He announced he would donate $1 million towards organizations fighting racial violence. This gesture earned him both widespread support and resentment, as well as claims of being unpatriotic and that he didn’t support the military. Hundreds of players followed suit for the remainder of the season, a symbolic gesture both in solidarity with Kaepernick and in support of his goal to draw attention to the mistreatment of African Americans and minorities.
Kaepernick, however, was replaced as the starting quarterback and since the conclusion of the 2016 season, no NFL team has signed him, even though he had previously taken his team to the Super Bowl. He sued the NFL and won an undisclosed settlement — and remains a hero who sacrificed a lucrative career for his principles.
21. Humble Pie
Dolly Parton loses a Dolly Parton Lookalike contest
So one evening in L.A., Dolly and friends decide to go to a gay bar and enter Dolly, more exaggeratedly vamped up than her normal self, to be fair, in a Dolly Parton Lookalike Contest. She gets up, walks across the stage, and… fails to convince. “They had these big drag queens — I mean they looked great too, they were prettier than I could ever dream of being — but anyway when they walked across the stage, if they applauded, you won the contest by the amount of applause.” Dolly once told talk show host Harry Connick, Jr. “All these beautiful guys were walking across, these Dolly Partons … and here I come walking across the stage and I got the least applause of anybody.”
Exactly when this happened we’re not sure, but Dolly first told the story on a news show on ABC in 2012.
– Bob Guccione Jr.
20. Fight For Your Right
Pussy Riot takes on Mother Russia
Known for their colorful ski masks and “fuck the government” attitude, Pussy Riot, the all-female Russian band hates President Vladimir Putin. The group of LGBT activists gained notoriety in February 2012 for a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, to protest the dictatorship of Putin and his ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The band was arrested and charged with “hooliganism” and two members served three years in jail for the stunt. Their public trial was a stunt in and of itself, causing much of Russia and the Western world to chime in on the political landscape and the lack of right to freedom of speech in Russia. Mission accomplished!
19. Big Brother is Dancing
Psy releases “Gangnam Style” on YouTube
With its infectious beat and ridiculous video, the internet phenomenon known as Psy’s “Gangnam Style” hit YouTube in 2012. The world has never been the same. That’s an exaggeration, but who cares? The video features Korean pop star Psy dancing in refined clothes but in what can only generously be described as an unrefined way. The video is meant to highlight people who pretend to be from “Gangnam” — the Beverly Hills of Seoul in South Korea — but actually aren’t. The chorus is a simple one — Oppan Gangnam Style — and has a simple meaning. According to numerous top-level intelligence sources, it translates loosely into, “Girls, your big brother is Gangnam Style.”
His moves started a dance craze across the world that hasn’t been seen since the Macarena, with people making parodies and videos of themselves doing the “horse trot” dance to the music. It was the first YouTube video to hit 1 billion views, breaking the website’s view counter, and was the most viewed video for almost five years!
18. Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
Geraldo brawls with skinheads
This was one of the most combustible moments in daytime television. The ultra-macho and mustachioed Geraldo Rivera thought it would be a good idea to have white supremacists be on the same show with a Black civil rights activist. On the Nov. 3, 1988 episode, “Teen Hatemongers”, a fight broke out when John Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance Youth in Los Angeles made many racial remarks and called Roy Innis an “Uncle Tom.” Roy Innis was a ghetto hardened tough guy and the National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, and calling him an Uncle Tom was a version of assisted suicide. Innis got all up into Metzger’s grill and grabbed the 20-year-old by the neck. After some pushing and shoving and Skinheads stormed the stage, a melee ensued. Punches were thrown. The audience got in on the brouhaha, too. Geraldo was hit in the face by a flying chair from across the stage, breaking his nose. A bloody Rivera, who was a former amateur boxer, got into a fistfight with the fella who threw the chair. After security restored order, Geraldo went on to tape two more episodes.
17. The Biggest Loser
Charlie Sheen is winning!
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date when Charlie Sheen began spiraling out of control so let’s just say all of 2011. During the year the Two And Half Men star called the creator of his hit CBS sitcom a maggot; attacked the network and its top executives; said he cured his alcoholism with his brain; hijacked the phrase “winning”, and there was something about tiger blood. He subsequently had a live tour that bombed. What happened to our precious Ricky Vaughn? He at least lived up to that nickname, Wild Thing.
16. Miami Vice
Lebron James’ “Decision”
In one of the biggest dick moves in all of sports history, free agent Lebron James sat down with a dick in his own right, Jim Gray, live on ESPN, to reveal where he would sign next. Taking place less than an hour away from Madison Square Garden at the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, everybody thought James was going to sign with the New York Knicks. Instead, James announced, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” to play for the Miami Heat, leaving Cleveland in his rearview mirror (he would eventually return and leave again) and punching Knicks fans in the gut.
