As Andy Warhol predicted, everyone gets their fifteen minutes, and while for most of us it will only happen on a small scale, every year a handful of ordinary people become briefly, wildly, un-ignorably incandescent with fame. It can happen for a variety of reasons: Either by action, or by accident. Because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time. Either way, their notoriety is usually fleeting, and it's not long before we forget who they are entirely, the way we forget the people we've spent time talking to at cocktail parties. But in managing to shed their everyday anonymity and captivate the world, however momentarily, these people have achieved something, and for that, we at Intel should honor them. Therefore, we present you with our first annual Fifteen Minutes Awards, in which we look back — one last time — at the people we'll soon never look at again.
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Most-Deserved Fifteen Minutes (Although He Doesn’t Think So): Harry Markopolos
Approximate Duration of Fame: January–June Ten years ago, when small-time Boston accountant Harry Markopolos wrote the SEC long letters identifying Bernie Madoff's securities firm as a fraud, they dismissed him as a crank. After Madoff confessed in December 2008, Markopolos was vindicated. However, being right didn't feel as good as you'd think. “Why would people think I feel good about this?” he said in January. “I didn’t stop him. He stopped himself.”
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Most Harrowing Fifteen Minutes: Chelsey Sullenberger
Approximate Duration of Fame: January 17–November 23 Chesley Sullenberger was the first genuine hero we had seen since the election, and after the US Airways pilot glided 155 passengers to safety by landing Flight 1549 in the Hudson in January, the hope-starved media fell upon him like a pack of hungry wolves. He did the talk shows, made the Time 100, appeared on the cover of this magazine, and authored a book, Highest Duty, a memoir and retelling of the incident. But it's all down hill from here: Vanity Fair's William Langewiesche's rival tome, Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson, indicates that the plane's engineering system was equally responsible for the landing, and Sully's upcoming book of poetry is unlikely to take off. It's hard to imagine what he could do to top his previous glory, short of landing another plane in the water, and that would just look like showing off.
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Fifteen Minutes Most Taxing on a Uterus: Octomom
Approximate Duration of Fame: January–April Nadya Suleman gave birth to a record-tying eight children in late January, and that was kind of interesting, especially with regards to the debate over how many kids is too many for one single mom to have (less than fourteen, probably). The woman dubbed Octomom also couldn't hold on to a publicist or nanny, made a frantic 911 call months earlier, and had enormous Jolie-esque lips — all factors which, we guess, contributed to the media's months-long obsession with her.
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Fifteen Minutes Most Tied Up With International Nuclear Diplomacy: Laura Ling and Euna Lee
Approximate Duration of Fame: March–August Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were doing a piece in China on North Korean refugees when they accidentally crossed into North Korea — happens to all of us at some point — and were imprisoned. After a shamtastic trial saw them sentenced to twelve years of hard labor, Americans wept for their girls and tied yellow ribbons around their trees, metaphorically. But Glorious and Wise Leader Kim Jong Il demonstrated his boundless magnanimity by letting them go. Bill Clinton came to pick them up, took a photo with Kim Jong Il's wax stand-in, and returned to America with newfound prominence. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are no longer in the spotlight, which is still preferable to being whipped for not rolling your boulder fast enough.
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Fifteen Minutes That Went Missing, All of a Sudden: Hipster Grifter
Approximate Duration of Fame: April–November In stark contrast to the barrage of "Bernie Madoff ruined my life," stories unfolding in the news, the anecdotes from people who had been conned by the adorable and tattooed Kari Farrell that flooded the Internet after the Observer broke the story of the "Hipster Grifter" were lighthearted and totally entertaining ("The lights went down and, almost instantly, her clammy hand made way for the Croatian Coast. Yes, right there, in the middle of a crowded theatre"). So much so that Law & Order based an episode on the affair. But that was probably the Hipster Grifter's zenith. Despite her efforts to stay in the press by writing to the media from prison in Utah, where she is doing time for check fraud, come 2010, she'll just be last year's clever Halloween costume.
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Most Swashbuckling Fifteen Minutes: Somali Pirates
Approximate Duration of Fame: April–August When Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, the Somali pirate who surrendered to authorities in the wake of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, first arrived in New York, he smiled for the cameras. But the pirate learned the hard way that American celebrity has its down side: This May, he was indicted on ten charges including "piracy under the law of nations, conspiracy, hostage-taking, kidnapping, and possession of a machine gun while seizing a ship by force."
