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Keep on Truckin': 15 Stories of Life After Sports

Boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard retired in 1982. Then again in 1984. Enough, he said once more in 1987. And 1991. And finally in 1997.

Long before quarterback Brett Favre made retirement an annual and reversible rite, Leonard demonstrated that on the subject of possibly hanging it up for good and starting a new career he felt strongly both ways.

Jobs during his time away from the ring included HBO commentator and founder of the Sugar Ray Leonard television network. Don't remember it? There's a reason for that.

In an interview for ESPN's SportsCentury, Leonard's ex-wife Juanita said Leonard was clearly conflicted, that "still today, down inside, it's Ray Leonard. But Sugar Ray Leonard won't let him out."

Athlete retirements are the ultimate mixed bag. Some get arrested. Many get elected to political office. Some thrive. Some crash. More than a few live the credo once espoused by soccer great George Best, who said, "I spent a lot of money on booze, (women) and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

In a March 2009 Sports Illustrated article, writer Pablo Torre cited a startling statistic; that two years after retirement 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress due to joblessness, bad investments or divorce.

Here's a look at 15 sports retirement tales -- happy and otherwise.

1. Mookie Wilson

Wilson hit the ball that famously went through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series.

Wilson, who's currently the New York Mets' first base coach, also worked as a truck driver in the southern states since 1999. He denies he thinks of the Buckner play every time he drives through a tunnel.

Are there more interesting second careers? Yes. But how many truckers played in a World Series? (Also: I like the name "Mookie.")

2. Barry Sanders

The anti-Brett Favre and Sugar Ray Leonard, Sanders was one of the all-time greats who walked away unexpectedly and never came back.

His exit was much like that of the great Jim Brown, but at least Brown walked away from football into the Hollywood embrace of Bo Derek. Sanders announced his retirement from the Detroit Lions in 1999 by faxing a letter.

Not to the Lions. To his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle.

It would be years before Sanders admitted he was tired of all the losing in Detroit and was upset with management over some personnel moves.

Sanders had to pay back the Lions $5.5 million in contract bonuses. He lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and is married to a local news anchor.

3. George Foreman

One of the 25 greatest boxers of all time, according to Ring Magazine's 2002 rankings.

He'd rank even higher as a pitchman. One of his post-boxing career business ventures was a deal with Salton, Inc., which markets the George Foreman Lean Man Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine.

The 1999 deal Foreman struck is one of the biggest athlete endorsement deals in history. He reportedly netted $4.5 million a month from his cut of the profits. Then Salton paid him a flat $137 million to use his name.

Foreman has 10 children. His five sons are all named George. So, apparently, he spends most of his family time in retirement saying, "No, not you."

4. Manute Bol

If there were an award for advancing humanitarian causes during a second career, Bol would win it. Unfortunately, he'd win it posthumously.

The 7-foot-7 Bol died of kidney failure in June 2010 at age 47. During his remarkable life, he established the Ring True Foundation to raise money for Sudan, his homeland.

The way he did it was unique in some cases. He raised money by fighting William "The Refrigerator" Perry in a celebrity bout, and by participating in a horse race.

Yep. As a jockey.

5. Richard Petty

Being The King is a full-time job for the icon of stock car racing. Good thing. With so many former athletes ending up in politics, Petty unintentionally bucked the trend.

He ran as the Republican nominee for North Carolina's Secretary of State in the mid-90s. Petty was considered a sure thing but lost the election, perhaps due to what some observers considered less than all-out campaigning.

"If I had known I wasn't going to win, I wouldn't have run," said Petty.

In 2006, he was cast as "The King" in Pixar's animated film Cars.

6. Jesse Ventura

Ventura was known as "The Body" when he starred as a pro wrestler. Born James George Vanos, he ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in 1990. I sat in his living room for a story that year when he was showing up for city council meetings dressed in black leather and carrying his motorcycle helmet under his arm.

Little did anyone know he'd become the 38th governor of Minnesota in 1998 and inspire the nickname "The Governing Body" and a bumper sticker: "My governor can beat up your governor."

