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The Top 5 Comebacks of the Decade

Read ’em and weep. Or just add your own ideas at the bottom of this post.

1. Julian Schnabel. Bombastic, prolific, self-promotional, and grandiose, Schnabelwas the ethos of 1980’s NYC writ large in vibrant strokes on bold canvases. In his early career as a painter, he reportedly churned out sixty pieces a year, many of which were scooped up by corporate raiders eager to embrace fine art made by strong personalities. “I’m the closest thing to Picasso that you’ll see in this fucking life,” he said, and he meant it. Of course, when the boom times went bust, so did his funding. Never mind. He picked himself up, asked “What would Picasso do?” and went on to be an Oscar-nominated director, reaching an (arguably) broader audience than ever before. His film ouvre includes the small but salient Basquiat (1986), Javier Bardem vehicle and cult classic Before Night Falls, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2. Eliot Spitzer.He’s not President, and he never will be. But so what? If anyone can be said to have turned a prostitution ring scandal and subsequent gubernatorial resignation into lemonade, it’s Eliot Spitzer. Of all the catapults from grace in recent political history, this is the catapultiest. It’s also the only one I can think of in which the elected official emerged looking like a flawed but ultimately humbled (dare I say “good”?) guy, instead of a privileged creep. Also, the man really loves his wife

3. Al Sharpton, by way of Carol Friedman. For her portrait of Al Sharpton, art director and photographer Carol Friedman “changed everything,” making over his hair, his outfit, his entire look. “What I learned about him when he was in front of my camera–not because of what he says to the press,” she explains, “I put on… the original Sam Cooke version of ‘Change is Gonna Come,’ and Al was very, very moved. There is no need to explain to anybody why, but that is all about the genesis of who Al Sharpton is.” Here’s Friedman’s image of Sharpton.

4. Arianna Huffington. Huffington spent a significant portion of her career being associated with unsuccessful political campaigns: first her husband’s bid for congress in 1994, and then her own for governor of California in 2003. Those who deride her liberal slant now may be surprised to know that her first web venture was, a site which advocated that Clinton step down as president. In 2005, of course, she launched The Huffington Post, which was recently acquired for $315 million by AOL. Huffington stayed on as Editor in Chief. Enough said.

5. Dennis Hopper. Our story wouldn’t be complete without the rise and fall and rise of actor Dennis Hopper, one of only a handful to make the transition from the Hollywood studio system (Rebel Without a Cause, Giant) to American independent cinema of the 1970’s (Easy Riders). But by the late 70’s and 80’s, due to drug problems and a notorious self-destructive streak, the role he’d become most famous for was shutting himself in a coffin with 17 sticks of dynamite and then disappearing into the Mexican desert. It wasn’t until David Lynch cast him in Blue Velvet that critics came around to the idea that Dennis Hopper was not actually crazy, but rather, engaged in an elaborate, life-long meditation on the notion of craziness. Hello, Dennis Hopper shooting himself out of a cannonball for McSweeney’s Wholpin video series. Hello, Dennis Hopper revival. 

Tell us: Who are your favorite comeback kids? Who deserves another chance, but hasn’t gotten it yet?


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