Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 21, 2003

200 pop icons of all time

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Compiling a list of the greatest figures in television, movies or popular music is tough enough.

Ranking on the cultural icon list, clockwise from above, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Jennifer Lopez, Elvis Presley, Michael Jordan and Madonna.

Advertiser library photos

But making a list of the top icons in the nebulous expanse known as popular culture?

That's an eight-sided Rubik's Cube. It's Paganini transcribed for Javanese Saron Barung. It's Dennis Miller and Wu Tang Clan pounding double espressos.

So advance kudos to the folks at VH1 who this week take on the outrageously difficult, certain-to-offend task of identifying the "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons."

The 10-part special, the latest in VH1's "The Greatest ..." series, kicks off at 3 p.m. today and continues through the week with back-to-back episodes each day.

While the network won't divulge rankings, today's first episode, featuring Nos. 200 to 181, includes former New York Jets quarterback and one-time Broadway actor Joe Namath, reggae legend Bob Marley, slinky rock has-been Axl Rose, Oscar-winner Halle Berry, and talent — and otherwise endowed — country artist Dolly Parton. Commentary for the first episode is provided by fellow icons Dick Clark, Sharon Osbourne, Britney Spears and Henry Winkler.

VH1 also would not reveal the methodology behind the selections, other than to say that each selection is not just a "star" but an icon "recognized and revered in the world's most far-flung spots."

That sounds reasonable, if not necessarily useful in narrowing the field.

According to the network, 200 icons are supposed to comprise an all-time list, but the selections are clearly skewed toward the contemporary. Has Chris Rock's contributions, for example, really earned him the designation as one of the 200 greatest pop culture icons?

Still, it's natural, even appropriate, for these sorts of lists to have a contemporary bias, particularly if the object is to provide a representative snapshot of what our collective pop culture understanding is at the present moment. In such case, a list like the one compiled by VH1 should, in theory, provide an outsider much of the pop culture "capital" they would need to get by in everyday conversation.

Included are all of the obvious choices, such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Michael Jordan and Madonna. The list also includes a few fictional characters like Scooby-Doo, Superman, and Cartman from South Park.

Many of the people on the list seem to have been selected because of the long-term influence of their work (Woody Allen, Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix), others for producing singular spectacles or crazes that were as intense as they were transient (Ricky Martin, Regis Philbin).

The list doesn't necessarily recognize the greatest or most deserving in a given area, instead rewarding the most powerful combinations of talent, charisma, spectacle, curiosity or notoriety.

Thus, Magic Johnson made the list, but not his flip side, Larry Bird. Howard Stern got the nod, but Walter Cronkite didn't. And as far as Stewarts go, it was Martha in, Jimmy out.

For what it's worth, the list is diverse in terms of the areas of culture represented, but not necessarily in terms of race. Aside from Bruce Lee, Jennifer Lopez,Martin, the Rock and, arguably, Tiger Woods, all the icons selected would be identified primarily as white or black.

A few famous partnerships were split into their constituent parts for the list. Bruce Willis is in, but ex-wife Demi Moore (Ashton Kucher fling notwithstanding) is out. Butch (Paul Newman) made it, but Sundance (Robert Redford) didn't. Charlie Brown was deemed iconic, but not so Snoopy. Ben Affleck brought along J-Lo, but left behind his old buddy, Matt Damon.

The Beatles made it in intact, and so did the Rolling Stones, BeeGees, Beavis & Butthead, and the cast of Friends. Yet, Bono, Sting and Kurt Cobain were honored independent of U2, the Police and Nirvana, respectively. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were recognized individually. So were Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman (special props for "Dallas," we assume). Yet, for some reason, Venus and Serena Williams counted as one entry.

VH1 listmakers apparently weren't too keen on the infamous. Thus, Charles Manson, Osama Bin Laden, and the entire O.J. Simpson circus were left out.

They were fond of talk-show hosts, however, as evidenced by the inclusion of Philbin, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Rosie O'Donnell, Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey.

A few interesting decisions were made with icons bearing the same first or last name. There were only two Jacksons on the list — Michael and Janet. Left out were Reggie, Jesse, Andrew, Shoeless Joe, Samuel, and Bo. In fact, VH1 clearly didn't know Diddley, Derek or Riddick about "Bo."

As far as Kings went, it is apparently good to be Steven but not BB, Rodney, Billie Jean, Larry, or Martin Luther.

"Saturday Night Live," that eternal wellspring of quirky characters and catch phrases, contributed Rock, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers. But Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley apparently weren't ready to play in prime time.

Of course, the Greatest 200 included "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali. But Ali's "Thrilla in Manila" nemesis, George Foreman, was left off, despite his pop culture rebirth as a grill shill. Also missing was the sports world's lunatic fringe of Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman.

Finally, although impressive in its scope,VH1's list isn't quite A-to-Z comprehensive: the alphabetical roster ends with Tiger Woods.

That means no Xena, no Yanni, and — gasp — no Zamfir.

It's an Outrage!

By its very nature, a list like VH1's 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons is bound to elicit a few quibbles. Here are ours.

