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A Year Full of April Fools

From high-wire acts to Oscar gaffes, the year’s top-12 ”What Were They Thinking?” moments remind us that the desire for a do-over can come in any season

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by Austin O’Connor

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How did April get saddled with the “Fool” label? Some scholars say the connection between the 4th month and foolishness dates all the way back to medieval times. That’s a long and much-appreciated run of tomfoolery. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good-natured prank or two (Google, whose April Fool’s pranks have become hallmarks of the Internet age, certainly does)? Still, foolishness doesn’t really conform to the Gregorian calendar. Want proof? Check out a gallery of fools—and foolish moves—from each of the past 12 months, along with some lessons to be gleaned from even the dumbest of actions.

April 2013:  Reese Witherspoon's Disorderly Conduct

The Foolishness: The Legally Blonde star went a bit bonkers when her husband was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving in Georgia. “Do you know my name?” an outraged and slurring Witherspoon ranted at the cops from the passenger seat. “You’re about to find out who I am….You are going to be on national news.” Nice crystal-balling Reese! She was arrested for disorderly conduct and soon found the incident splashed all over TMZ, The New York Post and many other fine news outlets.

The Fallout: The dash-cam video of Witherspoon’s wild behavior went viral, prompting a media apology tour. She candidly admitted her mistake, apologized convincingly and spent the rest of year working on reclaiming her spot as one of America’s Sweethearts.

May 2003: Grumpy Cat's Movie Deal

The Foolishness: Really, people, this one’s on us. We turned Grumpy Cat—the Internet meme spawned by photos of a perpetually grouchy-looking feline—into, you know, an actual thing. Since originally appearing on the web in the fall of 2012, GC, as his friends like to call him, has become an unstoppable force. Last May, his agent, who also represents fellow viral sensation Keyboard Cat, announced the Grump had scored a movie deal.

The Fallout: The movie, which producers hope to turn into a family-friendly multi-film franchise, is still in the works. In the meantime, there are Grumpy Cat books, a Grumpy Cat website, and, yes, even Grumpuccino, the official Grumpy Cat coffee.

June 2013: Nik Wallenda's High Wire Walk

The Foolishness: Sometimes, foolish acts are also inspiring. When the 34-year-old Wallenda walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon amidst swirling winds and with no safety net, it was hard not to think he was a little crazy. It was also hard not to smile at his audacity—and his triumph.

The Fallout: Wallenda’s June 23, 2013 tightrope walk was broadcast on the Discovery Channel with a 10-second delay... just in case. Thirteen million viewers watched, making it Discovery’s highest rated live telecast ever. Among the foolish locations floated for his next tightrope walk are the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building. 

July 2013: Anthony Weiner's Sexting Saga

The Foolishness: Two years after his Congressional career was derailed by a sexting scandal, the 48-year-old Weiner was at it again. Last July, his campaign for mayor of New York City was decimated by the news that he hadn’t changed his texting ways. Weiner admitted that he had again exchanged sexual messages online with several women, using the unforgettable alias “Carlos Danger.”

The Fallout: Though he stayed in the mayoral race to the bitter end, his campaign never recovered. He went from leader of the pack to dead last, winning less than five percent of the vote in the September primary.

August 2013: Paula Deen's Lawsuit

The Foolishness: Deen, the celebrity chef whose recipes nearly singlehandedly uphold the butter and lard industries, was accused of racial discrimination in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. Deen admitted using racial epithets (“I’m from the south,” she explained helpfully) but the case against her was dismissed in August.

The Fallout: The Food Network canceled Deen’s TV deal, and she lost several endorsement contracts. Earlier this year she compared herself to “that black football player who recently came out," referring to NFL prospect Michael Sam. "He said, 'I just want to be known as a football player. I don't want to be known as a gay football player.'’ Last month, she announced a new media business, Paula Deen Ventures.

September 2013: Gov. Chris Christie's Traffic Jam

The Foolishness: In mid-September, aides to the New Jersey Governor ordered lane closures on the heavily-trafficked access roads to the George Washington Bridge—reportedly as retribution to local politicians and officials who had opposed Christie’s 2013 reelection—resulting in several days of massive logjams and huge commuter delays.

