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12 Toys From The 1980s That Didn't Take Off

Many people of a certain age look back at the 1980s as the golden age of toys. But some action figures just didn't resonate—at least back then. Here are 12 rejected toys of the 80s that, in some cases, are now sought after by collectors.

1. Food Fighters (Mattel, 1988-89)

The backstory of the weird and oft-forgotten Food Fighters line of action figures plays out like every 80s toy franchise: The good guys (in this case, the "Kitchen Commandos”) fight the bad guys (“Refrigerator Rejects”) for control of… your refrigerator? The five members of each faction of the 80’s Food Fighters line—regardless of whether their affiliation was good or evil—are manifestations of the worst forms of junk food America has to offer: The good guys are Burgerdier General (a deluxe hamburger with ketchup), Lieutenant Legg (a fried chicken leg), Major Munch (a glazed chocolate doughnut), Private Pizza (a slice of pepperoni & mushroom pizza pie), and Sergeant Scoop (a two-scoop chocolate & vanilla ice cream cone). The bad guys are Mean Weener (a hot dog with mustard), Chip-the-Ripper (a chocolate chip cookie), Fat Frenchy (a sleeve packed with “crinkle cut” French fries), Short Stack (a stack of pancakes with syrup and butter), and Taco Terror (a hard-shell taco).

It makes sense that Mattel refused to construct the good guys as health-food characters, since children probably wouldn’t respond to those choices. But they didn’t react well to the existing product either. These fully poseable “squeaky-toy” action figures (which are filled with air) only lasted for one series of production.

On today’s secondary market, the Food Fighters have made a resounding comeback, with their peculiar vehicles leading the way: the Kitchen Commandos’ Combat Carton (an egg carton modified into an armored personnel carrier), the Fry Chopper (a frying pan that became a helicopter with spatula blades), and the Refrigerator Rejects’ BBQ Bomber (a barbecue grill that transformed into an armed assault vehicle). Even the figures command decent money—more so if they are still sealed in their original packaging.

2. Barnyard Commandos (Playmates, 1989)

The Barnyard Commandos line of “action figures”—non-poseable squeaky-toy pigs and sheep with military armaments on their backs—was produced by Playmates in 1988. These mutant anthropomorphized sheep and pigs were the result of a secret military experiment buried on their farm. From the packaging: "After eating some of the grain the Pigs and Sheep started acting kind of funny. Some started driving the tractors around like tanks, others started digging trenches. Soon after, an all-out war erupted between the Barnyard Commandos!”

The sentiment behind the two warring factions of Barnyard Commandos was defined perfectly by their acronyms: the R.A.M.S. (Rebel Army of Military Sheep) fought the P.O.R.K.S. (Platoon of Rebel Killer Swine); these foes fought against one another in military fashion. Each individual action figure package contained a “Secret Code Book” which taught the consumer how to speak a top secret language: Pig Latin.

The non-poseable nature of the action figures may have caused retail sales of the toys to suffer when children could choose from a myriad of more popular, more malleable options at their local toy store. Despite disastrous sales, the Barnyard Commando toy line continues to tickle the funny bone of many a modern toy collector—and they’re quite inexpensive on the secondary market. Urchasepay omesay Arnyardbay Ommandoscay odaytay!

3. Army Ants (Hasbro, 1987)

In 1987, Hasbro believed they had struck gold by modernizing the “green plastic army men” concept, and introduced their new Army Ants toy line to retail as a more intricate collectible toy—one with a backstory. "The Army Ants struggle to conquer the vast land that is your backyard," their packaging reads. "Two opposing armies engage in deadly combat to control important resources." But these figures were strange. Army Ants were odd little “peg warmers”: those action figures that—due to a lack of demand by consumers—languished on retail pegs, “warming” the shelves and pegs as children ignored them.

