From his early days as a bodybuilding champion, to becoming the biggest movie star in the world, to getting elected the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has done more in one lifetime than most of us could do in 100—but there was a cost to all that success. The Austrian Oak hurt a lot of people along the way to the top, leaving broken hearts and scandals in his wake. So was it all worth it? We'll let you decide.
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, in Thal, Austria. In case you thought otherwise, 1940s Austria wasn't big on "let kids be kids." Schwarzenegger's childhood was more boot camp than play time. His parents were both brutally strict, and didn't hesitate to reach for the rod if young Arnold misbehaved. But while Arnold still managed to carry great affection for his mother, his father was another story. Gustav Schwarzenegger was not the kind of dad you looked up to...
Schwarzenegger's father worked as the local chief of police, but before that, he served in WWII. Now, you don't need to know much about WWII to realize this next part: Gustav Schwarzenegger, like most Austrians, fought for Germany. In fact, he voluntarily joined the Nazi Party in 1938, before the fighting had even begun. He fought in the horrific Battle of Stalingrad, and earned a discharge in 1943 after he contracted malaria. A disciplinarian, Nazi officer isn't exactly my idea of a loving father—but it gets even worse.
Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't always the golden child. In fact, his father blatantly favored his older brother, Meinhard, over him. Gustav Schwarzenegger made no effort to hide his disdain for his youngest son. It made Arnold's childhood a nightmare. But the question remains, why did Schwarzenegger's dad care about his brother so much more than him? Well, just when you thought Gustav Schwarzenegger couldn't get any more terrible...
Gustav Schwarzenegger was clearly a horrible father. Well, guess what? He was a horrible husband too. A deeply jealous and paranoid man, he clung to completely the unfounded belief that Arnold's mother might have had an affair, and that Arnold might not be his biological son. He had no reason to think this aside from his own paranoia, but that was enough. For that ridiculous reason, plus, you know, the whole "wrong side of WWII" thing, Schwarzenegger's relationship with his father was always cold and distant, if not outright hostile. And yet, his miserable father was just one of young Arnold Schwarzenegger's problems.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise to fame is a true rags-to-riches story. His family had constant issues with money, always struggling to make ends meet. In fact, Schwarzenegger has a vivid memory of a particularly exciting day for his family: The day they were finally able to afford a refrigerator. Between his painful punishments, his father's favoritism, and his family's financial woes, young Schwarzenegger needed an escape. And wouldn't you know it, he found just the thing.
As a boy, Schwarzenegger was big into sports—in part because his father, an ex-athlete himself, wanted to live vicariously through his sons. He devoted himself to soccer at first, but this isn't the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger, famous soccer player. When he was just 13, his soccer coach brought his team somewhere that would change his life forever: The gym. Within a year, he kicked soccer to the side of the road. He was going to become a bodybuilder. That's quite the dream for an impoverished, 14-year-old Austrian boy—but Schwarzenegger's devotion to this dream bordered on deranged.
Working out quickly became an obsession for the teenaged Arnold Schwarzenegger. He lifted weights every single day—he even broke into his local gym on weekends when it was closed. He couldn't bear to miss a single workout; it would make him physically ill. Now, for 99% of us, I'd say that probably isn't healthy, and you should talk to someone about that. But most of us aren't Arnold Schwarzenegger. It wasn't long before his maniacal training regimen started to pay off.
Pretty soon, Schwarzenegger was winning local powerlifting contests, but that's not what he was in it for. Schwarzenegger wanted to be the greatest bodybuilder in the world, and that meant one thing: He had to win the title of Mr. Universe. He started small, entering local contents, then working his way up to Junior Mr. Europe. But by 1966, at 19 years old, Schwarzenegger got on a plane for the first time in his life to fly to London to compete in his first-ever Mr. Universe competition. Unfortunately, that trip did not work out the way he'd planned.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has done a lot of impressive things in his life. Winning Mr. Universe at 19 isn't one of them. The fresh-faced strongman just couldn't compete with winner Chester Yorton, a full eight years his senior. The loss devastated Schwarzenegger, but he found a silver lining on that trip. One of the judges, Wag Bennet, saw something in the massive Austrian teenager and offered to coach him. Since Schwarzenegger barely had two dimes to rub together, Bennett offered to let him live in his crowded family home above his gym. It wasn't glamorous, and Schwarzenegger could barely muster a word of English, but he was willing to do anything to be the best.
