While the more “mature” among us may stare bewildered at today’s youngsters, with their touch-screen gadgets, endless texting and unfathomable internet shorthand, one thing has remained constant since the dawn of mass media: the adoration of celebrity.
Whether streamed onto a tablet PC in HD online video, or broadcast via bunny-ear antenna to a black-and-white tube telly, we obsess over images of our heroes being the very best at things we ourselves wish we could master. Then, of course, there’s the fame and wealth that most can scarcely imagine.
Each generation remembers its beloved icons as superior - but whose heroes are “better”? If indeed such a question can even be answered?
Do today’s heroes measure up to the past? Gord Laws compares the legends of yesteryear with the biggest names in the world of today...
Big Screen Big Deals
The past: Clint Eastwood
Since joining the cast of the cult Western TV Series, Rawhide (1959 – 1966), Clint Eastwood has been a household name. When discussing the best of the previous century’s screen legends, Clint has two major advantages over the likes of Brando and Newman: he’s still at it and he’s still making awesome cinema. An alpha-male of the screen, masterful director and owner of the baddest stare of all time, the five-time Oscar winner has been awesome for 82 years. And that takes some doing.
Present: Tom Cruise
Sure, he might have just turned 50 and, in recent years, let on that he could be a raving loon, but Thomas Cruise Mapother still topped Forbes’ Highest-paid Actors list this year, with earnings of $75million! More than doubling his nearest rival, Leo DiCaprio’s, haul of “just” $37 million. While his devotion to Scientology and his messy divorce from Katie Holmes may have marred his image in recent years, that doesn’t stop any movie with Tom’s name on it from packing houses.
If it was a question of artistry, accolades, – or even sanity? Eastwood in a heartbeat. But on the basis of sheer, unrefined, mainstream massiveness, Cruise defines “movie star.”
Top of the Pops
The past: Elvis Presley
Despite passing suddenly in 1977, aged only 42, Elvis Presley fathered the Era of Rock n’ Roll and defined the still-thriving archetype of sexy, rebellious (and handsome) pop mega-force. The guitar-playing, hip-swinging King of Rock n’ Roll produced more than 100 Top Forty hits over his 34-year career.
The present: Justin Bieber
Sure, grown-ups may be as unaware of the 18-year-old Canadian as their kids are of Elvis, but remember the teenage superstar is already worth an estimated $108 million. That may pale in comparison to the industry that is Elvis (Forbes estimates he earned $55 million in 2011 –some 34 years after his passing). Bieber has youth on his side. Lots of it. Not to mention talent. The singer, song-writer, producer, dancer, actor and businessman has already released three multi-platinum albums, sold 15 million records and starred in his own 3D blockbuster concert movie since rising to fame via YouTube in 2008.
Verdict: The King
Young Justin’s impressive start may make him the best at it right now, but without Elvis there would be no “it” to begin with…
Pound for Pound
The past: Mohammed Ali
Crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated in 1999, Ali is equally remembered for his three World Heavyweight Championships and professional boxing record of 56-wins-with-five-losses, as he is for his social activism during 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Ali’s World Title was famously revoked – along with his boxing license – after his refusal to fight in Vietnam. Three years later he returned and in one of sports’ greatest triumphs, reclaimed the belt from Joe Frazier in 1971.
The present: Floyd Mayweather, JR.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather has won eight world championships in three separate weight divisions. He is undefeated as a professional boxer, holding a perfect record of 43 wins, with 26 knockouts. Since 1996, “Pretty Boy” (as he’s also known) has won countless accolades and is widely regarded the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He’s loaded, too – Mayweather topped Forbes’ Highest-Paid Athletes list in June 2012, earning an estimated $85 million.
It’s in the nickname... His record may be perfect, sure, but “Money” is in it for the paycheque. Because Ali could talk almost as mesmerizingly as he could dance around opponents, the world listened. So he used that attention to change it forever, even at the expense of his livelihood, his freedom and his prime.
The Past: Pelé
Edison Arantes do Nascimento (or “Pelé”) was named The International Olympic Committee’s “Athlete of the Century” in 1999. The Brazilian footballing deity dominated South America and the world from1956 to 1977, spending 18 years helping himself to 10 league wins and 589 goals in “just” 605 games for Brazilian club, Santos. An ambassador for the planet’s favourite game, philanthropist and artist, the three-time FIFA World Cup winner was without peer in terms of skill, flair and longevity.
The present: Lionel Messi
Pelé may be the best there ever was but there’s little doubt as to who’s the best there is. Barcelona’s darling won the final FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009, before the award was merged with the FIFA Balon D’Or in 2010, which he has won consecutively since. Drafted into the Barcelona Youth Team in 2000, Messi is a 12-year veteran at the most successful club in the world. And get this… he’s only 25! Born in 1987, he’s won five Spanish Supercopas and three Champions Leagues, in which he is the only player to top-score over four consecutive campaigns. Twenty-five… Think about it.
There’s no doubting Pelé’s astonishing class but it seems only disaster can prevent Messi from shattering all records that he’s yet to break. Considering his tender years, his dominance is unprecedented.
SHOOTOUT! Past versus present... (in brief)
The Royal Family
Princess Di vs. Kate Middleton
Verdict: Princess Diana
Even before her tragic death evading paparazzi in 1997 aged just 36, the philanthropist, princess and beloved Royal was the most famous face in the world. While the beautiful Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, may have stolen the world’s heart with her marriage to Prince William last year, the bar has never been set higher.
Evel Knieval vs. David Blaine
Before his death in 2007, Robert Craig Knieval’s high-flying motorcycle jumps, trademark jumpsuits and 35 broken bones made him an international icon. David Blaine, however, might actually be magic. And possibly completely insane. Motorbike jumps are impressive, yes, but the 39-year-old Blaine’s 63 hours encased in ice back in 2000? That’s more impressive.
Queens of Talk
Oprah Winfrey vs. Ellen DeGeneres
Aah, Ellen… she’s quirky, witty, fun, controversial and her guests love her! No wonder she’s the current queen of talk TV. Then, of course, there’s Oprah. After more than three decades, her talk show – the most successful of its kind in history – aired its last episode on May 25, 2011. Oprah is, according to some analysts, the most powerful woman in the world. Little wonder, then, that Ellen chose Oprah’s show as the place to announce her lesbian lifestyle to the world in 1997.