A few examples of the unusual behaviour of famous people.
King Prajadhipok became ruler of Siam (Thailand) in 1925. His one obsessive fear was that he might someday be overthrown or forced to abdicate and thereby left without income. To alleviate this concern, he became the only known ruler to take out unemployment insurance with British and French insurance companies. The king’s fear came true in 1935, when he was forced to abdicate his throne. But he had no material worries. He collected on his insurance policies and lived in comfort the remaining six years of his life.
Whenever German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) conducted music by Felix Mendelssohn, he would wear gloves. After the performance, Wagner would take off the gloves and throw them on the floor to be swept away by a janitor. This behaviour was due to the fact that Mendelssohn was a Jew and Wagner was an anti-Semite.
Jonathan Swift, well-known for his 1726 satirical masterpiece ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, and respected as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, suffered through his birthdays. An embittered bachelor, Swift only wore black clothes on his birthdays and rejected all food. He died insane at the age of 78.
Czar Peter the Great, head of Russia from 1689 to 1725, had one troublesome phobia: he was afraid to cross bridges.
American poet Walt Whitman, who published ‘Leaves of Grass’ in 1855, wrote much of his free verse in the first person, but he would not read anything written by anyone else in the first person.
Niccolò Paganini, the flamboyant and romantic Italian violinist and composer, reached the height of his success in Paris and London in 1831. In solo concert performances, he often played with frayed violin strings, hoping that all but one would break so that he could show his skill by playing with the single remaining string.
King Edward VII, Victoria’s son who became ruler of England in 1901, would allow no one who came into his presence to carry loose change, because the slightest jingling of coins got on his nerves.
Opera singer Enrico Caruso, who died in 1921 at age 48 in Naples, had an Italian peasant’s belief in superstitions. He always consulted an astrologer before making an ocean crossing and he never started a journey on Tuesday or Friday.
King Charles II, ruler of Great Britain from 1660 to 1685 sometimes gathered up powder from the mummies of Egyptian kings and rubbed the powder on himself in the belief that he would acquire “ancient greatness.”
Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister of France in 1624 under King Louis XIII and the real ruler of his country, got his daily exercise by jumping over furniture.
Nothing got the French author Voltaire down — not even a month of imprisonment in the Bastille in 1717. There was one exception though: he would faint whenever he smelled roses.
Baruch Spinoza, the Portuguese-Jewish philosopher who lived in Holland, worked constantly tutoring, grinding lenses, and writing controversial books. His favourite form of relaxation was to catch two spiders and watch them fight each other.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, the U.S. shipping and railroad tycoon who amassed a fortune of $100 million by the time of his death in 1877, never owned a checkbook. He wrote most of his checks on half sheets of blank writing paper.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919], the steel magnate, adored his mother and refused to marry as long as she was alive. After his mother's death, Carnegie did not mention her name for 15 years. When she died, he finally married at age 52 and had his only child at 62. Hans Christian Andersen, famous worldwide for such fairy tales as ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, was terrified of being prematurely declared dead and buried alive. He almost always carried a note in his pocket telling anyone who might find him unconscious that it must not be assumed he was dead unless he was examined again. He often left another note on his bedside table stating, “I only seem dead.”