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Living with Bennet in a crowded apartment, in a country where he couldn't speak the language, was like a dream come true for Schwarzenegger. He met his idol, bodybuilder Reg Park, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. He also got the best training he'd ever received in his life, and it paid off quickly. Just a year later, in 1967, he reached his goal. He became the youngest ever Mr. Universe at just 20 years old. Arnold was on top of the world. He was also about to discover his greatest vice: women.
Arnold met his first serious girlfriend in 1969: An English teacher named Barbara Baker. Initially, the newly-crowed Mr. Universe seemed too good to be true. He was adventurous, charismatic, and joyful. He was also, you know, Mr. Universe. However, as the years wore on, Schwarzenegger started to show his true colors—and Baker didn't like what she saw.
It didn't help things that Schwarzenegger entered a particularly dark period in his life soon after meeting Baker. In 1971, his older brother Meinhard had too many drinks and got behind the wheel of a car. Completely out of control, he crashed and perished instantly. The loss rocked Schwarzenegger. He hadn't been particularly close with Meinhard—his father probably didn't help in that regard—but he still had to reckon with losing his brother. Schwarzenegger didn't attend his brother's funeral, likely a symptom of their rocky relationship. But he still found a heartbreaking way to pay tribute to his lost sibling.
Meinhard Schwarzenegger's end was even more tragic than you might think. The elder Schwarzenegger was engaged to Erika Knapp at the time, and the couple had a three-year-old son, Patrick, who was now fatherless. While Arnold didn't show up at his brother's funeral, he couldn't leave Patrick out in the cold. He paid for the boy's education and even helped him emigrate to the US, where he eventually became a successful attorney. Losing a brother was definitely not the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger planned on starting the 70s. Little did he know, even more tragedy was on the horizon.
Just a year after Meinhard's fatal car crash, Schwarzenegger's father succumbed to a stroke and passed at 65. As with his brother, Arnold skipped the funeral—though the exact reason why remains a mystery. He has given at least three totally different stories as to why he missed the funeral, and at this point, the truth is anyone's guess. However, in her tell-all memoir, Barbara Baker describes this time in Schwarzenegger's life—and his cold reaction to his dad's passing speaks for itself.
Barbara Baker clearly describes the day that Schwarzenegger told her his father had had a stroke, and his demeanor was chilling. He showed "no emotion" while informing her that the man who raised him was gone for good. Even more damning, she claimed he never once mentioned his brother, not even after the car crash. Schwarzenegger was ready to put his Nazi father and distant brother behind him—though his dad would come back to haunt him later on in life.
Even as Arnold Schwarzenegger rose to unparalleled fame and fortune, one thing always clawed at the back of his mind: Was his father a monster? Though he knew Gustav served for the Axis in WWII, he didn't actually know the extent of his activities. What if he'd taken part in the atrocities of the Nazi Party? Eventually, he couldn't ignore this shadow any longer—he had to find out the truth.
Long after Gustav's passing, Schwarzenegger commissioned the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish activist group, to go digging around in his father's past. They pored over Gustav's record to see just how dirty his hands were. When they finally came up with an answer, Arnold heaved a huge sigh of relief. Though Gustav Schwarzenegger was, by all accounts, a miserable man, it seems he wasn't directly involved in any of the Wehrmacht's atrocities. Maybe it helped Arnold sleep at night, knowing that fact—but he still had the horrible memories of his father to keep him company.
In 2004, Schwarzenegger described the darkest days of his childhood in vivid detail. "My hair was pulled. I was hit with belts. So was the kid next door. It was just the way it was." However, he pointed out that he seemed to get it worse than most children. He had big dreams. He didn't want to fall into line and conform—and that meant his father tormented him even more harshly. However, Schwarzenegger didn't let the abuse break him. He used it as fuel, thinking, "This is not going to be for much longer, because I'm going to move out of here. I want to be rich. I want to be somebody." And that's just what he did.
