Rod Stewart Was Never a Gravedigger

Before he became a famous singer, Rod Stewart held a series of odd jobs.

After he dropped out of school at fifteen, Stewart worked as a screen printer printing wallpapers. It was an odd match, given that he's colorblind - he was laid off soon afterwards and lamented

"That's always going to limit your possibilities in the wallpaper industries. If you are colour-blind, one of the things you can't be is an aircraft pilot. One of the other things you can't be is a wallpaper designer."

After he got laid off, Stewart got a short-lived job putting picture frames together, then another brief stint as an electrician's assistant feeeding wire into conduits. Stewart's soccer-crazed dad prodded him to become an apprentice at a professional soccer club in hopes that he'd become a professional soccer player, but Stewart quit because he disliked having to clean the team players' shoes in the morning.

When his father retired, the family opened a newsstand. Stewart was forced to do newspaper rounds. He recounted

"In those periods when I was unemployed, my dad couldn't see why I shouldn't help him out. I would get shaken awake at six in the morning - not something which has ever gone down well with a teenager - and stumble blearily into the shop to sort papers into rounds with the other paper boys, who were, without exception, nine- or ten-year-old kids and (also without exception) cheeky sods. Here was humiliation more extreme than anything reality television has yet dreamed of."

There's one job that Rod Stewart was famous for having: a gravedigger at Highgate Cemetery. That, it turns out, is a bit of a stretch:

"... there were a couple of Saturdays up at Highgate Cemetery, earning a few quid by measuring out plots and marking them off with string. You learn a lot about yourself, doing physical work. And what I learned about myself was that I didn't like doing physical work.

Incidentally, it was from these few hours of casual labour at the cemetery that the popular myth arose (one I happily rode along with) that I was once a gravedigger. It's a delicious, mysterious piece of back-story, but again we must move to strike it from the record. I was no more a gravedigger than Gordon Ramsay was a gravedigger who played for Rangers."

Source: Rod: The Autobiography

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FedEx: Founder Gambled His Last $5,000 at a Blackjack Table to Stave Off Bankruptcy

See the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo?

Fred Smith, then an undergraduate at Yale University, wrote a paper for an economics class that proposed overnight delivery service in which one carrier is responsible for a piece of cargo from pick-up through delivery. To accomplish that, the carrier needs to fly all of its own airplanes, operate its own depots, posting stations, as well as delivery vans.

At the time, cargo shipment was handled by a chain of companies - the journey of a box would include being picked up by a local agent, flown by an airline's cargo department, then handed over to a local van company for delivery, so Smith's idea was unorthodox, and he got a grade of "C" for that paper. The professor wrote: "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible."

Despite his professor's lack of encouragement, Smith held on to the idea and founded Federal Express in the early 1970s. In 1973, the company carried its first load of 186 packages ... and immediately ran into financial troubles. Beset by rapidly inflating fuel prices and other costs, FedEx was bleeding money.

Federal Express' first plane: Dassault Falcon 20, now at the Smithsonian Naitonal Air and Space Museum. Photo: RadioFan/Wikipedia

FedEx had only $5,000 in its checking account, and faced a $24,000 jet fuel bill. After he was turned down for a loan by General Dynamics, Smith took his last $5,000, flew to Las Vegas and played blackjack. He won $27,000 - enough to pay the fuel bill and operate for another week. Smith's partner Roger Frock recounted the experience:

I said, "You mean you took our last $5,000-- how could you do that?" He shrugged his shoulders and said, "What difference does it make? Without the funds for the fuel companies, we couldn't have flown anyway." Fred's luck held again. It was not much, but it came at a critical time and kept us in business for another week."

Shortly afterwards, Smith was able to secure more loans and FedEx rode out its bumpy early days. Today, FedEx carries up to 17 million packages on its busiest day and is worth about $28 billion. Fred Smith himself is worth about $2 billion.