Regardless, Hasbro organized their Army Ants toys into two different warring factions of anthropomorphized insects: the Blue Army (commanded by General Mc-Anther) and the Orange Army (ordered by General Patant). These toys were solicited in five different retail sets on blister cards, each of these “squadrons” containing three or eight Army Ant members; each side had 20 soldiers.

For action figure collectors and devoted fans of rubber figurines (such as M.U.S.C.L.E., Monster in My Pocket, etc.), the forty total pieces of this toy line makes it fun and desirable to collect. However, because every Army Ant figure included a hard-to-find removable accessory unique to each figure, a removable soft abdomen, and a distinctive mold unique to each character, obtaining a complete Army Ants collection is quite challenging.

4. Sectaurs, Warriors of Symbion (Coleco, 1984-85)

A play on the word “insect,” the imaginary world of the Sectaurs is the planet of Symbion, where insects have grown to ludicrous proportions thanks to an experiment. Many Sectaur soldiers—humanoids who share characteristics with insect and arachnids—have telepathically bonded to their insect companions via a process called “binary-bonding” that benefits both creatures when engaging in combat.

Coleco only offered one series, which consisted of eight action figures and one playset. Regardless of price point, each action figure came with a host of weapons and accessories (such as bandoliers, belts, pistols, rifles, swords, and shields) and a unique insect companion with an action feature.

Coleco also sold higher-price point deluxe action figure sets. Each of these four larger sets included a humanoid Sectaurs figure accompanied by an oversized insect companion that was basically a hand-puppet. Kids would attach the humanoid figure to a saddle that rested on top of the insect companion. The child would insert a hand into the underside of one of these hand-puppet steeds, which fit like a glove; the kid's fingers would then function as the insect’s legs. Some sets even had insects with thin, twin, translucent (and awfully fragile), battery-powered wings that would flap when you flipped an “on/off” switch. These motorized wings, combined with the movement of the child’s hands as an insect’s legs and appendages, were a marvel of toy engineering.

Other than eight action figures, an immense and highly desirable Hyve action playset was also produced. With two “Hands-In” monsters, the Hyve, Forbidden Fortress is an oft-requested piece by collectors. The playset’s tremendous size and vast number of parts (many of which are quite delicate) suggests that any surviving samples of this toy from the 1980s will not usually be found intact or complete—adding to its rarity and the toy’s exorbitant cost on the collector’s market.

5. Rock Lords (Tonka, 1986-1987)

Tonka’s Rock Lords action figures captured the attention of children with a unique concept: instead of creating robots that transform into vehicles, why not have these detailed characters change into… colorful rocks? There were two warring factions of Rock Lords from three different series of toy releases: Good Rock Lords were Boulder (tungsten), Nuggit (gold), Granite (granite), Marbles (cristobalite), Crackpot (azurite), Pulver Eyes (Dolomite). The Bad Rock Lords were Magmar (Igneous), Tombstone (quartz), Sticks ‘N Stones (a two-headed Rock lord with two rock types—anthracite and magnetite), Stoneheart (slate), Brimstone (brimstone), Slimestone (silver), and the insidious Sabrestone and Spearhead (whose rock types are unknown).

Beyond the first two series of “Good versus Evil” GoBots Rock Lords action figures, Tonka also offered a set of furred companions known as “Narlies.” Along with these Narlies, Tonka produced a series of dinosaur companions to the Rock Lords—the Rockasaurs’ Terra Rock and Spike Stone. The (ahem) crown jewels of the toy line are the Rock Lords’ stunning Jewel Lords. Although only three of these toys were released—Solitaire, Flamestone, and Sunstone—these are highly prized: Even loose samples command high prices on the secondary market. The toy line was rounded out with a few other sub-collections such as the Shock Rocks, whose action feature was to… roll on the ground. Or shoot a rock. Or throw a rock.

6. Computer Warriors (Mattel, 1989)

“An accident in a top-secret government computer lets loose hordes of evil Virus troops on an unsuspecting world. ... Their goal: global domination through total control of the world's computers... even yours! To fight this menacing evil, the computer generates heroic micro soldiers—COMPUTER WARRIORS designed to recapture the marauding Virus troops and to make sure computers are used for the good of mankind!”

