After getting his start on local news in the 1970s, Geraldo Rivera went from an investigative journalist from Brooklyn, New York, to someone known more for his sensationalist tactics to drive ratings. He went from investigating the cause of death of legendary singer Elvis Presley to leading the country on a highly publicized prime time special to reveal the contents of a vault once owned by Al Capone. Viewers watched for hours as Geraldo built up the suspense for the big reveal. Viewers were also disappointed when the vault didn't reveal anything important like dead bodies or secrets, but rather empty bottles and some dirt.
That ratings stunt was only a sneak peek at what was yet to come during his self-titled talk show "Geraldo" hit the airwaves in the late 1980s. Whether it was simply to score viewers or out of a "what's the worst that could happen?" mentality, Geraldo continued to find himself in unfortunate situations on the show, including in 1987 when a huge brawl broke out between extremists on his show.
Incredible as it may sound, even after all the sensationalism and Jerry Springer-style antics, Geraldo Rivera continued to be perceived as a top-notch journalist and his career continued. Just because he moved on to more serious news however didn't keep him out of trouble. In fact, as a Fox News correspondent, he found himself under fire again and again including when reporting from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, when reporting from the front lines as an Iraq War correspondent and when discussing the murder cases involving Casey Anthony, who he called a "slut," and Treyvon Matrin, whose murder he blamed on the child's hooded sweatshirt.
Primed to celebrate his 70th birthday in 2013, Geraldo Rivera has made a career of turning heads with his wacky talk shows, journalistic gaffes and off-color comments about everything from Satanism to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Check out more lists like the most controversial Pro Sports figures, the worst television hosts and racist slurs from celebrities.
Geraldo Rivera Says Trayvon Martin Was Murdered Because He Was Wearing a Hoodie
In February 2012, while (allegedly) walking around his suburban Florida gated community (allegedly) holding an Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles, unarmed black 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by (allegedly) racist & paranoid self-appointed neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, 28. On the rainy evening in question, Martin was on the phone with a female friend when he realized someone was following him. Though the friend suggested that Martin run, he said that he would only put up his jacket hood and walk faster. She heard a conversation between the other two men (Martin: "Why are you following me?" Zimmerman: "What are you doing here?") before the call cut out. Less than 5 minutes later, Trayvon Martin was dead.
As the weeks passed with no arrest, high-profile figures from LeBron James to Barack Obama went public in support of finding justice for the murdered teen. Geraldo Rivera interjected himself into the media frenzy on March 23rd when he appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor" to make the most coherent argument he could muster: That Trayvon Martin was dead because he had worn a hoodie.
I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. ... I'll bet you money: if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way.The controversial (i.e. weird) comment drew widespread outrage and criticism, and thousands signed petitions demanding an apology. A few days later, Rivera
Heard petition demands my apology to Trayvon's parents. Save effort: I deeply apologize for any hurt I caused-that is not my goal or intentBut not to be misunderstood, he clarified that he only had the most noble of intentions at heart for all of the little brown kids in America. He sent an email to Politico saying,
I apologize to anyone offended by what one prominent black conservative called my 'very practical and potentially life-saving campaign urging black and Hispanic parents not to let their children go around wearing hoodies.'In a response, a coalition of hoodie-wearers and manufacturers worldwide released the statement: "Yeah, whatever. Dick."
Geraldo Rivera Opens Al Capone's Vaults on Live TV, Finds Dirt
Oh, how I wish I could remember this first-hand! But alas, in those days, I was a Sally Jessy man...
The story goes: For a few years leading up to his arrest, Al Capone, the legendary gangster (Tommy guns, not Tommy Hilfiger), lived in the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, IL. During hotel renovations in the early 1980s, a construction company discovered that Capone's medicine cabinet hid the entrance to a series of underground tunnels. The elaborate passages connected brothels and bars and, most importantly, provided an escape route in case of police raid. Further investigation led to discovery of a secret vault which - rumor had it - contained a great deal of Capone's wealth.
In 1986, Geraldo Rivera promoted the bejesus out of television special during which he planned to open Al Capone's vault. It was a Big Deal. For scope, last summer's build-up to the televised $10 million holy nuptials of Kim Kardashian and her ex-husband had nothing on this. For weeks, Geraldo fans and morbidly curious normal people nationwide were swept up in the hype.
On April 21, 1986, 30 million people (15 times as many people as voted for Ralph Nader in 2004) tuned in to the live special "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults." As America watched with bated breath, Rivera ran his mouth for two whole hours about what he might find inside. Dead bodies? No problem! He had a medical examiner on hand. Gold and riches? Never fear - he had IRS agents there, too. In the final act, someone finally opened the damn thing. This is what was inside:
Geraldo Rivera Tells Fox News Viewers: Obama Is Dead
Remember the 2008 Presidential Election and the riveting race leading up to it? Remember how funny and clever it was every time some pundit, political commentator, or dirty lunatic in line at Rite Aid called the Democratic candidate either "Barack Osama" or "Obama bin Laden"? It was a modern Golden Age in our nation's history that I hope to tell my grandchildren about someday.After Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid by a U.S. special forces military unit (thanks, Barry), the media got superjazzed about breaking the news. It was an exciting time! How did it happen? Where was the body? How could we be sure this really happened? Professional news-breaker Geraldo Rivera was on the scene ASAP, telling loyal Fox News fans the words they had been waiting years to hear:
Obama is dead.
Geraldo Rivera Endangers American Troops, Compromises Iraqi Mission
This is a good one. In 2003, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army - the "Screaming Eagles" - was escorting war correspondent Geraldo Rivera in Iraq when he almost got them all killed. During his broadcast, he had his photographer aim the camera down at the sand, where he drew a map of their current location in relation to Baghdad. But that's not all! Before a rational human being had time to leap in to kick sand over Geraldo's human bullseye, he went on to diagram the military plans of the division. Like, he drew a line on his map, effectively telling both at-home American viewers and foreign mortal enemies where the 101st was headed next.A Pentagon spokesman later reported that Geraldo was to be dropped off at the Kuwaiti border, in the desert, completely naked and covered in honey.