Respected historical figures who were actually terrible people

Nobody's perfect, but some people aren't even close. This includes some of the most beloved figures in all of history — they look great at first glance, but a closer look reveals the deeply flawed, kinda terrible people they really were. These folks from history were downright awful.


Mahatma Gandhi, probably one the ten most peaceful men of all time, had a much bigger problem than the British ruling India. According to Gandhi biographer Jad Adams, writing for The Independent, Gandhi was actually quite the sex addict — he even left his dying father's side just to have sex with his wife. He was fifteen at the time, she was sixteen, and the grief of abandoning his father caused him to abandon "lustful love" forever. Kind of.

At age 38, he took an official vow of chastity, but regularly tested it in unusual, creep-tastic ways. His preferred method was to sleep with women, while naked. That might sound to you very unchaste, and you'd be right. But it was okay, because apparently nothing lustful happened. A middle-aged man simply slept naked with girls way younger than him, some as young as eighteen, and sometimes he would sleep naked with multiple young girls at the same time. Nothing weird about that.

Of course, this behavior wasn't acceptable for anyone else — in his mind, every Indian should practice strict chastity, to the point of never marrying. If they must marry, they should never have sex with their spouses. His married followers, meanwhile, were segregated on his compounds, told to never have sex, and should take cold baths if ever they feel their mojo rising. That's the real Gandhi — great for Indian independence, bad for keeping the young women in your life company.

Mother Teresa

It's borderline blasphemous to criticize Mother Teresa, or Saint Teresa as of September 4, 2016. Did anyone in history do more to help the poor and the sick? Yeah ... she maybe wasn't that great. As reported by the Times of India, Mother Teresa's true motives were actually kind of selfish, with less focus on helping people and more on boosting the numbers for her own religion. 

Mother Teresa's missions, despite having tons of charitable donations at their disposal, rarely — if ever — actually helped poor, sick people become healthy. In fact, most of these places, according to a 2013 paper published in Studies in Religion, were dirty, short on doctors, low on food, and largely bereft of painkillers. Nevertheless, Teresa found the suffering beautiful, like it was making the world a better, holier place. We know this because she said it to the famously anti-religious writer Christopher Hitchens: "There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ's Passion. The world gains much from their suffering." 

Naturally, this didn't apply to Teresa herself, who, according to Hitchens, would regularly get care at good, American hospitals when sick. Apparently, the world would've gained nothing if she suffered.

But Teresa's true goal was to use her charitable efforts to convert people to Roman Catholicism. Remember how she invoked "Christ's Passion?" That's because she truly felt that the poor, the sick, and the suffering were akin to Jesus on the cross. If they suffered as He did, in her mind, that would bring them closer to Him. It would seem she skipped the parts in the Bible where Jesus actually healed sick people.

Winston Churchill

We all know Winston Churchill for his efforts in fighting the Nazis during World War II. But as it turns out, he was a white supremacist who had way more in common with his enemies than history wants to let on. 

According to Richard Toye's book Churchill's Empire, young Churchill took part in what he called "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples" in Africa, and believed they were violent against the British not because the Brits were invading their land, but because they had a "strong aboriginal propensity to kill." Later, when he joined Parliament, Churchill advocated more war against minorities, claiming that "the Aryan stock is bound to triumph." Of the Kurds, who tried to gain independence from Britain, he said "I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes ... [it] would spread a lively terror." Jolly little wars, a lively terror — who knew Churchill spoke exactly like a 1980s cartoon villain?

Then there was Gandhi's quest to free India from British rule. Churchill didn't like that, calling for Gandhi's murder (by elephant!) shortly after he rose to prominence in the late 1920s. It wasn't just Gandhi, though — Churchill openly admitted, "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." He didn't mellow out as he got older — in 1943, in between rousing speeches about never surrendering, he refused to help India survive a severe famine that ultimately killed around 3 million people. Churchill blamed the Indians, saying it was all their fault for "breeding like rabbits." No wonder President Obama didn't want that man's bust in the White House.

