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Get Out! How 8 Dictators Spent Their Exile Years

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As civil war rages in Libya, many observers are calling for Qaddafi to step down and go into exile. This wouldn’t be the first time an oppressive leader has stepped aside in exchange for a relatively comfortable retirement abroad. We’ve compiled this handy list of famous exiled emperors and dictators for reference.

1. Napoleon Bonaparte (Elba and St. Helena)

The original exiled dictator, Napoleon did it twice for good measure. This Corsican military genius was beloved by his French subjects but not so much by his foreign enemies, of whom there were a good number following his brutal conquest of Europe (which left 3.4 million dead).

After his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon abdicated the throne in 1814 and was exiled to the pleasant island of Elba, just off the coast of Italy. It wasn't far enough: in 1815 Napoleon snuck back into France with his shock troops, assembled an army, and was barely defeated by the British and Prussians at Waterloo.

The British -- beyond furious about having to fight a whole extra war -- next exiled Napoleon to St. Helena, a tiny rock in the South Atlantic. Here Napoleon wrote his memoirs while maybe slowly being poisoned with arsenic; when he died in 1821 at the age of 51, his priest and servant allegedly removed and preserved his penis. The organ was bought by a Columbia University urologist, John K. Lattimer, for $3,000 in 1977.

2. Napoleon III (England)

Banking off his relation to his famous uncle, Louis Napoleon was elected president of the French Republic in 1848, then declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851 (Napoleon Bonaparte’s son had briefly ruled as Napoleon II in 1815). A chip off the old Bonaparte block, Napoleon III tried to conquer everything the British hadn’t grabbed already, rebuilt Paris as a modern metropolis, and helped unify Italy. But for the most part his foreign schemes fell flatter than a failed soufflé: his puppet ruler of Mexico, Maximilian I, was overthrown and executed in 1867, and Napoleon III himself was overthrown in 1870 following a humiliating defeat by the Prussians at Sedan.

The ex-emperor lived out his remaining days in exile with his wife and son in Chislehurst, England, from whence he hoped to be re-elected president of France (good luck) and lobbied the British parliament to create an International Arbitration Congress—a farsighted precursor to the United Nations (it never happened). He died in 1873 during an operation to treat a bladder stone and was buried in a sarcophagus donated by Queen Victoria, in a funeral attended by 30,000 admirers from all over Europe.

3. Kaiser Wilhelm II (Holland)

After steering Germany into the disastrous First World War, the blustery Kaiser ended up on the wrong side of history with Germany’s defeat in 1918. Blamed by Western public opinion for starting the war and allowing German atrocities, Wilhelm abdicated and went into exile in neighboring Holland, where he was protected from prosecution for war crimes by his cousin, Queen Wilhelmina.

In 1919 he bought a small castle in the Dutch city of Doorn, where he spent his remaining years writing his memoirs and blaming the First World War on anyone except himself. With the rise of the Nazis, Wilhelm hoped he might be reinstated as Kaiser, but Adolf Hitler had no intention of sharing power with the stuffy old king, whom he dismissed as a relic of history. Wilhelm died in June 1941, just weeks before Germany’s ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, which was destined to bring Germany to ruin (again).

4. Idi Amin (Libya and Saudi Arabia)

One of your crazier dictators, Amin began his military career when Uganda was still a British colony. After toppling Milton Obote in 1971, he struck up warm relations with Libya’s Qaddafi, the Soviet Union, and East Germany -- a clue to his own governing style. In the mid-1970s his supporters began forcibly expropriating (a.k.a. stealing) businesses owned by Uganda’s South Asian minority, forcing tens of thousands of South Asians to flee the country.

But the refugees were the lucky ones: Amin also unleashed massacres against rival African ethnic groups, whom he accused of collaborating with Western imperialist spies, ultimately murdering about 300,000 people, or 1.7% of the country’s population. In 1975 Amin gave Palestinian terrorists safe harbor when they hijacked an Air France jet. (He was also accused of being a cannibal, although this was never proved.)

The end came when he invaded Tanzania in 1978, provoking a counter-invasion and popular uprising that forced him to flee by helicopter in 1979. Amin first headed to Libya, where Qaddafi welcomed him with open arms. In 1980 Amin settled in Saudi Arabia, where the Saudi royal family subsidized his luxurious exile in return for (mostly) staying out of trouble. He died of kidney failure and was buried in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2003.

5. Shah of Iran (Egypt, Morocco, The Bahamas, Mexico, The U.S., Panama, and Egypt again)

Over the course of his 26-year reign, Shah Pahlavi managed to systematically alienate almost all his subjects: wealthy landowners were angered by his land reforms, peasants resented compulsory military service, middle-class merchants suffered from his ham-fisted meddling in the economy, and the Shiite clergy were outraged by social reforms like women’s suffrage. All this generated huge resentment against the Shah and his American backers. Typically, when Washington finally changed its tune, it did so at the exact wrong moment: political reforms allowed Iranian dissidents to overthrow the government and erect a new regime -- led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- that was even worse.