15. I’m Dave Chappelle, Bitch!
Dave Chappelle redefined sketch comedy when his immortal comedy series Chappelle’s Show premiered on Jan. 22, 2003. This first episode quickly showed the world he was the alpha dog with sketches about a blind white supremacist who doesn’t know he’s black. When it came to pushing the envelope, Dave was a “habitual line stepper.” He went on to show us what the internet would be like if it was a real place, hosted the first-ever racial draft, exposed Wayne Brady’s dark side and gave us, perhaps the most talked-about sketch, Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories, where Murphy, Eddie’s brother, told tales about Rick James and Prince.
The first two seasons were gangbusters. Then, in the words of Chapelle’s version of Rick James, Dave went into the “darkness.” He quit, on the eve of a new, at the time unprecedented $50 million contract. Reports claimed Dave was burnt out, couldn’t hack it anymore and subsequently went crazy, taking himself to Africa. The Africa part was at least true.
There was also one sketch that sent Chappelle over the edge. It aired in the abridged season three, where magic pixies embodied various racial stereotypes. In an interview with Time, Chappelle said the sketch made him feel uncomfortable and that he felt stressed out from the set’s tiring filming schedule and the difficulty to continue to do stand up comedy, claiming that the show was ruining his life. And he did go to Africa, but to visit a friend. Anyway, he’s back now and funnier and more cutting than ever. Just watch 8:46, his take on the George Floyd murder.
14. Iron Man
Cal Ripken breaks Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak
The date had been circled on fans’ calendars, for years. Sept. 6, 1995 — that was the night Cal Ripken would pass Lou Gehrig’s record, if he stayed healthy. And what an “if”! But, on that magical night at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles shortstop did surpass Gehrig for most consecutive games played, a stunning 2,131, a record that was supposed to “stand for all time.” When the record against the Angels became official, the classy Ripken trotted into the dugout. The fans stood. Teammates Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmiero pushed Ripken out of the dugout so he could receive the recognition. This turned into a 22-minute ovation with Ripken circumnavigating the ballpark high-fiving fans, and turning cheers to tears, including me, watching from home.
13. Ding, dong, the witch is dead!
Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump
When Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election on Saturday Nov. 7, defeating the widely despised and ineffective Donald Trump, a party broke out across America, as the streets of major cities filled with tens of thousands of celebrants, glad to see Trump’s chaotic, divisive reign end. Note, this doesn’t happen, to this degree, ever in American politics. This was equivalent to VE Day, when the allies defeated the Nazis to effectively end the Second World War.
The outpouring of emotion was loud and real and palpably there was the sense of a great darkness lifted. In the end this was more than Left versus Right, this was about a correction back to America’s historic decency. Everyone knew there would still be deep problems, but on the day, that wasn’t what the people on the streets cared about. As one person pointed out on Twitter, how bad a job did you have to do that church bells rang in Europe when you got kicked out?
12. The New Sound of Music
“Apple has invented a whole category of digital music player,” said former Apple CEO Steve Jobs when the iPod was released on Oct. 23, 2001. It wasn’t the world’s first-ever MP3 player (don’t you remember the launch party of Korea’s Saehan Information Systems MPMAN F10?), but with Apple’s sleek design and easy-to-use 6.5-ounce device, the iPod made every portable CD player and Walkman just about obsolete. Jobs added, “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”
Six years later, on Jan. 9, 2007, Apple pioneered the next generation of mobile phones, launching the iPhone. The iPhone has evolved into one of the world’s most sophisticated pieces of technology, but the primitive alpha model changed the way we communicate and consume information, putting just about everything we do on a computer on one tiny device. The keyboard was now part of the screen and the phone forced websites to be designed for mobile use.
11. The Not-So-Exotic Life
Nothing like a little sheltering in place to open our eyes to the biggest trainwreck on television. Netflix’s Tiger King then opened our eyes to the completely insane and unscrupulous ways of exotic zoo owners. Even the subtitle “Murder, Mayhem and Madness” could not prepare viewers for what unfolded. There’s Joe Exotic’s roadside zoo vs. Carole Baskin’s big cat rescue — she may or may not have killed her husband. Ironically, Joe was charged with trying to have Baskins killed. Through all their trashy trials and tribulations, this nation quickly learned that even during a pandemic, our lives are not as bad as these folks.