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Cutest Widdle Fifteen Minutes in the Whole Wide World: Bo Obama
Approximate Duration of Fame: April 11–16 After literally months of rumors and speculation, Bo, a Portugese water dog given to the First Family by Ted Kennedy, made his national debut in April. From the moment Bo was paraded before a cooing White House press corp, he immediately became the Most Important Dog in the World. And though we still hear about Bo from time to time — usually when the White House could use a good piece of distracting fluff, or when Bo poops somewhere important — he'll never be quite the star that he was during his debut. NO, YOU WON'T, WILL YOU? WILL YOU?
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Most Heartbreaking Fifteen Minutes: Neda Agha-Soltan
Approximate Duration of Fame: June 20–23 An ordinary woman standing on the outskirts of a post-election protest in Iran became a martyr when a gunman shot her in the chest — one of many senseless acts of violence perpetrated by the Iranian security forces against its own people. Neda's story, and the gruesome video of her death, went viral via YouTube and Twitter and became a rallying cry for the movement.
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Best Fifteen Minutes Resulting From the Appalachian Trail: Maria Belen Chapur
Approximate Duration of Fame: June 25–June 29 When Mark Sanford admitted to having an affair with an Argentinean woman, the hunt was on to find out who the woman was, and, perhaps more importantly, if she was attractive. The answers were: Maria Belen Chapur, and, strangely, yes. Perhaps because the image of a hot Argentinean with a dorky, white-socks Republican were too much for the national mind to handle, soon enough, Chapur was forgotten.
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Most Medically Questionable Fifteen Minutes: Conrad Murray
Approximate Duration of Fame: June–November 2009 Michael Jackson's death introduced us to two new things: The anesthetic propofol, which killed him, and his shady personal physician, Conrad Murray, who was forced to go into hiding soon after admitting he had given the singer his fatal dose. Soon afterward, he released a You Tube video in which he declared his innocence. Someone must have found him telegenic, because murder investigation not withstanding, he's rumored to have his own television show in the works.
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Fifteen Minutes That Turned Out to Not Be As Hilariously Inappropriate As We’d Thought: Mayara Tavares
Approximate Duration of Fame: July 9–July 14 The G-8 conference made more headlines than ever this year when a photo was released of President Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy appearing to checking out a young woman's ass. A frantic scramble revealed the booty belonged to one Mayara Tavares, a 17-year-old community organizer from Rio De Janiero, and while later footage of the event later proved that Obama, at least, was actually looking at something else, she was immediately deemed a "sex symbol." And her father was pissed. “My daughter is not a model and she is not a sex symbol,” he told the Post. “That photograph has ruined my whole family.” Still, he added: “Thank God that Berlusconi was nowhere near her,” he said.
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Fifteen Minutes That Destroyed, and Subsequently Solved Forever, America’s Racial Tensions: James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Approximate Duration of Fame: July 16–31 What an odd couple this white Boston cop and Harvard African-American studies professor make. Their classic "How We Met" story is well known by now: Crowley investigates possible break-in at Gates's house, intruder turns out to be Gates himself, Gates gets angry about being racially profiled, Crowley arrests Gates for disorderly conduct. The incident was flying just below the radar when President Obama said during a prime-time press conference that Crowley had acted "stupidly." Predictable chaos ensued, and Obama quickly hosted Crowley and Gates at the White House for a beer just to keep America's racial tensions in check, where the two men gained mutual respect for one another and buried the hatchet. Months later they went on a second date, but the spark was gone.
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Most Homewrecking Fifteen Minutes: Hailey Glassman
Approximate Duration of Fame: July–October One-time Star reporter and alleged fame junkie Kate Major briefly became the story when she was photographed out at Accademia di Vino with the recently separated Jon Gosselin and (sources said they were "just friends") but theirs was just a one-time fling: Hailey Glassman, a 22-year-old from Philadelphia, was Gosselin's main other woman, appearing on Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, and numerous magazine covers with the Jon and Kate Plus Eight star. Alas, like all celebrity romances, theirs was short-lived. When the relationship died this fall, so did Hailey's fame, though she recently hosted a celebrity boxing event in Philadelphia.
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Most Emasculating Fifteen Minutes: Sheryl Weinstein
Approximate Duration of Fame: August 18–September 2 Our stomachs turned when excerpts of former Hadassah CEO and Bernie Madoff–lover Sheryl Weinstein's memoir revealed he was "not well-endowed," and compared his unit to a pig-in-a-blanket, but everyone forgot all about it in good time to enjoy hors d'oerves at this year's holiday parties.