Most recently, Ventura taught a study group at Harvard on third-party politics. As an occasional political commentator, the former member of the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team was known as a strong voice against waterboarding, calling it torture.

"[Waterboarding] is drowning," he once said. "It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning...I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

7. Tonya Harding

Did I say some athletes crash? I meant crash and burn. After winning the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, her stock plummeted in 1994 when members of her camp (including ex-husband Jeff Gillooly) attacked her biggest rival, Nancy Kerrigan, at the 1994 championships.

She sold a pornographic "Wedding Video" to a tabloid, worked briefly as a pro wrestling manager, launched a boxing career (3-3 lifetime) and became a regular contributor to TruTv's The Smoking Gun Presents World's Dumbest...

Oh yeah. Almost forgot. She appeared in the 1996 movie Breakaway in which she played the girlfriend of a criminal.

You know what they call that? Not acting.

8. Dick Ambrose

Never heard of him? He played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns from 1976-83, got his law degree and now serves as a judge in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Northeast Ohio

Most recently he's served as the presiding judge in the notorious Anthony Sowell serial murder trial in Cleveland. Sowell was found guilty on 83 charges, including the murder of 11 female victims discovered at his house in 2009.

During the trial, a witness turned to Ambrose and said, "Do you mind if I call you Bam-Bam?"

Bam-Bam was Ambrose's nickname as a NFL player, proving an athlete can become even more successful and respected in a second career but never really leave the first one behind.

9. Mike Tyson

If Tonya Harding crashed and burned, Tyson combusted. His fall is well chronicled. Where is he now?

In March of this year, he started a reality series for Animal Planet called Taking on Tyson. It's about his passion for racing homing pigeons. In fact, the story goes that his first fight as a kid came after a bully ripped the head off one of his beloved pigeons.

Thankfully, there have been no re-enactments.

Wrote Dan Snierson for Inside TV, "If you've always dreamed of a reality series involving Mike Tyson and pigeons, well, you have weird dreams."

10. Mark Vlasic

A little-used quarterback during his six years in the NFL with San Diego, Tampa Bay and Kansas City, Vlasic has done well in the world of finance as the Director of RSM McGladrey's Wealth Management in Kansas City.

He's on this list for being smart enough to see he'd need a real job, for getting his real estate license as a player and because I'm a soft touch for quotes like this:

"Other than on your pickle jar, I was not a household name (as a NFL player)."

11. Jack McDowell

Former Cy Young Award winner with the Chicago White Sox. Became famous in New York for flipping off Yankees fans during a 1995 game. Did I mention he was playing for the Yankees at the time?

Played guitar for the band Stickfigure during his baseball career and has kept at it.

In 2008, became part of a musical group called "The Baseball Project." That venture led to the album: "Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" that included a tribute song to McDowell called "The Yankee Flipper."

To date, no Volume 2.

12. Matt White

White's career record pitching for three Major League Baseball teams was 0-3. The salary he commanded was modest and not the reason that during the last few years of his career his teammates called him Mr. Billionaire.

His story is not quite Jed Clampett's story, but close. In 2003, White purchased 50 acres of mountain real estate in Cummington, Massachusetts, from his aunt. She used the $50,000 to enter a nursing home.

Turns out the land was solid Goshen stone, estimated to be about 400 million years old and worth around $2.5 billion, minus extraction costs. He started a small extraction operation. In 2009 he put the land on the market.

13. Lenny Dykstra

His nickname was "Nails" as a player for the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. In 2008, he launched a jet charter company and magazine geared toward pro athletes.

In 2009, his net worth was estimated at $58 million.

By 2010, he was bankrupt and living in his car and hotel lobbies.

Latest update: On June 13, 2011, he appeared in Federal bankruptcy court to plead not guilty to twenty-five charges including grand theft. He was represented by a public defender.

14. Jack Clark

At one point the former San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals slugger owned 18 luxury cars including a $700,000 Ferrari and a Rolls Royce. According to his bankruptcy filings in 1992, he was paying on 17 car notes.

