Things We Learned About Nostalgic Tabloid Figures In 2021

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Vote up the tabloid figures with a lot more to their story than you realized.

Whether they're publishing controversial photos of the celebrity of the moment, reporting on hot-button political scandals, or giving a seemingly ordinary person their 15 minutes of fame, tabloids have a reputation for spinning tall tales. Sometimes, though, their stories turn out to be shockingly true. And from the captivating true crime news to the local figures that capture the nation, there's just something about these publications that tempts even the most frugal shopper in the grocery store checkout line.

These tabloid figures were so big in decades past that we thought we knew all there was to know about them. But it turns out, there's much more to these subjects than the splashy headlines. 


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    1,547 VOTES

    The ‘Boy In The Bubble’ Perished Young, But His Case Led To New Medical Insights

    David Vetter, also known as the "boy in the bubble," was born with severe combined immune deficiency (SCID). Seconds after he drew his first breath, he was put inside a sterile plastic bubble. At the time of Vetter's birth in 1971, the only possible cure was via a bone marrow transplant with a donor who was an exact match. Unfortunately, no one in Vetter's family was a match, and after living for 12 years in a bubble, he passed.

    Shortly after Vetter's demise, the Texas Children's Allergy and Immunology Clinic opened the David Center, which was dedicated to research, diagnosis, and treatment of immune deficiencies. Thanks to Vetter's fight and the David Center, babies who test positive for SCID can receive bone marrow transplants and have the opportunity to lead normal lives.

  • Terri Schiavo's Autopsy Revealed The Extent Of Her Brain Damage
    Photo: GordonWatts / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
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    Terri Schiavo's Autopsy Revealed The Extent Of Her Brain Damage

    In 2005, the Terri Schiavo case placed the "Death with Dignity" movement in the national spotlight. Terri was just 26 years old in 1990 when she went into cardiac arrest that ended in a persistent vegetative state. A legal fight between her parents and her spouse raged, as Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, fought to remove his wife's feeding tube. Both sides argued that they were speaking for what Terri's wishes would have been, with Terri's parents citing videos of her apparently smiling and interacting with them as proof that she wasn't actually in the state that doctors claimed.

    Michael first petitioned for the removal of Terri's feeding tube in 1998. It was removed for the first time in April 2001, but reinserted two days later. After numerous legal proceedings, the tube was removed for a second time in 2003. However, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the feeding tube reinserted, a move the Florida Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional. 

    In 2005, with the case making national headlines, President George W. Bush and Congress got involved, attempting to move the proceedings from the state courts to the federal judiciary. But eventually, the state court ruling prevailed. The feeding tube was removed after Terri had spent 15 years in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery, according to doctors. Terri eventually passed on March 31, 2005, after the removal.

    Terri's autopsy revealed irreversible brain damage consistent with a persistent vegetative state. It showed she had no cerebral cortex function and would have had no awareness of self. She was blind, which disproved any perceived eye contact. Her brain weighed 615 grams, which is about half the normal weight for a woman her age. Based on the loss of neurons, doctors concluded that no amount of therapy or treatment would have changed her condition. 

    Michael Schiavo again referenced what he said were his wife's end of life wishes when creating her gravestone. Rather than listing the date she officially passed, Schiavo listed February 25, 1990, the day she went into cardiac arrest, as the date she was "at peace." He also included the phrase "I kept my promise," as he said he had promised his wife he wouldn't keep her alive artificially.

  • Before Stella Liebeck Sued McDonald's, She Merely Asked The Company To Pay Her $20,000 Medical Bills
    Photo: Hot Coffee / HBO
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    1,867 VOTES

    Before Stella Liebeck Sued McDonald's, She Merely Asked The Company To Pay Her $20,000 Medical Bills

    In 1994, Stella Liebeck accidentally spilled her cup of hot McDonald's coffee on herself and decided to take the company to court. The case came to exemplify frivolous lawsuits in the US, where anyone would sue for anything if they thought they could make a quick buck.

    However, McDonald's coffee at the time was kept at an undrinkably hot level - between 180 and 190 degrees Farenheit (about 82 to 88 degrees Celsius). Food carries a burn hazard if it's more than 140 F (60 C). According to a McDonald's quality assurance manager, the company kept its coffee at a level that would burn your throat if you were to drink it.