10. The Show About Nothing Was Onto Something
Seinfeld series finale
After nine seasons and 180 episodes, Seinfeld signed off on May 14, 1998. Considered one of the greatest comedy series of all time, Seinfeld created its own lexicon, like “shrinkage”, “master of your domain”, “make-up sex” and the universal disclaimer, when discussing being a homosexual, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”. And, yada, yada, yada, it was much better than The English Patient.
The show also created a new holiday: Festivus.
Seinfeld was just one of the many great television programs that ended in the past 35 years. So many…. The Cosby Show, Cheers, The Office, The Sopranos, Homeland, Breaking Bad, The Americans, Bojack Horseman, Mad Men, Martin, Oz, Game of Thrones, Friends continue to impact pop culture (and of course will live forever and ever and ever on streaming channels).
9. The Shock Jock Gets Muted
Howard Stern banned from Clear Channel
The self-styled “King of All Media” Howard Stern got kicked off the airwaves in 2004, due to an indecent comment from a caller. Which was ironic given his own decades of offensive behavior and outrageous, and outrageously entertaining, rants.
The offending comment was described by Stern’s employer Clear Channel, then the country’s largest radio broadcaster, as ”vulgar, offensive and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency.” It resulted in an immediate suspension for Stern, with Clear Channel fined $495,000 by the FCC for another of Stern’s segments the year before. His show was kicked off of Clear Channel permanently. Stern’s response: “They are so afraid of me and what this show represents,” which was not inaccurate even if not quite as heroic as Howard was implying. He jumped to Sirius satellite radio, securing a mind-bending half-billion-dollar contract, returning in 2006 where he continues to rule because, as was said in the movie Private Parts, starring Stern as himself, listeners “want to see what he’ll say next.”
8. 10 Points to Rowling!
The first Harry Potter book is released
Who would have thought that a boy who lives in a cupboard under a flight of stairs would cause such a stir? His creator JK Rowling, who envisaged the entire Harry Potter story that would eventually fill seven books on a train to Scotland, did. On June 26, 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published and the story of a young boy, half-human, half wizard, whose life had been oppressive under an abusive aunt and uncle until Hogwarts came for him, became a global, unprecedented phenomenon. (Three days after the book was released in the United Kingdom, Scholastic bought the U.S. publishing rights for a mere pittance of $105,000. It was released in the U.S. on Sept. 1, 1998 as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The series has earned Scholastic hundreds of millions of dollars.) Rowling’s books have sold around 500 million copies and been translated into nearly 70 languages, and they changed, or at least revitalized, book publishing.
When subsequent Harry Potter books were released, usually at midnight, lines at bookstores resembled that of Walmart on Black Friday, or the old black and white pictures of kids queuing up for tickets to see The Beatles.
All seven books were turned into eight movies (magic, eh!) and even spawned a Broadway play, and a spin-off series, Fantastic Beast. There’s a Harry Potter theme park. And Quidditch has (sort of) become a sport.
– Tomas Pacheco
7. At the Top of Every List
David Letterman’s final show
For over 30 years, former local Indiana morning weatherman David Letterman was the king of late-night, first hosting Late Night (1982-1993) then Late Show (1993-2015). During those three decades, the gap-toothed, bespectacled, quick-witted, sarcastic Hoosier made us laugh every single night, poking fun at everyone and everything, performing routines that were silly, mundane and absurd. In 1985, Letterman started his iconic top ten lists. The first one: “Top 10 Words That Almost Rhyme with Peas.” And who can forget the “Top 10 Numbers Between One and Ten.”
Letterman’s final show on May 20, 2015 included flashbacks, touching moments and guests. There was a pre-recorded video of the living U.S. presidents all saying, “Our long national nightmare is over.” And the final top ten list? “Top 10 Things I’ve Always Wanted To Say To Dave” where 10 frequent guests and friends gave their final thoughts to the legendary late-night host. Bill Murray, who was Dave’s first-ever guest and also his last, appeared at No. 1. In his 44th appearance, he said, dramatically, “Dave, I’ll never have the money I owe you.”
Lorena Bobbitt severs husband’s penis
Lorena Bobbitt, who alleged she was repeatedly abused and raped by her husband John, had enough: In the early morning hours of June 23, 1993, Lorena cut off her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife. John, who called the situation, a “nightmare,” told ABC News that when he woke up he “cleared my thoughts, applied pressure. I went to wake my friend up to tell him to get me to the hospital.”
Lorena escaped their Virginia apartment. She got in her car and drove off, taking the penis with her and tossing it into a field. It was eventually found — by police who went digging for it through overgrown weeds then put it on ice in a hot dog box from a nearby 7-Eleven — and ultimately reattached, after one of the more remarkable 9-hour operations of modern times.
