8 Successful People Grateful They Got Canned

MARK J. TERRILL/AFP/Getty Images
MARK J. TERRILL/AFP/Getty Images

In our tough economic climate, it's worth reminding ourselves that losing a job might not be the end of the world. Sure, it never feels good, but for these well-known folks, getting the boot from their gigs provided the impetus for them to reach even greater successes.

1. Jerry Seinfeld

Remember the ABC sitcom Benson? Seinfeld undoubtedly does. Early in his career he had a small recurring role as a mail boy on three episodes of the show from 1980-81. One day he showed up at work for a read-through, but he couldn't find a script with his name on it. After Seinfeld asked what was going on, an assistant director told him he'd been fired from the show, but nobody had remembered to tell the young comedian. A humiliated Seinfeld trudged out and decided he was through with sitcoms unless he could get more control over the creative process. As you might have heard, he was pretty successful once that eventually happened.

2. Michael Bloomberg

By most any metric, the Mayor of New York is a pretty successful fellow. His $20 billion net worth makes him one of the ten richest people in America, and he can still run for another mayoral term. He wasn't always so successful, though. In 1981, investment firm Salomon Brothers canned him from his partner-level job following a buyout (although Bloomberg got $10 million as a payment for his capital in the firm). Instead of jumping back into another job at an investment bank, Bloomberg took the cash and bet it on an oddball idea he had to use computers to disseminate financial information to investment firms. Good move. The company, Innovative Market Systems, was eventually renamed Bloomberg L.P., and that company is worth somewhere north of $20 billion today.

3. Robert Redford

Before he became the Sundance Kid, Redford needed his dad's help to get a job at Standard Oil. Although he would later reach great heights on the screen, acting like a good employee was one role he never nailed. As Harvey Mackay writes in his 2004 book Fired Up!, Redford served as a "roustabout," an unskilled laborer who did little jobs around the rigs, until he was discovered sleeping in an oil tank he'd been assigned to clean. Instead of canning him on the spot, the company put Redford on probation and moved him to a bottle-washing plant where he drove a forklift. Redford got bored with the job, though, and started doing forklift tricks. One day it literally all came crashing down when Redford took a corner too quickly and overturned his bottle-laden forklift. As Redford dryly remarked to Mackay, "I knew it was the end of my career in that business."

4. Wilco

In 2000 and 2001, the Chicago rock band Wilco recorded an artsy album that departed from the band's previous folk-inflected work. The record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, didn't sound quite like what the band's label, Reprise Records, was hoping for. Although the album isn't aggressively grating, it wasn't full of the radio-friendly rock that the cash-strapped imprint needed to churn out a few hit singles. Reprise refused to release the album and dropped Wilco from its roster. As part of their severance from the label, the band got to take the master tapes of the record with them.

Without a label to release the album, Wilco decided to simply stream it on their website for free. As critical buzz for the record built, Nonesuch Records (like Reprise, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers) bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and gave it a commercial release in 2002. The record was a critical smash; it topped many critics' best-albums lists for the year. It was also a commercial success, selling close to 600,000 copies.

5. Annabelle Gurwitch

Annabelle Gurwitch, who hosted Dinner and a Movie on TBS from 1996 to 2002, had at least one show business firing that would have made most people look for a new career. In 2003 she was acting in a play under the direction of her idol Woody Allen when the director suddenly decided he didn't like what he was seeing from Gurwitch. He really, seriously didn't like it. As Allen fired Gurwitch, he launched into a tirade, saying, "What you're doing is terrible, none of it good, all of it bad, don't ever do that again." As if he hadn't said enough, Allen then added, "You look retarded."

Taking that sort of abuse from a hero would be too much for some people to take, but Gurwitch used it as a springboard to a new comedic niche. She started a website that collected other people's stories of being fired, and she later parlayed that into a book, Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, and Dismissed that shared some of her show-biz friends' stories of terrible firings. The book, in which celebs like Bob Saget, Jeff Garlin, and Tim Allen all told their own tales of sudden unemployment, later became the basis for a 2007 documentary of the same name.