Maybe the loss of his brother and father affected Schwarzenegger more than he let on, but whatever the reason, the perfect boyfriend whom Barbara Baker first met in '69 slowly wore away. Pretty soon, all that was left was a narcissistic blowhard. In her tell-all memoir, Baker called him "insufferable—classically conceited—the world revolved around him." Their relationship slowly fell apart, and they eventually split in 1974. However, it wasn't until after their breakup that Baker learned about Schwarzenegger's cruelest betrayal.
Cheating would become a running theme in Arnold Schwarzenegger's life, and it started with Barbara Baker. She only learned that he'd been unfaithful to her after they'd already broken up, but I'm sure that only made her feel better about her decision. That chapter in her life was over, but the two would meet again—in a painfully awkward way.
Say what you will about Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he's pretty good at turning the other cheek. Though he knew Baker was writing a scathing, tell-all memoir about their relationship, he still met with her, all those years later, to go over that time in their lives. He ended up spending three hours talking with his old flame while she was preparing to start writing.
After his split from Baker, Schwarzenegger really cut loose. He was always a fan of attention, and he didn't care where he got it. In 1977, he posed for an infamous photoshoot in the gay magazine After Dark, and he bared it all. And we mean all. "Prudish" is definitely not a word we would use to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger. But while posing for men's magazines is all well and good, Schwarzenegger had bigger plans in mind. He'd conquered bodybuilding. Next, he wanted to be the most famous man in the world.
You don't have to be a genius movie producer to look at Arnold Freaking Schwarzenegger and think, "I bet that guy would look good on camera." Most actors have to work their way up from the bottom, but Schwarzenegger was already Mr. Olympia. In 1970, he landed the lead role in his first movie, Hercules In New York. It was a huge opportunity—but it didn't exactly go as planned.
Even at the height of his stardom, Arnold never really lost his thick Austrian accent. Well, in 1970, his English was nearly incomprehensible. The studio dubbed over every single one of his lines in Hercules In New York. With its low budget, cheesy effects, and comically-dubbed lead performance, the movie didn't catapult Schwarzenegger to stardom, but it was a start.
Schwarzenegger continued to land small roles in various projects in subsequent years, such as the role of a mute bodyguard in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. He even won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year for his role in Bob Rafelson's Stay Hungry—but true stardom still eluded him. It would take his two worlds colliding for the world to really take notice of the Austrian Oak.
In 1977, Schwarzenegger appeared in the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron. The movie was a surprise box-office success, and while the film focused on both Arnold and rival Lou Ferrigno, the charismatic Schwarzenegger was the breakout star. Pretty soon, accent or no, Arnold was a household name. His career was about to change forever—and his love life was too.
Schwarzenegger constantly surrounded himself with beautiful women, but he hadn't had a serious relationship since Baker. He had claimed that they broke up over their differing goals in life. She wanted an ordinary, well-balanced man, while he wanted fame and fortune. The idea of an ordinary life sickened him. Well, his relationship with his next flame, Beverly Hills hairdresser's assistant Sue Moray, was anything but ordinary.
According to Moray herself, she and Schwarzenegger led an open relationship. They remained exclusive while they were both in LA, but whenever he left town, they were both free to do whatever (or whoever) they wanted. Honestly, knowing Arnold Schwarzenegger, that's probably about the best arrangement you're going to get. But Moray wouldn't be able to hold onto Schwarzenegger for long—the most intense relationship of his life was just around the corner.
Schwarzenegger traveled to New York for the Robert F. Kennedy Tennis Tournament in August 1977. In accordance with his deal with Moray, he was free to play the field—and there, he first laid eyes on journalist Maria Shriver. She was gorgeous, sophisticated, and a Kennedy. The sparks flew, and soon this brief vacation fling became something more serious. But there was still Moray back in LA to consider...
Schwarzenegger double-dipped with Shriver and Moray for an entire year, and it was Moray who cracked first. Their vacation hall pass was one thing, but Schwarzenegger was clearly getting serious with Shriver. That was different. Moray finally issued an ultimatum: Her or me. Schwarzenegger chose her. Schwarzenegger would end up marrying Shriver, and the couple would go on to have four children together. He would end up betraying her like he did all his other girlfriends too, but that comes later.