So goes the backstory of the 2-inch tall Computer Warriors. And what child wouldn’t want to play with an action figure playset that transforms from a soccer trophy to a “radar rover”? From a flashlight into a “flash craft”? From a Pepsi can into a “hyper hover jet”? Or from a PC board into an “aerial assault bomber”? Apparently, most children.

Although a complete collection of these toys is difficult to find on the secondary market due to the scarcity of the higher price-point pieces, it is easy to pick up a single sample of one of the more common figures: The heroic Debugg and Romm, or the evil members of Virus, Asynk and Megahert.

7. The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior (1982)

Based on an 11-issue Marvel Comics title produced in 1983, The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior yielded a series of odd-looking action figures produced by Remco—a company noted for producing low-quality yet charmingly cheap toys in the 1980s. The backstory of the action figure line reflected the narrative contained in the pages of the Marvel Comic series: Remco pitted the “Forces of Order”—which included the blue translucent "crystal" Crystar and his allies Warbow and Ogeode the wizard versus the “Forces of Chaos”: Solid red Moltar, red-robed Zardeth and the Magma Men, which were molded in red plastic as well. In total, Remco produced seven figures, four small playsets with figures, two large dragons with figures, two hard-to-find catapults, and one large, super-fragile Crystal Castle playset.

Although The Saga of Crystar line was initially successful, sales waned rather quickly, and as with most failed 80s toy lines, many extant samples feature price tag reductions that reflect a “deep discount” strategy. The more common figures from the line (Zardeth, Ogeode) nearly always show up in 80s collections. They’re certainly cool to look at, and lately there’s been a rise in interest on the secondary market.

8. Inhumanoids (Hasbro, 1986)

With the tagline “The Evil That Lies Within," Hasbro’s Inhumanoids franchise has a small base of loyal fans on the secondary market due to the strange malevolence evoked by the toys’ construction—most had glowing eyes that lit when exposed to sunlight—and an unusually sophisticated backstory, which was recounted in a 13-episode TV show.

A heroic group of government-funded geological scientists—the Earth Corps—encounters three horrifying, giant subterranean monsters dubbed the Inhumanoids who wreak havoc on the surface of Earth: Tendril, a brutish creature that can regenerate its limbs; D’Compose, a flesh-corrupting vampire with an exposed rib cage he uses to trap his enemies; and their leader, Metlar. Ruler of the blistering realm of Infernac, Metlar is the master of fire and commands an army of living statues. With the assistance of the kindly Mutores, another subterranean population of powerful beings, the Earth Corps scientists defeat the sinister Inhumanoids.

The great disappointment of the line was the action figure form of the four Earth Corps protagonists: each of the action figures possesses very limited poseability (five points-of-articulation), and looked a bit awkward when displayed. Although the figures’ possessed “Interchangeable Arm Implement[s]” that could “be used by any member of the Earth Corps team” (according to their package backs), and “Glow-in-the Light” helmets, these features did not make up for the lack of articulation collectors were accustomed to with Hasbro’s 3 ¾-inch G.I. Joe line.

This tertiary toy line only lasted one short year due to poor sales—yet the creepy vibe projected by the toy line and the accompanying animation may still haunt the dreams of many children of the 80s.

9. Super Naturals (Tonka, 1987)

Today, we take holography for granted—some form of hologram appears on nearly every driver’s license or government-issued piece of identification. But when holograms appeared on Tonka’s Super Naturals, kids were fascinated. In place of a three-dimensional molded face and chest piece, each Super Naturals’ action figure mold was flattened, with a holographic sticker affixed onto the plastic of the toy.