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Fifteen Minutes Most Damaging to Our Perception of Mankind: Jaycee Lee Duggard
Approximate Duration of Fame: August 27–September One can't help but shudder thinking about the hellishly bizarre circumstances of Jaycee Lee Duggard's life: Kidnapped at the age of 11, she was kept in the backyard of some insane couple's home and forced to bear her first of two children when she was just 14. Strangely enough, it seems almost as if she became complacent with her situation and ignored ample opportunities to escape until authorities discovered her true identity in August. The whole thing is just too horrible. Well, at least she made the cover of People!
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Fifteen Minutes Most Deserving of a Nancy Pelosi Death Stare: Joe Wilson
Approximate Duration of Fame: September 9–16 South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson was probably unknown even to his own wife and kids before he heckled the President Obama in the middle of a joint address to Congress about health-care reform. But soon Wilson was the most polarizing figure in Congress — to the Tea Party crowd, he was a savior; to people who value politeness, a menace who must be stopped. In the following weeks, millions in campaign donations flowed to both himself and his opponent, breaking fund-raising records. And now? Well, we're pretty sure he's still alive, but we can't say for certain.
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Best Fifteen Minutes Achieved by a Dentist/Lawyer/Real-Estate Agent: Orly Taitz
Approximate Duration of Fame: August–October We're not sure exactly why, but Orly Taitz somehow managed to emerge as the leader, or at least most visible figure involved in, the Birther movement, which insists despite all information to the contrary that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. She even found an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate to prove it! But you can only laugh at hapless ignorance for so long — especially when it's packaged with such a shrill and grating personality — before eventually losing interest.
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The Most Poorly Thought-Out Fifteen Minutes: Robert Halderman
Approximate Duration of Fame: October 1–December 16 Robert Halderman should have just written his stupid screenplay about David Letterman schtupping his girlfriend. Instead, the 48 Hours producer became the butt of the Late Show host's jokes — and everyone else's — when he revealed his lame plot to extort $2 million dollars from him on-air, leaving Halderman not only cuckolded, but exposed as a fool, and slapped with criminal charges, to boot.
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Least Predictable Fifteen Minutes: Balloon Family
Approximate Duration of Fame: October 15–24 You have to give credit to Balloon Parents Richard and Mayumi Heene — their plan for capturing the nation's attention was nothing if not inventive. When little Falcon was reported to have snuck into a weather balloon racing across the Colorado skies, America watched in agony (Will he be okay?), followed by joy (It landed softly!), then sadness (Was he in that box that fell?), and joy again (He's alive!), before switching to confusion and skepticism (Um ... ) for a few days and eventually settling on disgust (Assholes) after Falcon cracked under the intense pressure of Wolf Blitzer's interrogation. The Heenes and their absolutely terrifying band of Balloon Children did achieve their fame, but only to become the scorn of the nation, and, the recipients of a hefty bill courtesy of the district attorney.
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Fifteen Minutes That Made Us Grateful to Have a Face: Charla Nash
Approximate Duration of Fame: February 16–18, November 11–12 Charla Nash was only trying to help calm down her friend's computer-using, wine-drinking, Xanax-popping chimpanzee, Travis, when she was savagely attacked by the animal and left severely injured and disfigured. Just how disfigured the world wouldn't quite grasp until Nash bravely revealed what's left of her face on Oprah. Next time you don't want to leave your apartment because of that zit, think of her.
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Fifteen Minutes Most Unbecoming of Society Types Who Should Know Better: The Salahis
Approximate Duration of Fame: November 26–December 10 Michaele and Tareq Salahi, two low-level D.C.-area social climbers, became the center of a national firestorm after they managed to sneak their way into an official White House state dinner by, we guess, looking like the type of people who wouldn't try to sneak into an official White House state dinner. The incident embarrassed the Secret Service — an elite security unit which somehow failed to follow basic list-checking protocol — and horrified other area socialites, who had earned the privilege of rubbing elbows with the President by writing him a large check.
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Fifteen Minutes That Were Clawed From Us With Acrylic Nails: Tiger Floozies
Approximate Duration of Fame: November 30–Present We found out about the women Tiger Woods had been sleeping with the same way we once found out we had mice. At first, it seemed like there was just one. Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere, and they all looked weirdly alike! But their plastic looks weren't the only thing they had in common: Tiger's mistresses proved adept at seizing their fame and using it to their advantage. One of them, Jaimee Grubbs, reportedly sold her story to Us Weekly. Another, Jamie Jungers, did the same thing with a British tabloid. And sales of OMG, Stop Tickling Me, a porno made by one of the women on the list, are way up! Say what you will about Tiger's choice in women: At least he picked smart ones.