The Savile effect, or biggest post-mortem fall from grace

Apropos of recent allegations made against the late Sir Edward Heath, got me thinking about another knighted individual who was lauded while he was alive as a great entertainer and charity worker, only for it to come out after he’d become a past-tense person that he’d been a wolf in sheep’s clothing, using charity work and television as a means to commit sexual abuse on a massive scale.

Needless to say denunciations poured in from all sides and his name is now dirt, there were even calls to revoke his knighthood despite the fact that he was, to put it mildly, no longer using it on account of his new hobby of pushing up daisies. If the allegations against Ted Heath are true I expect a similar post-mortem condemnation.

How many other obvious examples are there of someone who was respected, admired in life and then become reviled when they were dead? My first thought was Khrushchev’s denunciation of his mass-murdering predecessor in deStalinasation, although Google reveals that Uncle Joe is still pretty popular in Russia and Georgia, despite all the murder.

Any other obvious examples?

Well, within weeks of dying Robert Maxwell was discovered to have perpetrated a simply massive fraud. But he was a somewhat controversial figure even while alive. And in any case his sudden death was possibly linked to imminent exposure, so I don’t know if that counts.

I don’t remember Ed Heath being very popular when he was alive, either. In fact, my only recollection is that his government was a byword for failure. Sort of like (rightly or wrongly) the US Carter administration.

I hear Bill Cosby crying out, “I’m not dead yet!”

What’s most noteworthy about the Savile case is how extreme and sudden it was. Savile went from “beloved television presenter who made the dreams of children come true” to “vile molester who made the nightmares of children come true” in a very short timespan indeed.

Rolf Harris isn’t dead either but if his case hadn’t been preceded by Savile’s his arrest and conviction would have had a similar effect, given his popularity with the public (and the Queen!). As it was, by the time his conviction happened we were already inured to the idea that vast numbers of 1970s celebrities were sex criminals.

Heath had more than a few accusations of homosexuality back when he was in office. Saville also had abuse allegations, the problem is when a person is dead and not around to defend themselves, that they tend to stick, which is a good thing, because when alive, they often cajoled, threatened, and bought accusers, bad because, well they can’t defend againsy allegations.

Rolf Harris was still a big shock. Savile and others like him had always given off a creepy vibe and there had been rumours for years but Rolf? His unmasking was the worst one for me and plenty of others.

As for Heath, my parents voted Labour so I was never a fan. However at the time he just seemed to be rather an oddity. Again, there have been rumours about for some time concerning goings on on the yacht and some involvement with the children’s home in Jersey. The only surprise about the latest investigation is that it has finally happened. I’m more interested right now in the living politicians under suspicion, like Lord Janner.

One of the things that Yewtree brought home to me was that you really can’t tell about people based on your impressions about them. Good ol’ Uncle Rolf turned out to be dirty as sin and yet Freddie Starr and Jim Davidson, both of whom I would have put money down on as at least having groped a few 15-year-old girls in their heyday, came away without anything at all. And I’m still wondering if the Cliff Richard investigation is bubbling along under the surface…

As for current investigations, well, I’d like to think Parliament doesn’t have the power to conceal its worst excesses in the way it once did but I’m not sure I can convince myself of that.

“Reviled” might be too strong a word, but Charles Kuralt, the jovial journalist who made a career out of telling stories of everyday people, was discovered after his death to have a second family.

Joe Paterno certainly counts for this topic, though he was more of an enabler than a criminal.

Nor has he ever been indicted for anything, let alone convicted. (Just sayin’.)

Paterno became reviled before his death. And Savile and the other examples mentioned in this thread weren’t convicted or indicted for anything either, since (with the exception of Rolf Harris) they were dead.

Christopher Columbus.

In school 30 years ago I was taught that he was a hero, intrepid and courageous explorer and founder of the New World.

My kids were taught that he was a selfish, exploiting buffoon who infected the peaceful indigenous populace with disease and couldn’t navigate his way out of a mud puddle.

I dunno - the media painted it as a very abrupt shift from hero to villain, but I think in reality, it was a bit more gradual than that - I think a lot of people got a growing sense of discomfort about him over the course of years after his popularity peaked in the 80s/90s.

Personally, I never trusted him, even back in the day - I always got vibe that there was some creepy secret waiting to come out about him (I am on record as saying this long before his death)

Duns Scotus, from a revered theologian…to a dunce.

Not exactly true. There were two schools of thought from the ancient Greeks - the one school of thought was that the earth was a globe about 8,000 miles in diameter; most intellectuals of the day believed that. Columbus subscribed to the second theory, another classic Greek who concluded the earth was about 4500 miles in diameter. (Flat earth in those days was for morons and bumpkins, sort of like today). Also, that 4500 was arrived at by judicious selection of units and translation, it may have been bigger.

4500 miles diameter implies about 13,500 miles around. Columbus took Marco Polo’s memoirs from 200 years earlier, and calculated based on times about how far Marco marched Mongol-ward. He concluded that China must therefore be about 3,000 miles west from Spain or Portugal. It was a simple incorrect leap of faith. There was no navigation error, after all, how hard is it to say “go west!”.

As for the diseases, since he mainly confined himself to the islands, it’s unlikely he should be blamed for the spread of disease across the continents; blame later visitors for that accomplishment.

What you might want to read up on is his stubbornness insisting until he died that these were the Indies and China. Or if you’re really bored, read up on his murderous method to extract gold from the natives of Hispanola by a system where failure to deliver gold meant their hands were chopped off, while the rest were worked to death as slaves on his colony’s plantations. Not exactly buffoonery, but certainly glossed over in class 50 years ago.

Various notable ancient Greeks (Plato, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, etc.) had much better estimates of the Earth’s size than that. In face, Plato and Archimedes substantially overestimated the size. Eratosthenes, however, got it right, within about 1%.

Determining the earth’s size.

How about Thomas Midgley Jr? Inventor of Leaded gasoline and CFCs, awarded many prestigious accolades during his lifetime, but now regarded as a reckless destroyer of the environment (indeed nobody now seems very sad that one of his own inventions eventually strangled him to death in his own bed)

Aviator Charles Lindbergh also had two other families, none of whom his first family knew about until long after his death. While he was certainly revered for years at the height of his fame, the anti-Semitic opinions he expressed during the lengthy public debate about U.S. involvement in WW2 (even more virulent of which came out in his posthumously published diaries) had long before lowered the public’s opinion of him.

Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor Who, also led a double life, having left his wife to move in with his girlfriend, while successfully maintaining a public facade that his marriage was still intact. I don’t know how much of a “fall from grace” it was–Troughton is still pretty well-loved among Doctor Who fandom–but it certainly surprised me when I learned about it.

I don’t know that I’d call it sad. Midgeley knew that his Ethyl Corporation workers were dying from lead poisoning in huge numbers but continued to claim (and even staged fake safety demonstrations showing) that TEL was harmless.