30 Things Turning 30 in 2016


If you were born in 1986, you're in good company! Here's our annual list celebrating 30 things (people, companies, TV shows, books, inventions) turning 30 this year.


Getty Images / Paul Morigi

Born on June 13, 1986, the Olsen twins played Michelle Tanner on the TV show Full House starting in 1987, when they were just 9 months old. They continued to act together through the mid-2000s and are now fashion designers.


Oprah Winfrey hosted the half-hour talk show AM Chicago starting in 1983. What started as a fairly low-key show rocked Chicago, rapidly overtaking Donahue in Chicago TV ratings. Film critic Roger Ebert (who had been on the air for years himself) encouraged Winfrey to sign a TV syndication deal, expanding her talk show to an hour. She did it, and the rest is history.

The Oprah Winfrey Show launched in its new hour-long format in September 1986. It crushed Donahue in national ratings, and ran through May 2011. Winfrey became a fixture of American TV spanning decades, and her film acting (and producing) career cemented her as a major American voice.

Other notable 1986 TV launches: Pee-wee's PlayhousePerfect StrangersDesigning WomenDouble DareALFMatlock, and L.A. Law.


On the cold morning of January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven astronauts onboard. Among the seven was New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space; because McAuliffe was onboard, American schools tuned in to watch the launch, and many children witnessed the horror.

The Challenger disaster shocked the nation and the world, leading to a series of famous investigations, including famous figures such as Chuck Yeager and Richard Feynman. The disaster put NASA's Space Shuttle program on its heels for years, and led to a major rethinking of how to deal with the inherent risk of crewed space launches.


Pixar originally formed in the late 1970s as a division of Lucasfilm, working on computer-generated special effects for movies; in those days, it was simply called the Computer Graphics Division. In 1986, Pixar spun off as its own company, and Steve Jobs became the majority shareholder. The studio, then with only 44 employees, also released Luxo Jr., a fully computer-animated short film that rocked the world with its delightfully expressive characters—and gave the company its desk lamp mascot. Luxo, Jr. was the first computer animated film to be nominated for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar.


Oh, baby: 1986 was a big year for births! Musician Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) was born on March 28. Actor Lindsay Lohan was born on July 2. Sprinter Usain Bolt was born on August 21. Musician Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham) was born on October 24.

Game of Thrones stars Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke were both born that year as well, along with Megan Fox, Shia LeBeouf, Robert Pattinson, Lena Dunham, and Lea Michele. Computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz was also born in 1986.


As 14-year-olds, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt formed the punk band Sweet Children, which would quickly become Green Day. Although they didn't perform a gig until 1987, the group formed in 1986. In the video above, shot in 1990, Green Day perform at Pinole Valley High School in California, the high school from which Dirnt graduated. (Armstrong dropped out of PVHS to pursue music on his 18th birthday—a surprisingly reasonable choice, given their later success.)

Other notable bands formed in 1986: Alice N' Chains, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, The Clarks, Cowboy Junkies, Cypress Hill, Geto Boys, Goo Goo Dolls, Jesus Jones, King Missile, The Lemonheads, Manic Street Preachers.


On June 11, 1986, American audiences were treated to an instant classic, as Ferris Bueller—played by Matthew Broderick—took his "day off." The film clearly had a lasting effect on the mental_floss staff. Some past coverage:

15 Fun Facts About Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Ferris Bueller's Day Off: The 25th Anniversary Quiz; Watch the Ferris Bueller TV Show (If You Dare); Name the Cliques That Support Ferris Bueller; Lessons From the "Real" Ferris Bueller; The Late Movies: 6 Re-Edited Ferris Bueller's Day Off Trailers; Crimes Perpetrated by Ferris Bueller (and Accomplices) During His Day Off.


On April 21, 1986, Geraldo Rivera hosted The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults, in which he and a team of experts opened vaults purportedly owned by Al Capone, finding ... basically nothing but trash. The much-hyped special was a serious let-down (where were the guns, bodies, money, and other titillating material?), but it created a cultural touchstone, a shared joke for over-hyping a mystery. Today, Rivera actually lets you watch the whole show for free on his website. Spoiler: Not much happens.


On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine suffered a catastrophic Level 7 accident (the highest-magnitude event recorded at the time) leading to dozens of deaths (at least), and creating a massive "Exclusion Zone" around the plant due to danger from radioactivity. By December 1986, a giant concrete "sarcophagus" enclosed the failed reactor, massively reducing the risk to workers in the area.