With a directive to “Release their hologram powers!” on the front of each toy package—where each character’s hologram “transformed” from one image to the next (on both the figure and the figure’s shield)—Super Naturals were only produced for a single series, yet there was a good deal of product manufactured. The most popular of all the Super Naturals characters were the six large, standard-sized action figures. Each came with one holographic shield accessory, a unique glow-in-the-dark weapon, and a short mini-comic explaining the Super Naturals’ back story. Every large-scale Super Naturals figure possessed a removable chest piece that functioned to hide a good deal of the toy’s “hook”—its two-phase hologram sticker—which would essentially function to make the figure’s holographic innards a surprise feature.

For consumers who wished to pick up a less expensive toy, Tonka created a series of smaller-scale figures. Packaged with removable cloaks, a single glow-in-the-dark sword, and a Super Naturals mini-comic, the eight Ghostlings were sold at a lower price point than the standard-sized figure.

For many years, the Super Naturals figures were relegated to discount bins in secondary shops. But within the last few years, they’ve begun to rise in both cost and estimation in collector’s hearts and minds.

10. Air Raiders (Hasbro, 1987)

In the late 1980s, the idea that somehow purified air would be such a commodity that an entire world would base its economy and social status on a “free” part of a planet’s atmosphere was a bit of a stretch. But this was the story behind Hasbro’s Air Raiders toy line. Although ingenious in its delivery—each Air Raiders vehicle possessed one or more “air-powered” features that kids could repeatedly activate to achieve a desired effect, such as firing missiles, racing vehicles, or opening panels—children simply didn’t respond to the gimmick.

Without a motion picture or syndicated cartoon to drive sales, Air Raiders languished on retail toy shelves. Many sealed pieces purchased today will evince this grim reality: They'll show the original prices slashed viciously.

Today, Air Raiders are desirable to many die-hard toy collectors. Some hard-to-find figures include the Man-O-War and the mail-away “Air Raider Survival Kit” featuring Emperor Aerozar and Baron Jolt; both command more than $500 sealed.

11. Chuck Norris & Karate Kommandos (Kenner, 1986)

In 1986, exploiting Chuck Norris’ burgeoning popularity with children, Ruby-Spears produced a truly awful five-episode animated mini-series recounting the adventures of U.S. government operative Chuck Norris (voiced by the actor himself) and his team of martial-arts experts as they fight the evil organization of ninjas known as VULTURE (the acronym’s origin is unknown) and their leader, Claw. The cartoon tried to capitalize on the ninja craze of the mid-eighties, but Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos is remembered more for its unintentional comedy.

Following 80s convention, in conjunction with the cartoon, Kenner Toys released a series of nine Karate Kommandos action figures: Chuck Norris (available in three different uniforms), Kimo (the resident samurai of the Kommandos), Reed Smith (Chuck’s apprentice), Ninja Serpent, Ninja Warrior, Super Ninja (Claw’s right-hand man), and Tabe (a champion sumo wrestler) and one vehicle (the Karate Corvette). There was no Claw figure released in the assortment of figures—perhaps Kenner had decided to offer him in Series Two, if a full season of the animated program was ordered. But that was not in the cards.

12. Police Academy (Kenner Toys, 1989-1990)

Although not a critical success, Police Academy was warmly embraced by the American public: the franchise grossed nearly $250 million. The characters featured in 1988’s 65-episode run of Police Academy: The Animated Series were based on the personalities in the films. Many of the major characters were then translated into plastic action figures by Kenner.

The cast of characters for Kenner’s Police Academy toy line included the officers’ charismatic leader, Sgt. Carey Mahoney; Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry, the bellicose weapons expert; antagonistic martinet, Captain Thaddeus Harris; the tight-lipped, near-superhuman Sgt. Moses Hightower; massive Officer Thomas “House” Conklin; former-antagonist-turned-police Officer Zed McGlunk; Zed’s partner, the meek, mild-mannered, bespectacled Officer Carl Sweetchuck, and of course, the miraculous sound effects and martial-arts prowess as rendered by Sgt. Larvell Jones.

Mark Bellomo is the author of Totally Tubular '80s Toys. He has 45,000 action figures (all of the pictures in this article were taken from his personal collection) and he's taken every single one of them out of their boxes.

