Celebrity rehab in the new millennium

The famous will always fall from grace. A far more interesting topic: Whose reputation will be restored?

By Steve Burgess
Published August 28, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Predicting the future? Start with the obvious -- celebrities are poised to be the most powerful constituency in the coming millennium. Through sheer marketing power, the famous have been transformed into experts on everything.

If the trend continues, early in the next century municipal governments will be unable to pass new parking bylaws without Mel Gibson's approval. Homeowners wishing to add on a garage or a new sundeck would first be required to submit the blueprints to Gwyneth Paltrow. Growing mistrust of the medical establishment will eventually require direct intervention by the cast of "ER," who will certify doctors by giving them weekly guest shots on the show. And poverty, until now only unofficially illegal, will become an actual felony by order of Martha Stewart.


Of course, the fame machine can become a shredder in a paparazzi flash. Think of Julia Roberts last spring, waving to the crowd at the British premiere of her movie Notting Hill and revealing an unshaved armpit. There was so much newspaper coverage, the armpit has apparently hired its own agent and may embark on a solo career.

Celebs will always fall from grace. A far more interesting topic is, who will be rehabilitated? Once upon a time, official rehabilitation was the favorite Soviet sport -- enemies of the people, suddenly reclassified as heroes. U.S. presidents, too, are regularly dragged from history's ash-heap and given a good spit-and-polish, proving that the judgments of history are always subject to appeal. Which brings us to the following, a speculative list of once-reviled public figures who will have been restored to glory by the year 2025:

Bill Gates: Once reviled as an economic tyrant and an evil monopolist, Gates' reputation soars after he has all of his enemies killed.


Brooke Shields: Successive research triumphs! Cures for cancer and cellulite in the year 2014. In 2020 a single, stunning scientific breakthrough that results in both an end to human aging and a stay-fresh doughnut. Both can be traced to that crucial moment when "Suddenly Susan" first taught the world how to turn off the TV.

Monica Lewinsky: Lewinsky's comeback begins during the Great Chrome Shortage of the early 21st century, which she alleviates by contributing huge drums of the stuff she has removed from trailer hitches. Her finest hour comes when a terrorist attack in New York City is thwarted after Monica sucks a SWAT team up to the fifth floor through a garden hose.

George W. Bush Jr.: His run for the presidency in 2000 crashes when $36 million mysteriously trickles away. Bush is subsequently arrested while trying to pawn a stolen TV. But Dubya bounces back by establishing the George W. Bush Jr. Rehab Clinic, which teaches junkies how to gain control over their lives by scoring big bucks from corporate donors.


Bill Buckner: The goat of the 1986 World Series, Red Sox first baseman Buckner let a Mookie Wilson grounder through his legs, allowing the Mets to come back in Game 6 and eventually win the series. Buckner is now viewed sympathetically in light of new laws that make it illegal for pro athletes to be named Mookie.

St. Jeffrey Dahmer: Early martyr of the recycling movement.


Henri Paul: Drunken chauffeur still generally blamed for killing Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, but this unpleasant fact is reinterpreted when it paves the way for the eventual crowning of Her Royal Highness Camilla, "the queen who kicks like a mule." Queen Camilla is beloved by her subjects for restoring the British Empire through a combination of military power and scandalous phone calls, and doing it all in exchange for some hay and the occasional apple.

Richard Nixon: Sweating a lot is good for you, doctors now say. His Dickness becomes widely celebrated as a pioneer in perspiration liberation.

Adolph Hitler: The continuing decline in education standards combined with the popularity of new Blitzkrieg Breakfast Bombs means most young people now believe Hitler was a historical figure along the lines of Captain Crunch.


James Joyce: Scholars of infuriating gibberish reinterpret "Ulysses." Turns out it's actually about a busty Hollywood model who gets amnesia and becomes a high-priced call girl after her evil twin steals her fianci, the race car driver. Currently a smash mini-series.

"The Jetsons": They were right about everything. The next Microsoft turns out to be a little Modesto startup making space helmets for dogs.

Boris Yeltsin: Recent shaky appearances suggest that he may be drinking again. Observers say this time he's finally had it and will not last through 2030. Still, history will be kind to the man who laid to rest the last vestiges of the Soviet Union. And while Americans claim that anyone can be president and everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, thanks to Boris Yeltsin every Russian has been prime minister. Sometimes for as long as a week.


Evil Clowns: They've had a lot of bad press, but now we know they're crying on the inside.

Lee Harvey Oswald: New evidence reveals that actually, President Kennedy was involved in a complicated plot to kill Oswald. It worked, too.

"Ishtar": Fifty years later, people suddenly get all the jokes.

Mother Teresa: Sure she was an infuriating do-gooder, but new discoveries are made among her personal belongings. Mother Teresa's world-class collection of velvet Crown Royal bags and the private scrapbook of her early wrestling career really humanize the old girl. Besides, she helped people, damn it.


The Ku Klux Klan: Now universally congratulated for gathering all of the world's slope-headed morons into one easily visible pack, where they can then be fried by satellite laser cannons.

Yoko Ono: Forget about it.

Steve Burgess

Steve Burgess is a Salon contributing writer.

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