The only other Level 7 event in record is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which occurred in Japan in 2011.


The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in 1985 in North America, quickly becoming a hit and reviving the market for home video game consoles. On February 21, 1986, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda, an action-adventure game for the console that would spawn a franchise nearly as beloved as the earlier Mario Bros. games. In the original Zelda game, Link must rescue Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. This game was such a big deal that when I was a kid, we sat around on the school bus and traded maps showing the secret locations of special loot. The subsequent Zelda games have continued the tradition of excellence, and tend to feature long, deep, involved gameplay.

Some other notable NES games released in 1986: Castlevania, Double Dribble, Ikari Warriors, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (this is arguably SMB II in Japan).


Madonna's album True Blue debuted on June 30, 1986. It was a brilliant pop record of the time, including the hits "Live to Tell," "Papa Don't Preach," "True Blue," "Open Your Heart," and "La Isla Bonita." In 1991, the Guinness Book of World Records reported that True Blue was the best-selling album by a female artist, having then sold more than 17 million copies. (It has now sold a total of 25 million.) This was the album that cemented Madonna's status as a pop icon.


Slippery When Wet was Bon Jovi's third studio album, but for fans like me, it was the first time we'd heard of the band. This one featured "Livin' on a Prayer," "You Give Love a Bad Name," and "Wanted Dead or Alive." It was an enormous hit, at a time when dudes still had big '80s hair even if they were playing anthemic pop rather than metal.


In June of 1986, Intel began manufacturing its latest microprocessor, the 80386, known to mere mortals as a "386" (pronounced "three-eighty-six"). The 32-bit chip became the heart of PCs for years to come, with flavors eventually including the "SX" (a budget model), "SL" (laptop variant), and "DX" (workstation class).

The 386 was a huge deal because it cemented the architecture of Intel's chips for the following decades. The chip in the laptop I'm using right now traces its design directly to the 386. Indeed, Intel continued producing 386 chips until 2007 (!), because it had become such a standard part for embedded systems. While today's Intel chips are radically faster and more complex, their 386 heritage is still there.


Office Depot /Joe Raedle

Office Depot was founded in Florida in 1986; its first store was located in Fort Lauderdale. By 1988, the company would have its IPO on the NASDAQ, with 26 stores spanning seven states. Today, Office Depot and OfficeMax are merged, and rival office-supply chain Staples has submitted a bid to buy Office Depot.

A few other notable companies founded in 1986: Five Guys, Ubisoft (makers of Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, among others), and Bethesda Softworks (makes of The Elder Scrolls and zillions more games).


Fox started broadcasting on October 9, 1986. It set out to compete with the trio of big broadcasters that had been entrenched for decades: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Its first show? The Late Show, hosted by Joan Rivers.

A year later, Fox began its early slate of primetime programming, including Married... with Children, The Tracey Ullman Show, and 21 Jump Street. Of course, its longest-lasting hit, The Simpsons, didn't arrive until December of 1989.


Frank Miller created Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as a four-issue comic book miniseries running from February through June 1986. It's a very dark look at the Batman story, with major plot points involving nuclear bombs, conflict between Superman and Batman, and Batman confronting the reality of aging. It's also part of a key moment in comic book history, along with Watchmen, when comics turned dark and began to examine the role of the superhero in society.


In the early 1980s, Paul Simon's musical career was in trouble. In a serious personal and professional funk, he visited Johannesburg, South Africa and played with local musicians, incorporating local rhythms and musical styles into his music (which had previously been mostly folk and a bit of pop). The resulting album, Graceland, was a massive hit, and it went on to win the 1987 Grammy for Album for the Year.

Graceland wasn't without controversy, though—Simon visited South Africa during the era of apartheid, at a time when many were boycotting the country due to the racist government policy. Simon said:

What was unusual about Graceland is that it was on the surface apolitical, but what it represented was the essence of the antiapartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed. It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement. We were able to accomplish that symbolically because music is so accessible and people liked it. And the political implications came later than they would have if the songs had been overtly political. And in that way Graceland was a different and slyer kind of political view.

Here's one more hit from the album:


On November 4, 1986, They Might Be Giants released their self-titled debut album (often referred to by fans as "The Pink Album"). Two singles from the album, "Don't Let's Start" and "(She Was A) Hotel Detective," are TMBG classics, and overall the record holds up—especially the videos! (See above for "Don't Let's Start," shot at the New York Pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair.) While it wasn't much of a commercial success, the record found a place on college radio. Two years later, TMBG would release Lincoln, and the rest is delightful music history.