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7 Spine-Tingling Tales of Christmas Ghosts
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Traditionally, Christmas in England was a time for scaring the bejesus out of little children by telling ghost stories around the fire. Charles Dickens led the way with his famous ghost story A Christmas Carol, but what of the "real" ghosts said to haunt the land at Christmas time? Below are seven spine-tingling and seasonal stories of Christmas ghosts.

1. THE HAUNTED CHRISTMAS FEAST AT ALCATRAZ

Dinner hall at Alcatraz
Alex Light, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The island of Alcatraz, off the coast of San Francisco, has a long and spooky history. In its earlier days, Native Americans allegedly used to banish miscreants to the island as punishment, where they were reportedly plagued by the local spirits. Alcatraz, of course, became a notorious federal prison in 1934, housing criminals such as Al Capone before it was shut down in 1963. Today, visitors to the island report hearing screams, the clanging of metal doors, and the sound of voices within the walls. One of the more famous tales associated with the island supposedly occurred in the 1940s, when warden James Johnston held a Christmas Day party at his residence for the staff at the prison. The good cheer is said to have been brought to a swift halt when an apparition sporting mutton-chop whiskers and a gray suit appeared. The temperature in the room plummeted and the fire blew out, before returning to normal when the spirit disappeared about a minute later. The rattled guards were too scared to stay in the residence, and the rest of the Christmas celebration ended abruptly.

2. THE GHOSTLY QUEEN RETURNING HOME AT HEVER CASTLE

Hever Castle
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Anne Boleyn is notorious as the second of King Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives. To marry Anne, Henry spent years seeking a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and went on to sever England’s relationship with the Catholic Church in Rome, forever changing the course of British history. Despite the lengths he went to ensnare her, Henry soon grew tired of Anne and, choosing to believe the idle gossip surrounding her, had her beheaded in 1536. A number of reports exist of the ghost of Anne Boleyn, but perhaps the most affecting is the version said to haunt her childhood home, Hever Castle in Kent. Some say that every Christmas Eve, the spectral figure of Anne Boleyn can be seen slowly gliding across the bridge over the river Eden toward her family home, where she was at her happiest.

3. THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN AT ROOS HALL


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Roos Hall in Suffolk lays claim to being one of the most haunted houses in England. The 16th century hall has a number of sinister connections, including a gruesome “hanging tree”—an oak tree planted at the site of the old gibbet where numerous criminals were hung. To make things even spookier, inside one of the building's cupboards, the mark of a devil’s cloven hoof is said to be imprinted. But perhaps the most dramatic haunting is supposed to happen every Christmas Eve: Legend has it that a headless horseman clatters down the driveway with his four black horses pulling a phantom coach, terrifying anyone who witnesses him.

4. THE HAUNTED DINING ROOM AT THE CRESCENT HOTEL

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was built in 1886 and is rumoured to harbor numerous ghosts, who seem to be especially playful during the holidays. One Christmas, the staff came down to set up the dining room only to find the Christmas tree had been moved from one side of the room to the other. Another year, all the menus in the dining room had been scattered around the room. Other visitors have reported seeing groups of ghostly dancers clad in Victorian-era clothing, whirling around the deserted dance floor.

5. THE GHOSTLY GATHERING OF KINGS AT WAWEL CASTLE

View of the Wawel Cathedral from the Wawel Castle entrance
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Poland's Wawel Royal Castle was built on Wawel Hill in the 1500s. Within the hill lies a deep cave known as Smocza Jama (Dragon’s Den); legend has it that a great dragon once lived there, terrorizing the locals, before Prince Krak bravely vanquished the dragon and brought peace to Poland. To memorialize this event, a statue of the dead dragon now stands in the cave. Go deeper into the cave and you come to yet another chamber, and it is here that on December 24 every year, all the long-gone kings of Poland are said to meet and hold a spectral special council.