Clark got back on his feet in the 1990s. In 2009 the Cardinals hired him as a color commentator and he worked with young players in the Prospect League.

But not before he fractured six ribs and suffered near fatal injuries in a motorcycle accident while serving as the Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach.

During the worst of his financial woes, he lost his $2.4 million home and a business.

Good guess. A drag-racing business.

15. Scottie Pippen

Pippen, who starred with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, considered a comeback as recently as 2007 because he needed the money. He declared bankruptcy and sued his former law firm claiming it lost $27 million of his money through poor investments.

At one point he was selling his a lakeside home that was said to feature the world's "largest residential aquarium."

At the heart of the $27 million suit was a dispute over a $4.5 million private jet he purchased in 2001. Turns out it was a lemon.

Pippen "won" a $2 million settlement. And the distinction of being named by The Business Pundit to No. 8 on the list of "25 Rich Athletes Who Went Broke." Not to mention this list.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show
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After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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The 1988 BBC Report That Spelled the End for Doctor Who
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Given the amount of excitement, and press, surrounding the July 2017 announcement that Jodie Whittaker would be taking the keys to the TARDIS from Peter Capaldi to become Doctor Who's Thirteenth Doctor (and its first female Doctor), it’s hard to imagine that audiences could ever tire of the iconic sci-fi series. But, as Den of Geek reports, television-watchers in 1988 had a rather different opinion of the regularly-regenerating Time Lord.

A "not for publication" Television Audience Reaction Report discovered in the BBC Archive, compiled shortly after Sylvester McCoy made his debut as the Seventh Doctor, revealed that Whovians weren't buying what McCoy was selling. While viewership was up a tick (.1 million over the previous year's average), the show's Appreciation Index—which measured a series' popularity on a scale of one to 100—was a 60 which, according to the report, was "much lower than the average of 69 for the 1986 series. It is also considerably lower than the average of 75 for UK Originated Drama: Other Series and Serials between BARB Weeks 37 and 50."

Though the series' core fan base was mostly sticking around, "their number seems to be decreasing with each successive series," with a mere 46 percent of the sample audience saying that they'd want to see another season of Doctor Who (which, at that time, was in the 24th season of its initial run):

"Under half the sample audience (47%) agreed with the statement that Doctor Who was an entertaining program. Just over a quarter (28%) agreed that the stories this series had been good, while 49% disagreed with this statement. The stories' attention holding qualities received a similarly poor rating."

Ouch!

As for McCoy, the report stated that he "was not proving to be a popular Doctor. He received a personal summary index figure of 46 at the end of the series … Sylvester McCoy's predecessor in the role—Colin Baker—although only moderately popular himself, received much better ratings than these, as his personal index figure of 66 shows. A popular character, such as Jim Bergerac played by John Nettles, can receive a personal index rating of around 90."

But The Doctor wasn't even the biggest problem: His companion, Mel, was even less popular with viewers:

"Bonnie Langford, who played the Doctor's assistant Mel can only be described as unpopular with respondents. Indeed 56% of respondents who answered a questionnaire on the 'Paradise Towers' story wished she had been eaten—as seemed likely at one point during the course of this adventure. Her summary index rating of 34 compares unfavourably with the 47 she received at the end of the 1986 series. Both figures, it should be noted, are extremely low."

It should hardly be surprising that the memo (which you can read in full here) spelled the beginning of the end of Doctor Who's original incarnation. The series came to a conclusion in December 1989, with McCoy still in place as The Doctor. Fortunately, the BBC didn't hold a grudge.

In 1996, they attempted to revive interest in the series with a TV movie/backdoor pilot that featured Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. It didn't work. Nearly 10 years later, after lots of rallying, longtime series fan Russell T. Davies was given the greenlight to bring Doctor Who back with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor in 2005. Though Eccleston's tenure was short-lived—David Tennant took over the very next season—audiences have not looked back since.

[h/t Den of Geek]

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