Quick quiz: Who is the most admired person on Earth, living or dead? If your list starts with Martin Luther King Jr., you get the kewpie doll. For example, in a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. high school students, Dr. King was No. 1 above Benjamin Franklin and even Oprah, the only living admirable person who made the list. On survey after survey he’s right up there with Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Winnie the Pooh (even though he is a bear of very little brain, OK?)
If your list started with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, you’re eligible for therapy. She was probably the most notorious woman of her generation, but hardly the most admired. True, as U.S. first lady, she put up with serial adulterer John Kennedy until he was assassinated. But when she married Aristotle Onassis, the creepy Greek shipping magnate, she became an object of cynical disdain, especially when, once widowed, she launched a two-year legal battle to extract $26 million out of Christina Onassis, Ari’s daughter and sole heir.
Here’s an ironic historical footnote. Recently released interview tapes reveal that when she was first lady, Jackie thought King was “tricky” and “phoney” because the FBI caught him with a woman in his hotel room.
This was before it became apparent that “John Kennedy Slept Here” was a whole different story than “George Washington Slept Here.”
It’s not really fair to judge Jackie with the benefit of hindsight, but that tricky phoney has his own national holiday, Martin Luther King boulevards in every U.S. ‘burg and more than 10,000 (and who knows the degree to which his fame extends to hamlets) public schools, community centres and libraries.
Jackie has the reservoir in Central Park, although once again I’m being unfair. She is also memorialized in a white gazebo in Middleburg, Va., where she often participated in the bizarre practice of inducing hounds to chase and tear apart a fox.
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I’m not sure why Jackie O. was oblivious to greatness, athough I harbour graceless suspicions. Give her the benefit of the doubt and take the “tricky phoney” talk at face value. After all, if he was discovered in a hotel room with another woman in 2011, King would make an entirely different list, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eliot Spitzer and the much-admired Anthony Weiner, not to mention Jackie’s husband JFK, who brought a whole new meaning to “affairs of state.”
The times, they are a changin’. And through it all, Winnie the Pooh remains devoted to Christopher Robin.