The Fallout: Christie still says he had no knowledge of the situation, and fired several of his staff members for their part in the lane closures. The controversy tarnished Christie’s man-of-the-people rep and could affect his ability to win higher office. Or not. 

October 2013: Miami Dolphins' Locker Room Trouble

The Foolishness: Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins teammates, engaged in a months-long exchange of incendiary, expletive-filled emails and text messages. Martin abruptly left the team in October, citing hazing and bullying by Incognito and others. Incognito was suspended for the rest of the 2013 NFL season and may never play pro ball again.

The Fallout: An NFL-commissioned inquiry into the matter found a “pattern of harassment” directed Martin’s way. The incident exposed the often-infantile environment in some NFL locker rooms. The Dolphins traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers and released Incognito, who continues to send tweets to Martin.

November 2013: Rob Ford's Crack Confession

The Foolishness: After months of allegations, the disheveled mayor of Toronto admitted to having smoked crack cocaine while in office. Remarkably enough, it wasn’t even his most mortifying admission that year.

The Fallout: Several more embarrassing incidents followed, but Ford remains defiantly in place, despite the Toronto City Council having voted 37-5 in favor of his taking a leave of absence. In January, he filed papers to run for reelection in the fall. Said Jimmy Kimmel, who nabbed the merry mayor as a guest on his show: “It’s like he’s the star of his own hidden camera prank reality show.”

December 2013: President Obama's Selfie

The Foolishness: At a Memorial Service for South African President Nelson Mandela, President Obama snapped a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thoring-Schmidt—prompting the apparent mortification of his wife Michelle and worldwide criticism for behaving like a 12-year-old girl with a new Galaxy III.

The Fallout: Though not quite a true international incident, the momentary lack of decorum briefly gave the haters more to hate. The photographer who snapped Obama taking the shot later apologized.

January 2014: Justin Bieber's Drag Race

The Foolishness: It’s been a rough road lately for the Biebs, and no stretch was tougher than January, when he was arrested in Miami for street racing, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. It’s hard to imagine how cops spotted him: He was driving a bright yellow rented Lamborghini.

The Fallout: A trial date has been set for May 5. Tweens across the U.S. will be watching. Or will they? 

February 2014: A-Rod's Baseball Ban

The Foolishness: After years of denials, accusations and innuendo, New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez dropped his lawsuit against Major League Baseball and accepted a one-year ban from the sport for using performance-enhancing drugs.

The Fallout: Once considered the best baseball player on the planet, Rodriguez has now admitting to using PEDs twice and alienated both Major League Baseball and his own Players Union (he filed suits against both), in addition to fans, members of the media, advertisers, and, for all we know, his pets. Now, he must sit out the entire 2014 season. He’ll be 39 when he’s eligible to play again.

 

March 2014: John Travolta's Frozen Flub

The Foolishness: During the Academy Awards ceremony, the actor mysteriously reinvented the name of singer Idina Menzel as he introduced the Broadway star before she sang “Let It Go” from the Disney hit Frozen. Travolta called Menzel “Adel Dazeem,” stupefying a worldwide audience and causing a Twitter storm of ridicule.

The Fallout: Travolta quelled the social media fracas, apologizing to Mendel via email and sending her flowers. “I’ve been beating myself up all day,” he said in a statement the day after. “Then I thought ‘What would Idina Menzel do?” She’d say ‘Let it go, let it go!”

 

Photo Credits:

Reese Witherspoon, NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty Images

Grumpy Ca, Amanda Edwards/Wireimage

Nik Wallenda,Steve Nesius/Reuters/Corbis

Anthony Weiner, Lucas Jackson/Reuters/Corbis

Paula Deen,Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Food Networ SoBe Wine & Food Festival

Chris Christie, Spencer Paltt/Getty Images

JonathanMartin/Richie Ingonito, Charlie Ans/SplashNews/Corbis

Rob Ford, Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

President Obama Roberto Schmidt/SFP/Getty Images

Justin Bieber, Uri Schanker/Getty Images

Alex Rodriguez, Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

John Travolta with wife Kelly Preston, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images 

John Travolta, Jared Milgrim/The Photo Access/The World Access/Corbis