6. Rainn Wilson

The actor who plays Dwight Schrute isn't quite as eager-to-please as his on-screen alter ego. In a 2007 interview with New York Magazine, Wilson told the story of working as an events coordinator at a foundation for disabled people. When his boss said, "Jump!" he wanted his subordinates to literally ask, "How high?" Wilson wasn't up for that, and he got fired.

7. Howard Stern

It might be hard to believe, but Howard Stern has been fired for being offensive. While working for NBC's flagship AM station WNBC in New York in 1985, Stern did a bit on his show called (and this is not a joke), "Beastiality Dial-a-Date." Negative public reaction to the skit prompted Stern's firing. Instead of cleaning up his material and trying to start fresh, Stern quickly found a new home on FM radio and remained edgy. It worked. Following a jump to Sirius in 2006, Stern now pulls in as much as $70 million a year for his show.

8. Bill Bellichick

Belichick, the glowering, hoodie-wearing architect of multiple Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots, had a rough start to his head-coaching career. In 1991 he took over the star-crossed Cleveland Browns, and like so many Browns coaches before him, he just couldn't win. Belichick guided the team to records of 6-10, 7-9, and 7-9 in his first three seasons before riding Vinny Testaverde and the immortal Leroy Hoard to an 11-5 record in 1994. The team even won a playoff game that year. The success didn't last for Belichick, though, as the team crashed back down during a 5-11 debacle of a season in 1995.

After five years in Cleveland, Belichick had a 36-44 record. Owner Art Modell decided he'd seen enough and kicked his coach to the curb, then moved the franchise to Baltimore. Belichick latched on with Bill Parcells again and became the Big Tuna's assistant head coach in New England and then for the New York Jets. He was better prepared for his next shot at a head coaching gig, which came with the Patriots in 2000. 

5 Clues Daenerys Targaryen Will Die in the Final Season of Game of Thrones

HBO
HBO

by Mason Segall

The final season of HBO's epic Game of Thrones is hovering on the horizon like a lazy sun and, at the end of the day, fans have only one real question about how it will end: Who will sit the Iron Throne? One of the major contenders is Daenerys of the thousand-and-one names, who not only has one of the most legitimate claims to the throne, but probably deserves it the most.

However, Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off main characters, particularly honorable ones, often in brutal and graphic ways. And unfortunately, there's already been some foreshadowing that writers will paint a target on Daenerys's back.

5. THE PROPHECIES

Carice van Houten in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

What's a good fantasy story without a few prophecies hanging over people's heads? While the books the show is based on have a few more than usual, the main prophecy of Game of Thrones is Melisandre's rants about "the prince that was promised," basically her faith's version of a messiah.

Melisandre currently believes both Daenerys and Jon Snow somehow fulfill the prophecy, but her previous pick for the position died a grisly death, so maybe her endorsement isn't a good sign.

4. TYRION'S DEMANDS FOR A SUCCESSOR

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

A particular scene in season seven saw Tyrion advising Daenerys to name a successor before she travels north to help Jon. She challenges him, "You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I'm dead. Is that it?" But that's exactly it. Tyrion is more than aware how mortal people are and wants to take precautions. He's seen enough monarchs die that he probably knows what warning signs to look for.

3. A FAMILY LEGACY

David Rintoul as the Mad King in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King Aerys II, a paranoid pyromaniac of a monarch. More than once, Daenerys has been compared to her father, particularly in her more ruthless moments. Aerys was killed because of his insanity and arrogance. If Daenerys starts displaying more of his mental illness, she might follow in his footsteps to the grave.

2. HER DRAGONS AREN'T INVINCIBLE

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

The fall and subsequent resurrection of the dragon Viserion was one of the biggest surprises of season seven. Not only did it destroy one of Daenerys's trump cards, but it proved that her other two dragons were vulnerable as well. Since the three-headed dragon is the sigil of her house, this might be an omen that Daenerys is next on the chopping block.

1. THAT VISION

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

All the way back in season two, Daenerys received a vision in the House of the Undying of the great hall in King's Landing ransacked and covered in snow. Before she could even touch the iron throne, she was called away by her dragons and was confronted by her deceased husband and son. This is a clear indication that she might never sit the throne, something that would only happen if she were dead.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

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