By 1980, Schwarzenegger was on the cusp of true movie stardom, but he decided to have one last rodeo with bodybuilding. While training for his role in Conan the Barbarian, Schwarzenegger got into the best shape he'd been in in years. He thought, "Hey, why not go out with a bang?" and decided to enter the Mr. Olympia competition one last time. However, this final appearance would end shrouded in controversy.
Ever one with a flair for the dramatic, Schwarzenegger didn't just announce he was entering the competition. That's boring. He signed up to provide color commentary. Only when he arrived did he declare with a wry smile, "Why not compete?" The crowd was delighted, and Schwarzenegger ended up winning the whole thing, his final Mr. Olympia title. However, while it made for great television, not everyone was happy about it.
You've got to admit, Schwarzenegger, the most famous bodybuilder in the world, showing up and announcing he was competing, then winning the whole thing, is a pretty exciting story. The only problem is, it seemed like the judges were more interested in that story than in, you know, judging. Nearly all the competitors agreed that Schwarzenegger wasn't nearly fit enough to win. Mike Mentzer, another iconic bodybuilder, was so disgusted by the result that he quit competing forever after the 1980 contest. So Arnold ending up leaving the bodybuilding world under a cloud of scandal. But, to be fair, the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition wasn't the only time he flirted with controversy.
Today, when an athlete gets caught using anabolic steroids, it could throw their entire career off track. In the 70s, it was a different story. Schwarzenegger openly acknowledged his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He wrote matter-of-factly about how they helped him maintain muscle size while cutting weight. He just saw them as another tool in his tool belt—but his steroid use would come back to bite him later in life.
In the 90s, Schwarzenegger read two disturbing stories about himself. Willi Heepe, a German doctor, publicly predicted that Arnold would die young because of his steroid use. The tabloid paper Globe ran a very similar story. Now, I don't know about you, but if a national story predicted I was going to die soon, I might be a little unnerved. Schwarzenegger retaliated and sued both Heepe and Globe, as neither one had examined him personally to make such a judgment. Schwarzenegger won $10,000 from Heepe and settled with Globe.
The 80s saw Arnold Schwarzenegger break through on the big screen after a decade of frustration. Sure his English still left a bit to be desired, but movie audiences craved action stars, and they found one in 1982's Conan the Barbarian. He followed that up with a sequel, Conan the Destroyer, then landed probably the most iconic role of his career: The eponymous villain in James Cameron's The Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the poor boy from Austria who wanted to be famous, had finally made it—but fame and fortune come with plenty of complications.
There was room for more than one hulking action star at the 1980s box office, and Schwarzenegger had plenty of rivals. The biggest by far was Sylvester Stallone, and soon the two macho men were butting heads in the press. They each attacked the other in interviews and tried to make bigger, more outrageous movies. If one of them cut down 10 people onscreen, the other would go for 15. If one had a comically large weapon, the other would have an even more comically large weapon. There was bad blood between the two action heroes, and audiences couldn't get enough of it. But Arnold couldn't put all of his energy into his feud with Stallone. His life was changing fast.
Not long after The Terminator made him a star, Schwarzenegger put a ring on Shriver's finger. The next decade of his life saw him have four children, while also becoming the highest-paid and most-recognizable movie star in the entire world. It seemed like there was nothing else the Austrian Oak could accomplish. The only thing I can think of would be something like, I don't know, become the Governor of California? But that's just too crazy...right?
No one can say that Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't dream big. In 2003, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he announced his run for Governor of California. The declaration was met with mixed confusion, laughter, and derision. The Terminator wanted to be Governor? The movie star who people could barely understand? It seemed like a bizarre publicity stunt and little else—but this is Arnold Schwarzenegger we're talking about. When he wants to do something, he usually tends to do it.
Schwarzenegger's campaign wasn't exactly traditional—probably because he'd never held public office and didn't really know what he was doing. He refused to appear in all debates but one, yet his fame and charisma gave him all the publicity he needed. After Governor Gray Davis lost a recall election, the people of California elected Arnold Schwarzenegger with 48.6% of the vote, over a million more than his closest competitor. Everyone knew the Terminator, now they were about to get to know the Governator. Arnold had conquered yet another mountain—but as with most things he did, he faced an unexpected backlash.