Steve Jobs

If you own anything Apple aside from an actual apple, you owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Jobs. That said, he probably shouldn't be put on the lofty pedestal he so often is. He was ruthless. 

According to CBS News' write-up of Alex Gibney, who created the documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Jobs was basically a jerk through and through. He fathered a daughter, but denied she was his, and so she didn't see him for years. He contracted Apple with Chinese factories, whose conditions were so bad they drove the workers to exhaustion — several wound up committing suicide over the breakneck pace they were expected to churn out iPads and iPhones, among other devices.

There was also an issue with Apple stocks, in that Jobs was allgedly illegally backdating them in hopes of cashing in. When questioned about it by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he first denied it, then said he had to ask Apple's board of directors for extra "thank you" stock, then later turned the blame on his Chief Financial Officer. That's how Jobs would admit something bad happened: by saying someone else did it.

Walt Disney

He created Mickey Mouse, so how bad could Walt Disney really be? Plenty bad, as it turns out. He was more Wicked Witch than Snow White. 

As Neal Gabler exposed in his biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (as summarized by Vulture), Walt certainly had his racist side, and not just because he let Song of the South happen. He was reportedly the kind of person to, in meetings, refer to the Seven Dwarves as a "n***** pile," which isn't just terrible, it doesn't make any sense. He also used terms like "pickaninny" in meetings, which was an old-time (and offensive) term for black children. Don't ever use it.

Then there was his issue with women. As Ward Kimball, one of Disney's associates, said, "He didn't trust women or cats." (What's wrong with cats, pray tell?) Then there's a letter Disney sent a woman named Mary Ford, who wanted work as an animator. Was she good? We don't know, but Disney didn't care either way — he rejected her outright, because women simply didn't do that kind of work for him. In the letter's own words, "Women do not do any of the creative work ... as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school." Snow White and the Seven Dwarves appear on the letterhead, almost like they're mocking her for her silly woman chutzpah.


Caravaggio was a highly respected Renaissance artist — he painted Judith Beheading Holofernes, for one famous example. He was also a murderer, which is less respectful. 

In 2002, Andrew Graham-Dixon put out a Caravaggio documentary on BBC that (as recounted by The Telegraph) exposed why Caravaggio killed a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. It's been long accepted that Caravaggio killed Tomassoni in 1606, but most thought it was due to an argument over a tennis match. Well, according to new evidence put forth by Graham-Dixon, the issue wasn't Caravaggio being a bad sport — it was a woman. Specifically, a prostitute. Apparently, Caravaggio had a woman named Fillide Melandroni over for a painting session, and fell for her. Problem was, Tomassoni was her pimp, and Caravaggio took umbrage to this. He felt inclined to fight for her honor, which meant castrating Tomassoni. Roman custom, at the time, dictated that if a man felt his woman was being insulted by another man, he would cut the offender's penis off. It was a tough era.

The problem, as it turned out, was that Caravaggio wasn't very good at castration. He grounded Tomassoni and attempted to sever his manhood, but either the victim moved, or Caravaggio was simply clumsy. Either way, it appears Caravaggio severed his opponent's femoral artery instead, causing him to bleed out and die. So there you have it: Caravaggio killed a pimp by slashing an artery when he meant to slash his babymaker, and that's why they never named a Ninja Turtle ever him.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther's claim to fame is his 95 Theses and the Protestant Reformation. But apparently he felt just as strongly about Judaism. In fact, he felt the religion was evil and should be destroyed because the sad truth is that Martin Luther was a huge, highly dangerous anti-Semite. 

In 1543, Luther published a book entitled On the Jews and Their Lies, about why Jews are, in his words, a "rejected and condemned people" who do nothing but lie and blaspheme and who needed to be saved from themselves. And by "saved," Luther pretty much meant that good Christians needed to utterly destroy Jews' lives until they decided to convert.