Where's Bill Murray? — C'mon, people are still copping lines from "Caddyshack," "Stripes," "Ghostbusters," even "Meatballs." And his recent work in "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" shows he doesn't have to be outrageous to be hilarious anymore.

Two Rocks too many — That would be Chris and The. Chris Rock is a funny guy, no doubt. But he does his best work on awards shows and, like Eddie Murphy, we have to deduct points for his awful music video.

We also like wrestler, actor and former Hawai'i resident The Rock. But his screen resume is spotty and, as a wrestler, he can't be more of an icon than Andre the Giant or Hulk Hogan.

Macaulay Culkin in — Huh?

Andy Kaufman out — He gave us Latka Gravas, Tony Clifton, the Inter-Gender Wrestling Championship, and a death as mysterious as anything this side of Jim Morrison and L. Ron Hubbard.

Best Omissions

VH1 listmakers were wise to exclude these pop culture speed bumps.

Carrot Top — Some observers have speculated that there's something deeper than failed humor at work in Carrot Top's schtick. Call us when you figure it out.

Clara Peller — The old "Where's the Beef?" lady is an interesting case study in the commercial power of the catch phrase, but her cultural significance has been grossly overstated over the years.

Kato Cailin — What was so interesting about this guy in the first place?

Don't Let the Door Hitcha ...

These here-today pop culture icons will be gone the next time someone compiles this list.

Monica Lewinsky — No matter how many times she shows up on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," history will cast "that woman" in the same lame drama as Fawn Hall and Jessica Hahn.

Winona Ryder — The only thing that separates Winona from, oh, Phoebe Cates is set of itchy fingers and a purseful of Demerol.

Justin Timberlake — Umm, then again, Ricky Martin is still on the list...

Judge Judy — Remember Judge Wapner, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and that woman from "The Weakest Link?" Neither do we.

• • •




Ben Affleck

Muhammad Ali

Woody Allen

Pamela Anderson

Julie Andrews

Neil Armstrong

Kevin Bacon

Lucille Ball

Roseanne Barr

Drew Barrymore


The Beatles

Beavis & Butt-Head

The Bee Gees

John Belushi

Halle Berry

Bon Jovi


David Bowie

The Brady Bunch

Christie Brinkley

Garth Brooks

Charlie Brown

James Brown

Bugs Bunny

Carol Burnett

Mariah Carey

Jim Carrey

Johnny Carson


Johnny Cash

Charlie Chaplin


Dick Clark

Bill Clinton

George Clooney

Kurt Cobain

Bill Cosby

Katie Couric

Cindy Crawford

Russell Crowe

Tom Cruise

Macaulay Culkin

Bette Davis

James Dean

Ellen DeGeneres

Robert DeNiro

Bob Denver

Princess Diana

Leonardo DiCaprio

P. Diddy

Joe DiMaggio

Celine Dion

Bob Dylan


Clint Eastwood

Barbara Eden

Albert Einstein


Farrah Fawcett

Sally Field

Fred Flintstone

Jane Fonda

Betty Ford

Harrison Ford

Michael J. Fox

Aretha Franklin

Sigmund Freud

"Friends" cast

James Gandolfini

Jerry Garcia

Judy Garland

Bill Gates

Marvin Gaye

Mel Gibson

Rudy Giuliani

Jackie Gleason

Whoopi Goldberg

Wayne Gretzky

Larry Hagman

Arsenio Hall

Dorothy Hamill

Tom Hanks

Hugh Hefner

Jimi Hendrix

Audrey Hepburn Katharine Hepburn

Alfred Hitchcock

Bob Hope

Whitney Houston

Ron Howard

Rock Hudson

Janet Jackson

Michael Jackson

Elton John

Magic Johnson

Judge Judy

Grace Kelly



Michael Jordan

Kermit & Miss Piggy Nicole Kidman

Stephen King


Calvin Klein

Led Zeppelin

Bruce Lee

Vivien Leigh & Clark Gable

Jay Leno

David Letterman

Monica Lewinsky


Jennifer Lopez

Susan Lucci


Bob Marley

Penny Marshall

Brad Pitt

Harry Potter

Elvis Presley


Richard Pryor

Queen Latifah

Burt Reynolds

Molly Ringwald

Julia Roberts

Jackie Robinson

Chris Rock

The Rock

Mister Rogers

The Rolling Stones

Axl Rose

Diana Ross


Babe Ruth

Winona Ryder

Telly Savalas

Arnold Schwarzenegger


Jerry Seinfeld

Tupac Shakur

William Shatner

The Simpsons

Frank Sinatra

Will Smith

Britney Spears


Steven Spielberg

Bruce Springsteen Sylvester Stallone

Gwen Stefani

Howard Stern

Martha Stewart


Barbra Streisand


Elizabeth Taylor

The Three Stooges

Justin Timberlake

John Travolta

Tina Turner

Shania Twain

Dick Van Dyke

Gianni Versace

Barbara Walters

Andy Warhol

Denzel Washington

John Wayne

Robin Williams

Venus & Serena Williams Bruce Willis

Oprah Winfrey

Henry Winkler

Reese Witherspoon

Stevie Wonder


Tiger Woods