The Shah fled Iran and spent the rest of his life in exile, but most countries were reluctant to play host, for fear of alienating the new Iranian regime. After several months in Egypt, the Shah moved to Morocco until King Hassan II made it clear he was too big a political liability. His first request for asylum in the U.S. was turned down out of concern for the safety of Americans still in Iran. So he moved on to the Bahamas until the U.K. got cold feet, forcing him to decamp again -- this time for Mexico, which brushed off threats from Iran’s new Islamist government.

Finally, in October 1979 he was allowed into the U.S., where he was treated (unsuccessfully) for advanced lymphatic cancer at Cornell Medical Hospital in New York City. His friendly reception in the U.S. sparked outrage in Iran, where radical students retaliated by taking over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and holding embassy workers hostage for 444 days. Hoping to take political pressure off the U.S., the dying ex-monarch next traveled to Panama, a U.S. ally with modern medical facilities. But the Panamanian government was ambivalent, and even considered extraditing the Shah to Iran to face charges of murder and torture during his reign. Hoping to avoid this final indignity, the Shah returned to Egypt, where he died in Cairo on July 28, 1980.

6. Ferdinand Marcos (Guam and Hawaii)

Another U.S. Cold War ally gone wrong, during his tenure as president and prime minister of the Philippines from 1965-1986, Ferdinand Marcos stole an estimated $5 billion-$10 billion from the country -- much of that in the form of foreign loans the people of the Philippines are still paying back.

Of course this is just the financial legacy of the Marcos regime: one historian’s tally of its human victims includes 3,257 murders, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 political prisoners. Still, Marcos was definitely “our S.O.B.” in Washington’s global chess game with the Kremlin, so he got a pass and easy access to loans. But Marcos overstepped his boundaries in 1983 with the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., an opposition leader trying to return from exile, as he stepped off his plane in Manila.

The U.S. withdrew its support and the national legislature began impeachment proceedings against Marcos, who fell back on the military as the last remaining pillar of his rule. In February 1986, as opposition coalesced around Aquino’s widow Corazon and Marcos fell ill with kidney disease, he and Imelda fled first to Guam and then Hawaii with the help of the U.S. military. The pair was supposedly carrying 24 suitcases full of gold bricks and a trove of diamond jewelry hidden in diaper bags. Back home, Filipino investigators came across evidence of extravagant corruption, including Imelda’s infamous footwear collection, numbering 2,700 pairs of shoes. [Image credit: The Honolulu Advertiser.]

The kleptocratic couple spent the next couple years in comfortable exile, with Ferdinand receiving medical care for multiple ailments. He died on September 28, 1989, at the age of 72. She eventually returned to the Philippines. In 2009 the government of the Philippines reported it had recovered about $2 billion looted by the Marcos.

7. Manuel Noriega (U.S. and France)

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was an important U.S. ally, but in the late 1980s he ignored requests from President Reagan to step down and allowed cocaine smugglers -- most notably Pablo Escobar -- to use Panama as a transshipment point and also as a bank for their illicit billions. Noriega staved off two U.S.-backed coups and allowed Panamanian military personnel to harass and threaten U.S. troops guarding the Panama Canal, providing the final justification for U.S. military intervention on December 20, 1989.

After seeking political asylum with the Vatican consulate, Noriega surrendered to U.S. forces on January 3, 1990; he was extradited to the U.S., where he was eventually tried and convicted of racketeering, drug smuggling, and money laundering. Noriega was imprisoned for the better part of two decades at a Federal prison near Miami, during which time he suffered a stroke, developed prostate cancer, and said he became a born-again Christian. His original sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 in recognition of his good behavior. Noriega completed his prison sentence in September 2007, but spent several more years in prison as international authorities tried to decide what to do with him.

In 2010, the U.S. government finally extradited him to France to stand trial for money laundering. The former strongman, now 77, was convicted and sentenced to seven years in French prison.

8. Mobutu Sese Seko (Togo and Morocco)

Ruling a vast tropical realm blessed with equally vast mineral riches, Mobutu is the archetypal commander-in-thief. After seizing power with the CIA’s help in 1965, Mobutu used a slapped-together anti-colonial ideology (called Mobutu-ism—what else?) as a fig leaf for his criminal regime, which made off with at least $5 billion while Zaire remained mired in poverty. Mobutu forced his subjects to wear “authentic” African clothing (which was actually just as foreign as Western dress) and adopt “authentic” African names, following his lead: born Joseph Desiree Mobutu, in 1972 he took a new name -- Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga -- which translates to “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”

His megalomania was matched only by his corruption. He turned his hometown of Gbadolite into a palatial jungle retreat, complete with an airport with runways able to accommodate Concorde jets he chartered for shopping trips to Paris. Mobutu acquired luxurious homes all over Europe, huge ranches in South America, and too many yachts to count. He even used government jets to fly his prize cattle herd back and forth between Africa and South America.

All this was financed by under-the-table sales of gold, diamonds, cobalt, and copper, along with shady foreign loans, which helped support his personal retinue of 3,000 people, including wives, mistresses, children, friends, bodyguards, chefs, drivers, and so on. But U.S. support for Mobutu dwindled after the end of the Cold War, and his regime finally came crashing down in 1997, after native Tutsis rebelled in eastern Zaire (now Congo). Suffering from a kidney ailment, Mobutu first fled to Togo, where he received a rather cool reception, then moved on to Morocco, where he died on September 7, 2007, at the age of 66.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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