6. THE MISTLETOE BRIDE AT BRAMSHILL HOUSE

The Long Gallery, Bramshill House
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In the early 17th century, a young woman named Anne was to be married on Christmas Day at Bramshill House in Hampshire, England. After the ceremony and feast, as was tradition at the time, the guests were all set to carry the bride to the bedchamber. Anne suggested a game be played, and asked for a five-minute head start before the guests came to find her. Everyone searched long and hard for Anne, but no sign of her could be found. At first they thought she had played a merry trick, but soon a sense of unease fell over the guests. The bridegroom, Lord Lovell, was distraught, and guests began to whisper that she must have fled. Days, weeks, months, and years passed, and Lord Lovell never stopped looking for his bride. One day, some 50 years after her disappearance, Lord Lovell was up in the huge attic of the sprawling mansion, where he began tapping on the oak panelling. As he knocked, a long-hidden secret door sprung open, and inside he found an ornate wooden chest. He pried open the heavy wooden lid, and there, still in her wedding dress and clutching her mistletoe bouquet, were the skeletal remains of his beloved. The scratch marks on the inside of the lid of the chest attested to her desperate, but futile, effort to free herself from her hiding space. (While the story appears in many variations, Bramshill House is thought to be the most likely site.)

7. THE APPARITION OF A MURDERED HIGHWAYMAN IN KENT

A burial in the forest
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One Christmas Eve near the close of the 18th century, a notorious highwayman named Gilbert is said to have stopped a coach and horses on the Hawkhurst Road in Marden, Kent. The coach contained a young lady and her father, and Gilbert ordered them out onto the road. Just as the girl stepped out, the horses bolted, taking the coach and her father with them. The young lady was left alone on the dark road with the highwayman, and as she looked into his face, she recognized him as the very same highwayman who had murdered her brother some years earlier. Horrified, she drew a hidden knife from her bag and stabbed Gilbert in the side, fleeing into the bushes. When the horses were calmed and the coach returned a little while later, the men discovered the bloodied body of the highwayman, and buried him at the side of the road. When villagers found the woman in the forest the next day, she had gone completely mad. They avoided that spot in the road for many years, and it's said that every Christmas Eve, the bloody scene is silently replayed to all that pass through.

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15 Surprising Facts About Steve Buscemi
Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

With his meme-worthy eyes, tireless work schedule, and penchant for playing lovable losers, Steve Buscemi is arguably the king of character actors. Moving seamlessly between big-budget films and shoestring independent projects, he’s appeared in well over 100 movies in the past 30 years. But if you think he’s anything like the oddballs and villains he regularly plays—well, you don’t know Buscemi. In celebration of the Brooklyn native's 60th birthday, here are 15 things you might not have known about the Golden Globe-winning actor.

1. HE WAS BORN ON A FRIDAY THE 13TH.

It only seems appropriate that Buscemi, who dies on screen so frequently, would be born on such a foreboding date. Growing up in Brooklyn and Valley Stream, New York, Buscemi also experienced plenty of real-life misfortune. As a kid, he was hit by a bus and by a car (in separate incidents). On the plus side, he used the money from the legal settlement following the bus accident to attend the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York City.

2. HE WAS A NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER.

As a teenager, Buscemi worked a series of odd jobs: ice cream truck driver, mover, gas station attendant. He even sold newspapers in the toll lane of the Triborough Bridge. When Buscemi turned 18, his father, a sanitation worker, encouraged his son to take the civil service exam and become a New York City firefighter. Four years later, in 1980, the future star became a member of Engine Co. 55, located in New York City's Little Italy district. While he answered emergency calls during the day, at night Buscemi played improv clubs and auditioned for acting roles.

After four years working for the FDNY, Buscemi landed one of the lead roles in Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986), a drama set during the early days of AIDS in New York. Buscemi took a three-month leave of absence during filming, and afterwards decided not to return.