"You guys wanna go see a dead body?" So begins the adventure in Stand By Me, likely the strongest coming of age movie of the 1980s. (And that's saying a lot.) With a cast including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Keifer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Cusack, the film is based on a Stephen King short story, "The Body."

In a 2011 interview, Wil Wheaton told NPR's All Things Considered:

[Director] Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played. I was awkward and nerdy and shy and uncomfortable in my own skin and really, really sensitive, and River was cool and really smart and passionate and even at that age kind of like a father figure to some of us, Jerry was one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life, either before or since, and Corey was unbelievably angry and in an incredible amount of pain and had an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.


Halley's Comet is a short-period comet, meaning that it becomes visible from earth roughly every 75 years. It's the only comet we know of that can conceivably return within one person's lifetime, allowing for two viewings (assuming you're very young when it first arrives). Fortunately, I was a kid when I first saw the comet in early 1986, so there's some chance I'll see it again in 2061. It's pretty much the only item on my bucket list.


In September 1986, Stephen King's novel It arrived, and instantly instilled a generation with a deep fear of clowns. It was the best-selling book of the year in the United States, despite being released so late in the year.

In 1990, It was adapted into a TV miniseries featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise. Although Curry's performance is excellent, the whole thing is very dated; a new adaptation is on the way.


In 1986, email was both thriving and extremely obscure. In academia, email was a fast-growing way to communicate across distance, and some consumers were using email through paid online services. Email discussion lists were a relatively new phenomenon; they allowed users to send an email to a special email address, and have the message distributed automatically to all members of the group. (Prior to email lists, the most common way to engage in these kinds of discussions was USENET.)

Éric Thomas developed the LISTSERV program (also known as "Revised Listserv") to automate the handling of group email discussion groups. While a "LISTSERV" program existed before Thomas's invention, it required humans to subscribe and unsubscribe members, which was a huge hassle.

Thomas's program had a huge innovation: automated subscribe and unsubscribe. This allowed users to interact with software when they wanted to join or leave an email list, rather than relying on a human moderator. This key invention caused email discussion lists (often referred to as "listservs" because many were managed by Thomas's software) to boom.


From December 14 to 23, 1986, the Rutan Model 76 Voyager became the first aircraft to fly around the world without refueling or stopping. Pilots Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager (no relation to Chuck) departed Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert on December 14, and flew for just over nine days, returning to the same airfield after traveling 26,366 miles.

Today you can see the Voyager at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.


Jim Henson's cult classic Labyrinth was released on June 27, 1986. Starring David Bowie in tight trousers, along with Jennifer Connelly, the Brian Froud-designed film featured a screenplay by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. George Lucas served as executive producer. Although the film was a disappointment at the box office, it gained a cult following on home video, and it was the last film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.

Trivia note: Gates McFadden choreographed Labyrinth (along with Henson's The Dark Crystal and The Muppets Take Manhattan). She's better known for her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but was a working choreographer long before. (Her choreography work is often credited to "Cheryl McFadden"; her full name is Cheryl Gates McFadden.)


On Sunday, May 25, 1986, roughly 6.5 million people held hands, forming a human chain across the continental United States. The chain spanned 4125 miles, though it had some gaps. It was a fundraiser event run for USA for Africa, which had produced "We Are The World" the year before. Participants were asked to pony up $10 apiece to help the homeless; many did not donate, so the total amount raised wasn't as great as expected. Read Ethan Trex's writeup of the event for a deep dive on the greatest human chain of 1986!


Swedish rock band Europe wrote "The Final Countdown" intending to use it as an opening number at concerts. To their surprise, the song became a huge hit when it was released as a single. Europe singer/songwriter Joey Tempest commented on the song:

... The ironic thing, though, is that the song was actually written for the fans. It was over six minutes long and was never meant to be a hit or anything like that. It was meant to be an opening for the “live” show. We were putting out our third album and we wanted a really “grand” opening for the show. So, I had that “riff” tucked away in a drawer since my college years and I took it out, found a tempo for it, wrote lyrics and it turned out to be a great opening for that album and for the show as well.

This classic song was introduced to a new generation by the TV series Arrested Development.


Stadium Events is the rarest NES game released in the United States. An estimated 200 copies were sold before the game was yanked from shelves, and it now routinely sells for tens of thousands of dollars to collectors.