Lorena Bobbitt was charged in the attack, but after just an 8-day trial, was found not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of temporary insanity. She did, however, spend time at a mental hospital.
5. The Magic is Gone
Magic Johnson announces he is HIV positive
On Nov. 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, three-time NBA league MVP and five-time champion stepped up to a microphone in Inglewood, California and announced: “Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers. Today.” One of the greatest basketball players of all time, not the first athlete to contract the virus but the most notable, changed the public’s perception of who can become infected with HIV. Johnson returned to the NBA in February at the All-Star Game in Orlando, where he was greeted to a standing ovation, a kiss from Isiah Thomas, and named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
4. Live From New York, It’s Saturday Slight
Sinead O’Connor rips up a photo of Pope on SNL
Sinead O’Connor might be best known for her hit single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” but on October 3, 1990, O’Connor performed on Saturday Night Live, singing Bob Marley’s “War”, with the secret intention of bringing attention to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In her live performance she changed the lyric “racism” to “child abuse,” and while singing the word “evil” O’Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II, throwing the torn pieces into the camera.
During rehearsal, the singer had held up a photo of a refugee child, so O’Connor caught everyone by surprise on the airing. The audience was left speechless, America was shocked and the famously adlib-adverse SNL producer Lorne Michaels was livid. That was the night Sinead O’Connor’s career was effectively derailed, sadly and unfairly, although in our exclusive interview she called it “the proudest moment of her career.”
3. TV’s Greatest Wack Job
The Sopranos fades to black
The Sopranos’ final episode, broadcast June 10, 2007, is one of the most highly debated endings in television history. After six glorious seasons of countless f-bombs, goomahs, and a whole lotta gabagool, The Sopranos’ final moments gave us an infuriatingly ambiguous ending. Tony Soprano is sitting in a diner. He’s noticeably jumpy as he glances at the door every time someone enters. His family members join him one by one as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” plays on the tabletop jukebox. With wife Carmela and son Anthony at the table, and daughter Meadow parking her car, we see various, hulking, mean-looking men in the diner. We hear the bell on the diner door jingle one last time. Tony looks up, and Journey cries one last “Don’t Stop!” as the screen fades to black for a full 10 seconds. Credits roll.
Every one of the 11.9 million viewers that night were stunned, wondering: WHAT HAPPENED TO TONY? Did he get whacked? Was it all a dream? Did the Russian return? In 2020, a leaked interview with the show’s creator David Chase has him referring to that final scene as the “death scene”, seeming to finally close the chapter on one of entertainment’s greatest mysteries. Or does it?
2. The Day the Music Died
Kurt Cobain dies by suicide
April 5, 1994, Nirvana’s charismatic and talismanic leader Kurt Cobain lost his battle with depression and drug addiction and committed suicide with a shotgun. He was found in a greenhouse room above the detached garage to his Seattle home, by an electrician who came to do some work. Kurt was still clutching the weapon. Photos of Cobain with the shotgun weren’t released until 2016, dispelling the conspiracy theory this was a murder covered up by the Seattle police department. Some theorists had suggested the gun had been melted down to hide evidence.
Alongside his body a suicide note was found, detailing his struggle with guilt, empathy and music. He left behind his wife Courtney Love and their then 1-year-old daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. It was the end of Nirvana, then the world’s biggest band, and the beginning of the end of grunge and its uniquely American aesthetic.
– Quinn Hodge
1. The Juice Is Loose
O.J. Simpson Bronco chase
After O.J. Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman, the NFL Hall of Famer decided to go for a drive on June 17, 1994, hopping into a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings and made a run for it, initiating the world’s slowest, and perhaps most famous, car chase.
The millions of sports fans who tuned in that night to watch the New York Knicks vs. the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the NBA Finals — or the first night of the soccer World Cup, held, almost unfathomably at the time, in America — were hit with breaking news: Simpson was on the lam, on TV, with Cowlings leading police cars in a slow-speed “chase” along the LA Freeway.
An estimated 95 million people crowded around televisions at home, in bars and restaurants and even in front of closed electronic stores to watch through the windows. Cowlings called 911 claiming Simpson had a gun to his head and would kill himself unless he was driven home. Along the way, throngs of people leaned over freeway overpasses cheering for Simpson. Eventually the white Bronco pulled into Simpson’s Brentwood estate where he eventually surrendered and was arrested.
P.S. The Knicks won, and Ireland, almost unfathomably, beat Italy in the World Cup.
– Jason Stahl