3. HE FORMED A COMEDY DUO WITH SONS OF ANARCHY’S MARK BOONE, JR.

For a brief while, Buscemi tried his hand at stand-up comedy (he bombed). In 1984, he met fellow aspiring actor Mark Boone, Jr., and the two began performing together. Part improv, part scripted comedy, the two would often carry out power struggles that pitted thin-man Buscemi against the larger Boone. The New York Times called their act “theater in the absurdist vein.”

4. HE DID NOT AUDITION FOR THE ROLE OF GEORGE COSTANZA.

Like any hard-working actor, Buscemi has had his share of failed auditions. His tryout for Alan Parker’s Fame lasted less than 30 seconds. In the late ‘80s, Martin Scorsese brought him in four different times to read for The Last Temptation of Christ. (Buscemi ended up reading every apostle’s part before being turned away.) He also auditioned for the part of Seinfeld’s George Costanza—at least according to numerous sources, including Jason Alexander himself. But it turns out this tidbit—fueled, no doubt, by the thought of a very twitchy, bug-eyed Costanza—isn’t true. On a recent episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buscemi addressed the rumor in his typical good-natured way: “I never did [the audition] and I don’t know how to correct it because I don’t know how the Internet works.”

5. TREES LOUNGE WAS BASICALLY HIS LIFE AT 19.

After gaining momentum with roles in Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Barton Fink, and other films, Buscemi took a turn behind the camera with 1996’s Trees Lounge. The movie, which he also wrote, follows a bumbling layabout named Tommy who spends most of his time at the title bar in the town where he grew up. It’s a classic flick for Buscemi fans and, according to the actor, it was pretty much his life as a teenager living on Long Island. “I was truly directionless, living with my parents,” Buscemi said in an interview. “I was driving an ice-cream truck and working at a gas station… The drinking age was 18 then, so I spent every night hanging out with my friends in bars, drinking.”

6. HE IS FULLY AWARE THAT HIS CHARACTERS OFTEN DIE.

Steve Buscemi in 'Fargo' (1996)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

He’s been shot numerous times, stabbed with an ice pick, riddled with throwing knives, tossed off a balcony, and fed to a wood chipper. Yes, Buscemi’s characters have died a variety of deaths, and the actor isn’t without a sense of humor about the whole matter. He’ll often joke in interviews that he’s living longer and longer as the years go by. Before the 2005 release of The Island, in which the aforementioned balcony-tossing occurs (and into a glass bar no less), Buscemi said he was happy his character lived almost a third of the way through the movie. Buscemi admitted that he will actually read ahead in any script he receives to see when and how he dies.

7. HE HAS A FAVORITE DEATH—AND IT ISN’T FARGO.

For connoisseurs of Buscemi's movie deaths, the demise of Fargo’s Carl Showalter by way of axe then wood chipper is the crème de la crème. But when asked about his own favorite onscreen death, Buscemi references another Coen brothers film: The Big Lebowski. In that movie his character, Donny Kerabatsos, succumbs to a heart attack. It’s a surprise for viewers, and so out-of-the-blue that Buscemi can’t help but be tickled at the randomness of it. “They thought, ‘Well, Buscemi’s in it, so we’ve gotta kill him,'" the actor said in an appearance on The Daily Show.

8. HIS CHARACTER IN CON AIR WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR HIM.

In Con Air, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action movie filled with muscled-up prisoners, Buscemi played the most dangerous con of them all. His Garland Greene—a serial killer whose exploits “make the Manson family look like the Partridge family,” according to one character—enters the film strapped to a chair, Hannibal Lecter mask affixed to his face. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, a friend of Buscemi’s, wrote the part with him in mind, and was tickled when Buscemi accepted the role. To this day, fans will still serenade the actor with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

9. HIS CHARACTER IN DESPERADO IS NAMED AFTER HIM.

Steve Buscemi in Desperado
Columbia Pictures

Although he inevitably dies (courtesy of Danny Trejo’s throwing knives), Buscemi commands the opening of Desperado, Robert Rodriguez’s stylish revenge movie, regaling bar patrons with the story of the title gunslinger, played by Antonio Banderas. Because his character’s name is never mentioned, Rodriguez decided to have some fun and name him "Buscemi" in the credits.