Designed for a short-lived "Family Fun Fitness" mat accessory, Stadium Events encouraged players to run in place, with the in-game characters responding to the real-world footfalls. While the game isn't particularly fun, its sheer rarity makes it extremely valuable to collectors (particularly NES completists, who attempt to own every NES cartridge ever produced).


On February 25, 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev urged a "spread of glasnost," a term meaning "openness." Effectively, Gorbachev admitted that the U.S.S.R. needed to open up discussions about politics and policy, so that regular people actually influenced the government. Along with perestroika ("restructuring"), the policy of glasnost reduced the Community Party's power, and ultimately led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


In 1986, Chuck Hull patented the first 3D printer. While it took decades to reach a price point accessible to consumers, the technology has been used to create physical prototypes since the mid-1980s.

The first item printed by Hull? A small "eye cup" used by optometrists.


This is the funniest of the Star Trek films, and also the most '80s-tastic, in which Spock wears a white headband to disguise his Vulcan ears and nobody thinks that's odd; the crew time-travels to San Francisco to save the whales; and Scotty says "Hello, computer?" into a mouse. Directed by the late, great Leonard Nimoy.

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15 Relatively Brilliant Albert Einstein Quotes
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getty images

In addition to being one of the world's greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein was also quite the philosopher. On what would be the renowned theoretical physicist's 139 birthday, here are 15 of his most relatively brilliant quotes.


"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

— In a letter to Carl Seelig, 1952; Einstein Archives 39-013


"To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself."

— Aphorism for a friend, 1930; Einstein Archives 36-598 


"There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it." 

— From a lecture at Lincoln University, 1946 


"You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war." 

— In a letter to Congressman Robert Hale, 1946; later published in Einstein on Peace, 1988 


"I look upon myself as a man. Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." 

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929 


"The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949 


"I am doing just fine, considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives."

— In a letter to Jakob Ehrat, 1952; Einstein Archives 59-554 


"School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn't worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system?"

— In a conversation with William Hermanns, later published in Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man, 1983


"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music ... I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949


"The only way to escape the corruptible effect of praise is to go on working."

— Via an article in Smithsonian magazine, 1979 


"Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men." 

— From Living Philosophies, 1931


“If I were to start taking care of my grooming, I would no longer be my own self.”

— From a letter to Elsa Löwenthal, 1913 


“I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart. In the face of all this, I have never lost a sense of distance and the need for solitude.”

— From The World As I See It, 1949

Paco Junquera, Getty Images
The Incredible Adventures of Gabriel García Márquez
Paco Junquera, Getty Images
Paco Junquera, Getty Images

Gabriel García Márquez (the subject of today's Google Doodle) was born 91 years ago—on March 6, 1927—and grew up in Aracataca, Colombia, a hardscrabble banana town that was barely a stop on the railway. His father, an undereducated telegraph operator, had fallen in love with a girl beyond his status—the daughter of Colonel Nicolás Márquez Mejía. Her family vigorously opposed their union, but that only strengthened the couple's resolve to marry. They maintained a secret relationship, communicating by telegraph and passed notes and stealing moments together at Mass. In 1926, after a priest lobbied the family on their behalf, the pair finally married. They had their first child, Gabriel, in 1927. Only a few months later, they left him to live with his grandparents while they moved to the port city of Barranquilla to open a pharmacy.

As a boy, he was simply "Gabito"—a shy child who blinked compulsively when he was nervous. He struggled to learn how to read and developed a habit of drawing his stories rather than writing them down. But he was the apple of his grandfather's eye. Whatever disdain the Colonel once had for his daughter's marriage, it had been softened by Gabito's birth. As García Márquez described it, his grandfather "took [him] to the circus and the cinema and was [his] umbilical cord with history and reality."


His grandmother, the indomitable Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, made an equally strong impression, "always telling fables, family legends, and organizing our life according to the messages she received in her dreams." García Márquez credits her with his "supernatural view of reality." This was a woman who went blind in her old age, but successfully convinced her doctor that she could still see. When he examined her, she described in detail all of the objects in her room, convincing him that her vision had returned. In truth, she'd simply memorized the contents of the room.

When García Márquez was 10 years old, his grandfather died, so Gabito and his two siblings went to live with their parents in Barranquilla. It was a difficult time for the boy, having only known his parents as infrequent visitors.

Things grew more tense as his mother continued to have children (she bore a total of 11), and his father relocated the family to the town of Sucre. Eventually, Gabito ended up back in Barranquilla, where he was enrolled at a prestigious Jesuit secondary school. García Márquez was a brilliant scholarship student, known to wear his father's old suits and recite long works of poetry from memory.

