With great success comes ubiquity. Unfortunately. Here are eight global titans we'd like to see less of.
In compiling this list, we looked back at the last decade, although Lifetime Achievement in annoyance was also factored in. The eight from our list are unavoidable. They’ve dabbled in everything from music to reality TV to penning their own books – and most unfortunate of all, they’ve even run for office in the U.S.
This list isn’t composed necessarily of the biggest wage-earners, but takes into account factors such as money earned versus value to society (in our humble opinion), ubiquity, and overall injustice.
8. Celine Dion
WHO: The 42-year-old French Canadian singer who rose to prominence with a series of mega-selling albums. She hit the international mother lode by singing “My Heart Will Go On” for James Cameron’s Titanic. Celine parlayed this success into a five-year stretch in Las Vegas, and more recently has been hitting the talk show circuit to chat about her twins. She is the best-selling Canadian artist of all time.
WHY: Granted, one’s reaction to Dion’s voice – not to mention choice of material – is purely subjective. However, we would argue that the inescapability of her nerve-grating accomplishments puts her high on our list: “My Heart Will Go On”; her dominance of North American airwaves over the last two decades; and her recent trumpeting about her personal life. In his wildest dreams, Justin Bieber could only hope to reach this level of enduring annoyance.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? It is estimated that in the last decade the French Canadian singer earned US$747.9 million, and in 2005 alone she earned US$81 million in ticket sales for 155 gigs. She has surpassed 175 million in album sales worldwide. On March 15, 2011, she launches a new Vegas show.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: The singer’s apex of annoyance is also her most successful milestone: Her song “My Heart Will Go On.”
WikiCommons / Vidiot
7. Nancy Grace
WHO: A former prosecutor, the 52-year-old Grace hosts Nancy Grace, a nightly current affairs show on HLN, as well as a courtroom reality show called Swift Justice with Nancy Grace. She has also written two crime novels, including Death on the D-List, which recently made the New York Times bestseller list.
WHY: Thanks to HLN and Fox News, competition in the category of most annoying TV commentator is stiff. But the graceless Grace (sorry, that was too easy) succeeds on more annoyance levels than just about any of them. What ultimately earns her a spot on this list, besides her accusatory, snappish and self-righteous personality, is her show’s hypocrisy. She indulges in a mix of sensational sex crime “reportage” (everyone is guilty before proven innocent), grotesque butt-kissing (all of her callers congratulate her on her “beautiful” twins), and patriotism (pictures of fallen servicemen and condolences to family members before commercial breaks).
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? The website Nancy Grace Must Die estimates her salary at US$50 million a year.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: Every time one of her callers – calling to ask, “Where was the mother? Where was the mother, Nancy?” – begins by congratulating Grace on her twins.
6. Stieg Larsson
WHO: Prior to his death at age 50, Stieg Larsson was known in his home country for his crusading journalism. Since passing on he has become an international sensation and brand, known for his novels The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and The Girl Who Played With Fire. The “Millennium” series of crime novels was published posthumously and each installment has already been turned into its own film in Scandinavia.
WHY: Yes, Larsson is no longer with us. But his presence keeps growing, and his books are more ubiquitous than ever. This wouldn’t be so bad if we were talking about some exceptional crime novels, but the trilogy is filled with banal detail and boilerplate writing. It’s difficult to articulate why the books have caught on way they have, but the fact remains they’ll be with us for a good few years yet – Hollywood is next in line for a movie adaptations. Even more annoying: There may be 3/4 of a fourth novel on Larsson’s laptop (currently in possession of his girlfriend). So we might not stop seeing Larsson books on airplanes and at hotel poolsides in this lifetime.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? The "Millennium" trilogy has sold over 27 million copies in over 40 countries. Larsson’s estate is valued at over US$32 million and growing.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: The part in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where Larsson goes into the lengthy and boring details of a character’s laptop, right down to the size of its Pentium processor. Yawn. Pass the Dan Brown.
WikiCommons / Beao
5. Conan O'Brien
WHO: Conan started his career as a comedy writer and rose to the highest ranks of late-night television. From somewhat humble beginnings at the Harvard Lampoon to the big times at Saturday Night Live and wading in the midst of pop culture at The Simpsons, O’Brien eventually landed in the host’s chair at Late Night with Conan O’Brien And then there was that thing with The Tonight Show. He now hosts a late-night talk show on TBS.
WHY: Because “Coco,” his nickname, and “Team Coco,” the name his supporters gave themselves, are cringe-inducing terms. Because even though he regularly hosts the world’s most beautiful women on his talk show, he still jokes that he can’t get a date. Because he has consistently played the underdog card, even after NBC gave him an embarrassingly large golden handshake to get lost. And because, whatever his talents as a writer and host, he’s just not that funny.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? Just for leaving The Tonight Show, O’Brien earned US$32.5 million (according to The New York Times). His salary for hosting The Late Show has been estimated at between US$12-15 million a year.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: Any Conan O’Brien monologue.
