From the infamous to the insane, we have a run-down of quirks of 8 avowed leaders. It takes a particular personality type run for democratic election or even take over a country. And while being the boss of an entire state can be quite an ego trip, it also puts idiosyncrasies, obsessions and OCDs under a magnifying lens. It also puts these figures into the position of taking their whims and compulsions to a whole new level. These figures have frequently started out with humble beginnings, only to rise to the top of the pile, fueled by the desire to leave their imprint on their country and history at large. In many cases, these figures seek power and recognition, fostering a cult of personality, which gives them god-like attributes in the eyes of their people.
The 78-year old three-time Italian Prime Minister, business magnate and media tycoon suffered a rather unceremonious fall from Grace in 2013 when he was found guilty of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office. The Media Set and AC Milan owner, has long been reputed to have connections with the Italian Mafia and other unsavory characters. His love of beautiful women and penchant for mixing with the jet set drove him to regularly organize parties in his mansion outside of Milan, where it was rumored that up to 20 girls would engage in Bunga Bunga African-style rituals in the nude. Claims have emerged that il Cavaliere (as he is known) has paid a cool USD$ 5 million to Moroccan belly dancer and alleged prostitute Karima El Mahroug (a.k.a Ruby Rubacuori), for her services at his parties. While his conviction has been overturned, Berlusconi is more likely to be remembered for his Bunga Bunga parties than for being the longest-serving post-war Italian premier.
Leonard Brezhnev’s place in the annals of history has been secured due to his position as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – a position which he held between 1964 and 1982. In Russian polls, his name tops the list of the 20th century’s most popular Russian leaders, despite the fact that his policies brought about the Era of Stagnation. Reputedly a vain man, keen on retaining and building his reputation for greatness, he was known to demote anyone unable to see his genius. He had a passion for status symbols, particularly medals (of which he was awarded over 100, some of which were even undeserved) and fast foreign cars (ideally gifted to him by foreign state leaders.)
The Fifth President of Iraq, in office between 1979 and 2003, Saddam Hussein was very eager to foster a cult of personality in his country. Countless portraits, statues and other artefacts were commissioned in his honor, and to his greatest delight. These icons of the Iraqi leader were aimed at idealizing Hussein in the eyes of his people and bolstering propaganda favorable to his regime. During the height of his popularity, images of him (appealing to a variety of audiences due to the different costumes – from the Bedouin to the tailored suit) were literally everywhere, giving the impression that he was watching every move. Hussein famously had the Blood Qur’an commissioned to be written, using 27 liters of his blood as a gesture of thanks to God for preserving his life from various dangers.
The Soviet Union tyrant, who was in power between 1925 and 1953 was responsible for the death of millions. Such was his need to establish himself as leader through fear and control that he has pretty much set the bar for the culture of personality, with several places being named after him, as well as the Stalin Prize and the Stalin Peace Prize. He magnanimously accepted to be referred to with titles like ‘Brilliant Genius of Humanity’. Ironically, this particular breed of genius wanted to be remembered for the modesty of great people. Various propaganda artefacts were commissioned in order to rally the support of the people, including literature, music, paintings and film. He allegedly had a body-double, known as Rashid, who would stand in for Stalin at functions and media events, after World War II, when his health started to decline.
Ancient Rome’s enfant terrible, who destroyed his beloved city and most prized possession, along with himself and countless citizens, in his never-ending quest for grandeur. The Roman Emperor is blamed for starting the Great Fire of Rome, in order to clear some space to build what was to be an impressive, palatial arena. The same man who was rumored to dip Christians in oil and set them alight so as to illuminate his evenings, was also responsible for the executions of many romans, including his mother. It is also thought that he poisoned his step-brother, in his quest for power. Nero’s ego knew no bounds. His love for driving chariots had him compete in the Olympic Games (his talents being such that he was thrown off the chariot and almost killed in the process). Despite his position as Emperor, he composed and performed songs in public, so as to bolster his popularity. Ultimately, afraid of being denounced as a public enemy, he took his own life.
Together with his wife, the Romanian head of state (1967–1989) was convicted and sentenced to death, when found guilty of genocide and illegal gathering of wealth. The tyrant and self-titled Genius of Carpathians had a king-like scepter made for him, upon being elected Romanian President. This prompted artist Salvador Dali to send him a telegram, sarcastically congratulating him for inventing the Presidential Specter. To ensure loyalty, after the defection of one of his trusted senior police officials, he had a number of family members invested with Government positions. Another victim of vanity, Ceausescu’s official photos portrayed him in his prime, at the age of around 40.
The Libyan revolutionary and politician emerged from a very humble background, as the son of a Bedouin goat-herder. Despite his remarkable rise to power he had retained a rather modest public persona – with the exception of his rather extravagant wardrobe. His public image as a serious, pious, family man, is in stark contrast with the rumors about what took place behind the closed doors of his 6-mile reinforced compound near Tripoli. According to Le Monde journalist Annick Cojean, Gaddafi was a womanizer, a rapist and a torturer, who retained a harem of women at his disposal. His Amazonian bodyguards were also not immune to his forceful advances. Gaddafi’s Zenga Zenga parties are rumored to have been the purveyor of Berlusconi’s sexually-colored parties with scantily-clad women. It is claimed that the former Italian Premier’s intimate gatherings were inspired by Gaddafi himself.
Also known as The Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il was the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, between 1994 and 2011. He built on the cult of personality which he inherited from his father, who previously occupied this position of North Korean leader and further developed the state’s propaganda machine, so that he attained near god-like status in the eyes of his people. Such is the extent of the hero worship towards him, that like X-Men’s Storm, he is believed to control the weather through his mood. When rumors about his health issues became stronger, and he failed to make a public appearance during the 2008 Olympic Torch ceremony in Pyongyang, the North Korean government had to disclose that being merely mortal, Jong-il had suffered a stroke. He was rumored to have used a body double to hide the effects of his health issues and continue to foster the illusion of his immortality.