His education continued outside the classroom, as well. At age 13, he was introduced to the world of women when he lost his virginity to a prostitute. (She later informed him that his younger brother was a frequent visitor to her bed.) Two years later, he began an affair with an older married woman, who came up with an ingenious system for getting him to do his schoolwork: Failing grades meant no sex. He graduated with honors and went on to win a scholarship to a prestigious college outside of Bogotá.

Not surprisingly, the seeds of García Márquez's later novels were all planted in his youth. His grandfather, grandmother, parents, siblings, assorted aunts and uncles—even the prostitute—all make appearances in his work. His hometown of Aracataca would famously become the Macondo of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Leaf Storm (1955), and his parents' troubled courtship was thinly veiled as the centerpiece of Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).


In 1947, 20-year-old García Márquez decided to abandon law school and pursue writing. Much to his father's dismay, he dropped out and became a reporter for El Heraldo, a liberal newspaper in Barranquilla. This was during the days of La Violencia, a period of bloody civil unrest that threatened to tear Colombia apart. With daily reports of rape, murder, and the government's oppressive sanctions on the press, it was a challenging time to be a journalist. Earning just three pesos a story, García Márquez often went hungry.

He was also writing a novel. In his spare moments, García Márquez tapped out the manuscript for Leaf Storm. It took seven years to find a publisher, but the book finally came out in 1955. Although it garnered good reviews, the novel never sold well. That same year, García Márquez serialized the true account of Colombian sailors who'd been shipwrecked. The news story directly contradicted a government report of the incident and revealed that corruption in the navy had led to the sailors' deaths. García Márquez became so unpopular with the government that the newspaper sent him abroad for his own safety.

He spent the next several years desperately poor in Europe, living mostly in Rome and Paris and briefly in communist Eastern Europe. While overseas, he wrote No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) and In Evil Hour (1962), had a torrid affair with a Spanish actress, and continued to starve. When he finally returned to Colombia, he married his longtime love, Mercedes Barcha Pardo. García Márquez had first proposed to her when he was 18 and she was only 13. After more than a decade of courtship, most of which had been spent writing letters to one another, she consented to marry him.

García Márquez continued to work as a journalist, first in Havana at the start of the Cuban Revolution and then in New York. From there, he, his wife, and his infant son traveled by bus to Mexico. The trip opened his eyes to the American South and the homeland of William Faulkner, one of García Márquez's greatest influences. (Some literary scholars have suggested that García Márquez lifted much of his style and lyricism from Faulkner.) It also inspired him to begin his breakthrough book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

On June 26, 1961, Gabriel's family arrived at a railway station in Mexico City with their last $20 and "nothing in their future." García Márquez started writing, and in just 18 months, he'd completed the novel that would change his life. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, he used all of the storytelling techniques he'd picked up as a reporter. As he would later tell The New York Times, the "tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk."

Although the writing came quickly, it was not easy. To support his family, García Márquez sold his car, his hair dryer, and anything else that would bring in some cash. When it came time to send off the manuscript to his publishers in Buenos Aires, he could only afford to mail half of it.

Half was enough. With One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez exploded onto the literary scene. While still living in Mexico, he quickly emerged as Latin America's most beloved writer and was affectionately nicknamed "Gabo." In Colombia, he became a symbol of national pride. The book would go on to sell more than 35 million copies and be translated into at least 35 languages.


Despite the fanciful nature of his work, García Márquez's novels are firmly grounded in the politics of Latin America. He addresses guerrilla warfare, drug trafficking, the failures of communism, the evils of capitalism, and the dangerous meddling of the CIA. After the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author began to use his status to get more involved in politics. He started publicly castigating the United States for using the "war on drugs" to intrude in Latin American affairs. And beginning in the 1970s, he acted as an intermediary between the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas.

García Márquez also found himself in high-powered company. While reporting on the Cuban Revolution, he became friends with Fidel Castro, and over the years, their relationship deepened. Fidel cooked him spaghetti dinners. García Márquez, in turn, described the Cuban president as a "king" and a great literary man. He even showed Castro an early manuscript for Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) so that Castro could point out flaws in the plot. The close relationship led critics to call the author Castro's "literary hatchet man." However, García Márquez's influence wasn't enough to stop the Cuban government from convicting and executing one of his friends for treason in 1989.