He offered up several things these so-called good Christians could do to "convince" the Jews that Jesus is the way. Such niceties included burning down synagogues and "bury[ing] and cover[ing] with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them." Also, he called for the burning of Jewish houses, so they couldn't live anywhere either. Their prayer books and religious writings should be confiscated, and rabbis banned from teaching anything, entirely because Luther felt the god he believed in would've wanted it that way.

So now they're homeless and have no place to worship — what's next? Well, according to Luther, you then ban them from traveling on highways, because if they did so, they would commit usury (loan sharking). "Let them stay at home," wrote Luther, the same guy who just called for Jewish homes to be burned to the ground. Finally, Luther advocated confiscating all their money, only giving it back to them (in an allowance) if they have "sincerely converted" to Christianity. It's sad but true — the beloved Martin Luther outright advocated fundamentalist terrorism.

John Wayne

John Wayne's reputation as a badass man's man gets tainted real fast once you hear his views on anyone who wasn't white. Yep, the rough-n-tough cowboy was a full-blown racist. 

In a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine, Wayne admitted he didn't like African-American people (or "the blacks" as he constantly called them) being in charge of anything because white people are apparently the only people who know what they're doing. As he said in the interview, "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." He also railed against black people getting too many opportunities. He felt that "Hollywood studios are carrying their tokenism a little too far," and that minorities should only get roles meant for them. Like slaves — Wayne actually claimed to be inclusive because he "had a black slave in The Alamo." To that, you might say, "well, it's a start," but honestly, it's not.

Wayne also had a problem with Native Americans. In that same Playboy interview, Wayne opined that white people grabbing America from the Native Americans was good, because the Native Americans were hoarding it all for themselves. Seriously: 

"I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. ... There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves." It takes a ton of gall to call genocide victims "selfish," but no one ever accused John Wayne of lacking the stuff.

Charlie Chaplin

The beloved "Little Tramp," Charlie Chaplin, wasn't nearly as goofy in real life. In fact, he was downright predatory, particularly with little girls. Two out of his four wives were under 18 when he married them, while another one was just 18 (and he was in his 50s at the time). The only one over 18 was 22, but he married her after she claimed to be 17. That's the opposite of a good look. 

But if it's somehow not skeezy enough that he simply married underage girls, how about how the disrespectful ways he treated them? Take his first wife Mildred Harris, whom he married at 16 because he thought she was pregnant. (She wasn't.) She started getting movie offers, but Chaplin was an unsupportive husband, thinking she was too young to have any real talent. Not too young for him to romance, of course, but too young for anything else.

Then there's Lita Grey, whose poor treatment at Chaplin's hands was documented in her 1927 divorce papers, obtained by the London Times in 2015 (and recapped by the International Business Times). Chaplain impregnated Grey when she was 16 — he quickly suggested an abortion. When that failed, he married her, but treated her terribly. He would cheat on her with other young actresses, called her "lowly born and greedy" (according to the LA Times), paid little attention to their children, and would demand, as she put it, "revolting, degrading and offensive" sex acts, some of which were illegal at the time in California.

Grey got $825,000 in the divorce settlement, dirtying Chaplin's name at the time. Of course, time heals all wounds, which is why you don't hear this story much anymore. Until now, anyway.


The great Greek philosopher Aristotle was a wise man for sure, but when it came to women, he was a total misogynist who had zero idea what he was talking about. 

According to Charlotte Witt's essay "Feminist History of Philosophy" in the book Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy, Aristotle held views of women that went beyond typical sexism. In his mind, women were hardly even human beings — at best, they were "deform[ed]" men. For some reason, he decided that women have fewer teeth than men (they don't), rendering them incomplete, and even though they give birth, they "contribute only matter and not form to the generation of offspring." In other words, they birth the kid, but only men can shape them into actual human beings. Of course, that can only happen if the child is a man because — and these are his direct words — "a woman is perhaps an inferior being." It seems like there was no "perhaps" about it in his mind, however.

Does this make Aristotle less of a brilliant mind? Not at all, but it does show how imperfect of a mind he had, and that even the wisest among us can have glaring blind spots.