WikiCommons / Alan Light
4. Oprah Winfrey
WHO: The 56-year-old media mogul now has her own television network, aptly named “OWN” (as in, “I own the world”). She has her own magazine and African school. She likes to give away cars and vacations to audience members. Her talk show is the highest-rated program of its kind in history.
WHY: Though few would deny that she’s done some good, Winfrey has also boosted the careers of windbags such as Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, and Dr. Phil. She is responsible – directly or indirectly – for turning the daytime talk show into group therapy. And while she has championed respected literary novels, she has also been instrumental in disseminating The Secret to a wider audience. She is everywhere, from Broadway to the Internet to TV to movies to magazines. She is not going away any time soon, and you couldn’t ignore her if you tried. This makes her one of the world’s most annoying people.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? She is the recipient of the world’s highest – and undisclosed – book advance payment. Fortune called O, The Oprah Magazine, “the most successful start-up ever in the industry.” Oprah.com averages more than 70 million page views and more than six million users per month. She has six homes, including property inHawaii and Antigua. According to Forbes, in September 2010 she was worth over US$2.7 billion.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: There are plenty. See “20 Worst Oprah Moments.”
WikiCommons / MTV Live
3. Tom Cruise
WHO: The 1983 movie Risky Business introduced a 21-year-old Tom Cruise to the world, and ever since the actor and producer has dominated the box office with films like Top Gun, Mission Impossible, Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, and War of the Worlds. He is the world's most prominent Scientologist, and the recipient of the religion's Freedom Medal of Valor. WHY: A 2006 poll named Tom Cruise as the celebrity people would least like to have as their best friend, and maybe that’s because the actor’s craziness keeps leaking out. For pretending to be an expert on psychology (he lambasted Brooke Shields for using an anti-depressant), for his couch-jumping antics on Oprah (see above), and for a string of mediocre movies that are also box-office successes, Cruise continues to be one of the world’s most annoying people.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? As of 2009, Cruise’s films have grossed over $6.5 billion worldwide.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: Tom Cruise freaking out on Oprah.
WikiCommons / David Shankbone
2. Sarah Palin
WHO: The 46-year-old former governor of Alaska first came to national, then international, attention when John McCain chose her as his running mate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Palin quickly asserted her individuality with asinine comments and “rogue behaviour.” Since the losing campaign she has capitalized on her notoriety by writing books, hitting the speakers’ circuit, becoming a FOX News commentator and appearing in her own reality TV show.
WHY: Supporters buy into Palin’s repeated assertion that she’s just one of them, tired of Big Government and the elites running things (never mind that her earnings place her firmly in the latter category). Detractors see a conniving, opportunistic, ignorant bumpkin who has a scary hold on the American public. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but Palin’s continued ascent – despite flubs that would have sunk lesser personalities – makes her one of the World’s Most Annoying. Bonus points for family members who are also annoyingly ubiquitous, and for having a husband named Todd.
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? After stepping down as governor of Alaska, for which she was earning US$125,000 per year, Palin made over $12 million in nine months, according to CBS News. A March 2010 Atlantic Monthly article estimated Palin made between US$1.25 - $7 million for her bestseller Going Rogue, in addition to earning between $75,000 - $150,000 per speech. She is also rumoured to have received at least $500,000 up front for her multi-year deal with Fox News.
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: With too many to choose from, peruse Sarah’s greatest hits. Also, check out this Onion video, “Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters to Support Palin.”
WikiCommons / David Shankbone
1. Glenn Beck
WHO: The 46-year-old rightwing American got his start in radio before hosting his own show on CNN’s HLN, and finally on Fox News. He is a bestselling author six times over for books such as Arguing With Idiots and Glenn Beck’s Common Sense. He has also started his own online university.
WHY: Following a long line of rabble-rousing Conservatives, Glenn Beck presents himself as one of the little guys fighting when he is anything but (see: Sarah Palin). Somehow he has managed to fool millions of people into not only watching his show, but also buying his books. The only good thing about Beck is that he has inspired some creative parodies from people such as Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart, who said of Beck, "Finally, a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking."
HOW MUCH SUCCESS? In 2009 Forbes calculated Beck’s earnings at $23 million for the previous year. Broken down, his media empire’s take included a TV show ($2 million); a radio show ($10 million); books ($5 million); speeches (half a million); appearances ($2.5 million); and a Website ($3 million).
MOST ANNOYING MOMENT: We refer you to the video evidence, Glenn Beck Fail: Best of Beck Clips.