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Jim Carrey Once Wrote Himself a $10 Million Check

Photo: nonu photography/Flickr

Actor and comedian Jim Carrey was a born entertainer. In school, his teacher let him perform his comedy routines for his classmates at the end of the day in exchange for being quiet during class. Carrey used to wear his tap shoes to bed, just in case his parents needed cheering up in the middle of the night.

When he was young, Carrey's father lost his job and the whole family had to live in a camper van on a relative's lawn. They all took jobs working as janitors and security guards at a nearby factory - Carrey himself worked an eight-hour shift straight after school.

Carrey got his start as a stand-up comedian at 15, when his father drove him to Toronto's Yuk Yuk's club. Wearing a yellow suit that his mother sewed, Carrey's debut bombed so badly that it gave him doubt whether he could make a living as an entertainer. Fortunately, he persevered and gained popularity as a stand-up comedian. A year later, he dropped out of high school to concentrate on his career.

At 19, Carrey headed to Hollywood - but like many young actors trying to make it in Tinseltown, he found that success was elusive. In 1985, a broke and depressed Carrey drove his old beat-up Toyota up the Hollywood hills. There, sitting overlooking Los Angeles, he daydreamed of success. To make himself feel better, Carrey wrote himself a check for $10 million for "acting services rendered," post-dated it 10 years and kept it in his wallet.

The check remained there until it deteriorated but Carrey eventually made it: he earned millions for movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. When his father passed away in 1994, Carrey slipped the check in the casket to be buried.

Here's Jim Carrey talking about the famous $10 million check in this Oprah interview:


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Charles Darwin: "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family"

For such an important figure in science, it's quite ironic that Charles Darwin was actually a lazy young man and a slow learner in school.

You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching

When he was 16 years old, Darwin's father Robert pulled him from school because of poor grades, telling him "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." Robert, a successful physician, decided that Darwin should be a doctor and enrolled him in medical school.

Darwin soon realized that he wasn't terribly interested in following his father's footsteps as he found school lectures to be dull and boring. Worse, he couldn't stand the sight of blood and the brutal surgery in the era of medicine before anesthesia. Two years into his medical studies, Darwin quit and returned home.

Darwin's Beetle Collection

Determined not to let Darwin live like "an idle gentleman," his father decided that he should study for the clergy (which was a very respectable profession in that era). Darwin, however, spent more time collecting beetles than studying.

Darwin's box of beetles, on display at the University of Cambridge Zoological Museum. Photo: Richard Carter/Flickr via Friends of Darwin

After graduating from college (he barely scraped by in the final exams), Darwin heard of an expedition to survey South America - the voyage would provide him with the basis for his groundbreaking On the Origin of Species. But Darwin almost didn't get to go.

Darwin's Nose

First, Darwin wasn't H.M.S. Beagle's captain Robert FitzRoy's first choice (luckily, that man turned the offer down). Then, FitzRoy wanted to reject Darwin because of the shape of his nose, which indicated a constitution too weak for a prolonged sea journey. To make matters worse, Darwin's father thought that such a trip was yet another one of Darwin's idle pursuits. Fortunately, Robert changed his mind after Darwin's uncle wrote favorably of the idea, and Darwin was set to embark on his fateful voyage.

On December 27, 1831, under clear skies and a good wind, the H.M.S. Beagle set sail. And Charles Darwin immediately became sea sick.

See also: 10 Fun Facts About Charles Darwin

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On The Origin of Success

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. A blog of a thousand posts starts with a single word. But what about successful people, companies, and inventions? How did they get their start? What happened on their (often long and winding) road to success?

That's the focus of Neatorama's newest blog, On the Origin of Success, where you'll find the story of what famous people did before they become famous, how entrepreneurs build iconic companies, how ordinary things we use every day often have extraordinary beginnings.

The title of the blog, On the Origin of Success, is inspired by the seminal work of Charles Darwin, so in his honor, we will inaugurate the blog with a look into the life of the English naturalist, before he became the Father of Evolution.

Let's start. We'll have fun along the way: How Charles Darwin Got His Start

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