In a 1982 article in The New York Times, the author explained that, as a Latin American writer, it was his duty to be politically active. "The problems of our societies are mainly political, and the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it," he explained. "If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality. That is why authors, painters, writers in Latin America get politically involved."

García Márquez's works continued to be politically charged. In 1996, he published News of a Kidnapping, a journalistic account of 10 people abducted by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the convoluted machinations involved in rescuing them. The same year, he wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times recounting the Elian Gonzalez situation, in which his sympathies were clearly aligned with Cuba: "The real shipwreck of Elian did not take place on the high seas, but when he set foot on American soil."

To a certain extent, García Márquez's political activism was also about cultivating his own legend. In the mid-1970s, the author famously claimed that he wouldn't publish anything again until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was no longer in power. Gabo's friends agreed that the declaration was made for a "calculated effect." Moreover, García Márquez didn't even stick to it. He published Love in the Time of Cholera not long after that.


In the 1990s, García Márquez had a cancerous tumor removed from one of his lungs and lived through a bout of lymphatic cancer. Then, in July 1999, rumors of his impending death grew after someone took a sentimental poem about dying and attached García Márquez's name to it. The poem quickly turned into a hoax e-mail that circulated the world and unleashed a hailstorm of headlines. It also touched a raw nerve. As García Márquez got older, his output slowed. Readers waited since 2002 for him to produce the second part of his memoirs. His novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores was published in 2004 to critical and commercial success. But at just 115 pages, audiences were left craving more. Even the controversies García Márquez has stirred up later were disappointing. In 2004, the author was banned from the International Congress of the Spanish Language for allegedly suggesting that they should scrap their focus on spelling, which he called "that terror visited on human beings from the cradle onwards."

In his 2008 biography of García Márquez, Gerald Martin revealed that the author had been suffering from progressive memory loss—no doubt a serious problem for a man who called himself a "professional rememberer." Martin wrote, "It seemed clear to me that he could no longer write books."

And then there are García Márquez's own statements. In 2006, he told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, "I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven't written even a line." When the Colombian paper El Tiempo called the 82-year-old author in the spring of 2009 to ask if the rumor of his retirement was true, García Márquez replied, "Not only is it not true, but the only thing I do is write." He concluded by saying, "I'll know when the cakes I am baking are ready."

García Márquez died of pneumonia on April 17, 2014, at the age of 87.


Many of the scenes in Gabriel García Márquez's novels come straight out of his own strange life. Here are a few examples.

The Little Girl Who Eats Dirt
When he was 3 years old, García Márquez's little sister Margarita moved in with Gabito and his grandparents. She refused to speak or eat, and the family wondered how she didn't starve. It wasn't long before they discovered the answer—she'd been sustaining herself on dirt from the garden and the whitewash off the walls. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the orphan character Rebeca does the same thing when she moves in with the Buendia family. She eventually gets better, just like Margarita did, once she "surrendered to family life."

Death by Gold Cyanide
At the beginning of Love in the Time of Cholera, the aged Dr. Juvenal Urbino is called to the scene of a suicide. The victim is a crippled war veteran who has killed himself using gold cyanide vapors. García Márquez witnessed a similar death firsthand. As a child, his grandfather brought him to meet "the Belgian," a World War I veteran who'd lost the use of his legs. The image of the man—his crutches laid neatly next to his cot and his Great Dane lying dead next to him—was recreated in detail in the novel's opening scene.

The Banana Plantation Massacre
One of the more shocking passages in One Hundred Years of Solitude describes the massacre of 3,000 men, women, and children during a workers' strike at the Macondo banana plantation. There was, in fact, such a plantation near García Márquez's childhood home in Aracataca, and he grew up hearing about a massacre that supposedly happened when he was an infant. No one seemed sure how many people died (1,000 or 3,000), but the official government record, which was suspect for several reasons, showed only nine deaths. In the novel, the government denies the event altogether.

The Solace of Little Gold Fish
The Colonel, García Márquez's beloved grandfather, was also trained in metallurgy and spent many years as a jeweler, crafting small gold fish that became a symbol of his family. Those same fish, crafted by Colonel Aureliano Buendia, make a memorable appearance in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Mark of Ash Wednesday
One of García Márquez's most vivid childhood memories was one Ash Wednesday when the illegitimate sons of his grandfather visited his family with crosses of ash still on their foreheads. This visceral image inspired the 17 illegitimate sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendia and their mysterious assassinations. Each of them died after being identified by the permanent mark of the cross on their foreheads.

A version of this article originally appeared in mental_floss Magazine in 2009.


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