If you're going to run for public office, you'd better be prepared for someone to dig out all of the skeletons in your closet. When Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy, his rivals went looking for dirt—and boy, did they find it. People accused him of inappropriate behavior and personal misconduct. Then, just five days before the election, the Los Angeles Times dropped a bombshell report on everyone's favorite movie star-turned-politician. Maybe the squeaky-clean Schwarzenegger wasn't so squeaky-clean after all.
The LA Times uncovered allegations of misconduct against Schwarzenegger from at least six different women. The allegations included groping and frequent inappropriate comments. In response, Schwarzenegger admitted that he "behaved badly sometimes" and apologized, though he also claimed that many of the allegations were untrue. Evidently, in 2004, that was enough, because the damning article did little to affect the outcome of the election. But allegations of misconduct weren't the only dirt that people found on Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger's rivals were desperate for anything that could give them an edge over the Terminator, so they took whatever they could get. Anyone who saw Pumping Iron knew that Arnold smoked a joint in the movie. People also dug up a controversial interview in a 1977 issue of the adult magazine Oui, where he openly discusses his use of marijuana. In 2003, the idea of a politician using drugs was still enough to scandalize the American people, but it wasn't enough to slow down the Arnold train. Though Schwarzenegger had to endure people digging up his past, it didn't stop him from becoming governor. Plus, his heroic actions the following year made people forget all about his scandals.
Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't just an action hero on screen—he can pull off some heroism in real life too. In 2004, not long after his election, he was vacationing in Hawaii when disaster struck. While enjoying a day at the beach, a man began drowning off-shore. That's when the Governator jumped into action, swimming out into the surf and bringing him back to dry land. How many politicians do you know who could do that?
As a politician, Schwarzenegger was something of an oddity—and not just because he was a body-building, Austrian movie star. A proud Republican, Schwarzenegger was far more moderate than most of his fellow party members. While fiscally conservative, he was remarkably socially liberal. He was pro-choice and supported gay marriage, even performing one himself while still Governor. When he first swore his oath of office, no one was quite sure what kind of Governor the former movie star would be. Turns out, he was full of surprises—in more ways than one.
Most people assumed Schwarzenegger was little more than an oddity. A flash in the pan who wouldn't actually be able to govern. Well, he proved those nay-sayers wrong when he easily won re-election in 2006, once again by over a million votes. Though he had his detractors, the people of California seemed to enjoy life under the Governator. It definitely helped his reputation when people learned the surprising truth about his salary.
At the time, the Governor of California earned $175,000 a year. A pretty sum for most of us, but pocket change for a guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well, Arnold surprised everyone when he turned down his own salary. The way he saw it, he had plenty of cash stored away (he made $25 million per movie at one point), so he might as well save the taxpayers some money. Between that and saving a drowning man, Schwarzenegger really made himself hard to hate—but he still managed to end his tenure as Governor under a shroud of scandal.
Just hours before leaving office, Arnold Schwarzenegger made the most controversial act of his entire political career. He commuted the sentence of Esteban Núñez, who the courts had sentenced to 16 years for involuntary manslaughter. Schwarzenegger cut the punishment down to just seven years. So, why show such mercy to a random man convicted of manslaughter? People soon realized that Esteban Núñez had a direct connection to Schwarzenegger.
Esteban Núñez's father was Fabian Núñez, the Speaker of the House in the California Assembly and Schwarzenegger's close friend and ally. Schwarzenegger explicitly commuted Esteban's sentence as a favor to his friend in a blatant show of favoritism. The move infuriated many—none more so than the family of the man who Núñez killed, who discovered the news in a devastating way.
When Schwarzenegger commuted Esteban Núñez's sentence, he must have known how it looked. That's probably why he did it as quietly as possible. He neglected to inform both the San Diego County prosecutor's office and the family of Louis Santos, the victim. The family only learned that the man who took Louis away from them had his sentence cut in half from a reporter on the phone. The news horrified them—and they weren't going to let it happen without a fight.