10. HE WON’T FIX HIS TEETH.

Buscemi’s crooked smile has helped him portray lowlifes and losers throughout his career. Dentists have offered to fix the actor’s teeth, but he always turns them down, knowing how valuable those chompers are to the Buscemi brand. In a guest starring role on The Simpsons, Buscemi poked fun at the matter after a dentist offers to straighten his character’s teeth: “You’re going to kill my livelihood if you do that!”

11. THERE’S SOME CONFUSION OVER HOW TO PRONOUNCE HIS LAST NAME.

Many people pronounce his last name “Boo-shemmy,” but it turns out Buscemi himself pronounces it “Boo-semmy.” In interviews, Buscemi says he’s following his father’s pronunciation, and says he doesn’t begrudge anyone who says it differently. It turns out, though, that his fans have it right—or at least mostly right. On a trip to Sicily to visit family, Buscemi recounted recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he noticed everyone saying “Boo-SHAY-me.”

12. HE GOT STABBED IN A BAR FIGHT.

Steve Buscemi in 'Trees Lounge' (1996)
Live Entertainment

On April 12th, 2001, while filming Domestic Disturbance in Wilmington, North Carolina, Buscemi, co-star Vince Vaughn, and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg went out for late night drinks at the Firebelly Lounge. After Vaughn traded insults with another patron (whose girlfriend had apparently been flirting with Vaughn), the two stepped outside, and a brief scuffle ensued before the two were separated. Buscemi, who was among the crowd that had gathered, was then confronted by a man who, after a brief exchange, attacked the actor with a pocketknife. Buscemi suffered stab wounds to his face, throat, and hands, and had to return to New York to recuperate. His attacker, Timothy Fogerty, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. In typical good-guy fashion, Buscemi declined to press additional charges and instead insisted Fogerty enter a substance abuse program.

13. HE REJOINED HIS FIRE ENGINE IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

After the horrific attack on New York City’s Twin Towers on September 11, Buscemi—like many Americans—was desperate to help. Although it had been nearly 20 years since he had strapped on his fireman’s gear, the actor reunited with his Engine 55 brethren and for days scoured the towers’ debris for survivors. Buscemi didn’t want his actions publicized; when people asked to take his picture, he declined. It took more than 10 years, in fact, before word got out, thanks to a Facebook post from Engine 55. “Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble,” the post read. “This guy is a badass!”

14. HE NARRATES THE AUDIO TOUR AT EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY.

People who take a tour of the historic Philadelphia prison may notice a familiar voice coming through their listening device. So how did Buscemi end up lending his talents to such a seemingly obscure place? It turns out Eastern State is a popular location for film and photo shoots. Scenes from Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys were filmed there, as were album covers for artists like Tina Turner. In 2000, Buscemi scouted the penitentiary for a film project. The location didn’t work out, but the actor fell in love with the history and grand architecture of the 190-year-old prison. When officials asked for his help to celebrate the prison’s tenth year running tours, he agreed.

15. HE DIDN’T BELIEVE TERENCE WINTER WHEN HE OFFERED HIM THE LEAD IN BOARDWALK EMPIRE.


HBO

After years of playing disposable villains and losers on the periphery, Buscemi had grown accustomed to being passed over for leading roles. So when Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter offered him the part of corrupt politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the award-winning HBO series, Buscemi offered his usual reply. “When Terry did call me and he said that he and Marty [Scorsese] wanted me to play this role, my response was, ‘Terry, I know you’re looking at other actors, and I just appreciate that my name is being thrown in,’" Buscemi recalled. "He said, ‘No, Steve, I just said we want you.’ It still didn’t sink in.” Eventually, of course, reality did sink in, and Buscemi went on to win a Golden Globe and Emmy Award across the show’s five seasons.

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