    For Liebeck, who was 79 at the time, spilling her coffee resulted in third-degree burns on her legs and groin area that required hospitalization, extensive surgery, and skin grafts. Prior to the Liebeck case, the company had received 700 complaints from people who'd burned themselves with the coffee.

    While Liebeck became a symbol of litigious American culture, she initially didn't want to sue McDonald's; she merely requested the company pay for her $20,000 medical bills. The company refused, which caused Liebeck to sue.

    She ultimately settled for a combination of compensatory and punitive damages worth around $640,000; the jury that originally heard her case thought the payout should be $2.9 million. The amount was appealed by both parties, who later settled for a confidential sum. A judge presiding over the case described the corporation's actions as "reckless, callous, and willful."

  • As An Adult, Baby M Legally Had Her Biological Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated
    Photo: The New York Times / YouTube
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    As An Adult, Baby M Legally Had Her Biological Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated

    In 1986, Melissa Stern, also known as Baby M, was born. Her birth rocked the nation, as she was at the center of one of the most contentious surrogacy cases in history. The legality of surrogate contracts, the rights of the father, and reproductive rights were all highlighted as the case went on.

    Dr. Elizabeth and William Stern paid Mary Beth Whitehead to carry the baby after she was artificially inseminated with William's sperm. Once the baby was born, however, Whitehead changed her mind, deciding she wanted to keep her child, whom she named Sarah. The contentious court drama began. Ultimately, the Sterns won the case, and Melissa stayed in their care. 

    As an adult in 2004, Melissa Stern had the parental rights of Mary Beth Whitehead terminated. In regard to how she felt about her family, she said, “I’m very happy I ended up with them. I love them, they’re my best friends in the whole world, and that’s all I have to say about it.”

  • A Tabloid Published A Photo Of O.J. Simpson That Was Used Against Him In His Civil Trial
    Photo: Gerald Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson for the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman continues to be hotly debated, along with the evidence and verdict. One important piece of evidence left at the scene was a bloody, size 12 Bruno Magli shoe print. The prosecution wasn't able to prove that Simpson owned a pair of the luxury Italian shoes. At the deposition for the civil case against him, Simpson commented on the shoe, saying, “I know that Bruno Magli makes shoes that look like the shoes they had in court that’s involved with this case; I would have never worn those ugly... shoes.”

    Simpson continued to repeat how ugly he found the shoes, saying, “They were ugly to me. Aesthetically, I felt that they were ugly and I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me they were ugly shoes.”

    The National Enquirer, however, dug up a photo of Simpson wearing the very same shoes he found so hideous, nine months before the double homicide. The magazine published the photo, which was then used to disprove the statements made in his deposition. After the first photo was published, while on holiday recess from the civil suit, the Goldman family attorney ended up receiving a whopping 31 photos of Simpson in the shoes. The civil jury found Simpson responsible for the slayings.

  • The Famous ‘Afghan Girl’ Got Married At 13 And Suffered Years Of Hardship
    Photo: Steve McCurry / Wikipedia / Fair use
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    1,060 VOTES

    The Famous ‘Afghan Girl’ Got Married At 13 And Suffered Years Of Hardship

    Sharbat Gula, known to the world as "Afghan Girl," became famous after she was photographed by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry and placed on the cover of the June 1985 issue. Her piercing blue eyes and haunted expression put an indelible face to the plight of refugees from the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan, which had by then been raging for six years.

    Gula's life was filled with hardship from an early age; her mother passed of appendicitis when she was 8, and she and the rest of her family had to migrate to Pakistan, where they lived in a tent at a refugee camp. (This is where McCurry found and photographed her.) At the age of 13, she married Rahmat Gul, who later passed from hepatitis C. Sharbat's eldest daughter also perished from hepatitis, leaving Sharbat to take care of her young daughter.

    Sharbat was ultimately imprisoned and deported from Pakistan for obtaining Pakistani identity papers "illegally." In an interview with BBC's Dawood Azami, she discussed the treatment she endured, saying:

    We had a good time there, had good neighbors, lived among our own Pashtun brothers. But I didn't expect that the Pakistani government would treat me like this at the end.

    According to The New York Times, in 2021, after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Gula was transported to Italy for safety.