The Santos family sued to stop the commutation. After all, it was a clear display of favoritism by a Governor who was mere hours away from ending his term. Though the judge who ruled on the case described the commutation as "distasteful" and "repugnant," there was nothing he could do. As long as Schwarzenegger was still Governor, he had the power to issue such a decision. Sadly, for the Santos family, they were out of options. Esteban Núñez walked free just six years later.
The Núñez commutation was probably the greatest scandal of Schwarzenegger's life up to that point. But he must have known that something far, far worse was coming. For over a decade, Schwarzenegger had been living with a life-ruining secret. In 2011, it finally came out. First, he and Maria Shriver announced they had ended their 25-year marriage, with Shriver moving out of their Brentwood mansion. The world speculated what had caused the split. Then, a week later, the Los Angeles Times revealed the truth—and it was beyond shocking.
Maria Shriver left Schwarzenegger in disgust when she learned that 14 years prior, he had had a secret love child with their long-time housekeeper, Patty Baena. Schwarzenegger had tried to keep his infidelity a secret, but as the years passed, it became more and more difficult. Baena's son, Joseph, bore an uncanny resemblance to Arnold as he grew older. Shriver's suspicions grew and grew until she confronted Baena about them, confirming her worse fears.
Schwarzenegger claimed that he told his wife about his secret child shortly after he left office, but that wasn't exactly the whole truth. He didn't freely admit to the information—he only came clean after Shriver confronted him, having heard the truth from Baena already. The revelation destroyed their relationship, but it was even worse than anyone imagined. The timing of Schwarzenegger's affair was maybe the most scandalous part of it all.
Baena continued to work in Schwarzenegger and Shriver's home while pregnant with Arnold's child. In fact, at the same time, Shriver was pregnant herself, with the couple's fourth child. The two of them probably bonded over their shared pregnancy—with only one of them aware of the devastating truth.
Baena and Schwarzenegger's son Joseph was born on October 2, 1997—mere days after Shriver gave birth to her son Christopher. For many years, Baena kept Joseph's parentage a secret, even from Schwarzenegger. However, as the years began to pass, the boy started looking more and more like his real father. When Joseph was around seven or eight, Schwarzenegger put two and two together and realized the truth. He kept his secret for as long as he could, but in 2011, it came out. Schwarzenegger's blissful family life—which had been built on lies anyway—fell apart in an instant. But for Maria Shriver, the news of her husband's secret child was just the beginning. The dam burst and more lies started to surface.
When the scandal first broke, another name from Schwarzenegger's past came forward. Brigitte Nielsen, Schwarzenegger's co-star in the movie Red Sonja, admitted that she'd had an affair with the actor during production, while Schwarzenegger was already in a relationship with Shriver. Even going all the way back to Barbara Baker, it seemed like cheating was always Arnold's greatest vice, and though he managed to hide it, that never changed.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's reputation took a serious hit in the wake of the scandal, but he's been remarkably candid about his actions. He openly admitted, in a CBS interview, that he managed to carry on affairs for so long simply by denying them over and over: “That’s the way I handled things, and it always has worked,” though admitting, "It’s not the best thing for people around me.” You could say that again...
In hindsight, being married to Arnold Schwarzenegger sounds exhausting. Even his first girlfriend, Barbara Baker, got tired of his narcissism, and that doesn't seem to have changed much over the years. Schwarzenegger always did what he wanted, when he wanted, and he rarely took the time to think about how it would affect anyone else. Maria Shriver learned that the hard way—though not just because of his affairs. Schwarzenegger had left her reeling several times in their relationship before.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was never really much of a team player, and no one knew that better than Maria Shriver. In 1997, when Schwarzenegger had a health scare and needed heart surgery, he tried to keep it from his wife. He also didn't bother to tell her he was planning to run for governor until mere days before he announced it to the world. When Shriver found out, the news left her shaken. She fought back tears when she learned that her entire life was about to change, and that the world was going to start digging into their past—a decision that Schwarzenegger had made without even considering her. But that's just who Arnold Schwarzenegger is. He's accomplished amazing things, and he never let anyone else's feelings get in his way. He's a truly complicated figure, unlike any public figure before or since.
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