Awards season is upon us again, but lots of people don’t find the idea of watching rich celebrities congratulating each other to be particularly entertaining. Just occasionally, however, a dull award ceremony is livened up by something we really do not expect.
Sometimes, these occurrences are hilarious. Other times, they’re just baffling, and—on occasion—they are dark and disturbing. Here are ten of the most unexpected things ever to happen during an award ceremony.
The decision to hire actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway to present the 2011 Academy Awards was an attempt by the producers of the show to appeal to a younger audience while still retaining Academy traditions. Hathaway became the youngest host of the ceremony in its entire history, being just 28 at the time, while she and Franco were the first male and female hosting team since 1957. Unfortunately, on the night, there seemed to be some confusion as to which of them was the man and which was the woman, as they appeared onstage with Hathaway in a tuxedo and Franco in strapless evening gown and blonde wig—a reference to Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Getting the two younger stars to host the show was the choice of producer Bruce Cohen, who felt that they represented the best of the current generation of performers. It didn’t really work, though, as the pair were heavily criticized for the strange drag sequence and the uncomfortable mix of too much enthusiasm from Hathaway and too little from Franco. Before the event, Hugh Jackman advised them to have fun, but maybe he should have reminded them that it is supposed to be fun for the audience as well.
Spike Milligan does not enjoy the same legendary status in the US as he does in the UK, but there, he is ranked as one of the greatest comedians of all time. His most famous creation was the radio comedy The Goon Show, which was broadcast on BBC Radio during the 1950s and co-starred Peter Sellers. The innovative surrealism of this show broke down barriers in comedy, was a formative influence on Monty Python, and is also a lifelong favorite of Prince Charles. The prince began listening to it while at school at the time of its original broadcast and remains such a fan that he even became an honorary patron of the Goon Show Preservation Society in 1998.
Given all this, it is no surprise that Spike Milligan was chosen to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards in 1994. However, Milligan was also a loose cannon who suffered from manic depression for most of his life, and the presentation of the award proved to be memorable for unforeseen reasons. After presenting it, the host began to read out a tribute from Prince Charles, only for the comedian to interrupt and call the prince a “little groveling bastard” to shocked laughter from the audience. The whole thing was captured on film, but Charles saw the funny side, and Spike still got a knighthood in 2001.
Some actors probably have nightmares about being on the toilet when their big win is announced, but for Christine Lahti, it became an embarrassing reality at the 1998 Golden Globes. The star of Chicago Hope won the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in that show but happened to be taking a bathroom break at the moment her win was announced. The situation really took a step into excruciating territory for those attending the awards and the viewers at home as Lahti failed to reappear for several minutes after the announcement was made.
In the end, comedian Robin Williams actually got up onstage to perform an impromptu stand-up routine just to fill up the time until the actress had finished relieving herself. She eventually made it onto the stage to accept the award but did so still drying her hands on a towel and has since stated that she was flushing the toilet at the moment she was told that she had won. We can only assume that it was one of those where you have to press down the handle multiple times before it flushes properly.
Now that she is a respected—and respectable—actress and director who has ascended to the status of Hollywood royalty, it is easy to forget just what a wild child Angelina Jolie was when she first burst onto the scene. At the Academy Awards in 2000, the young starlet picked up the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her breakthrough role in the film Girl Interrupted. When we consider the acclaim her performance had received from critics, this was not particularly surprising, but her chosen way of celebrating the win certainly was.
It began when she was on the red carpet before the start of the actual ceremony, as she chose to give James Haven, her brother, a kiss—not the peck on the cheek you would expect from a sibling bur rather a full kiss on the mouth. Having thoroughly scandalized, and excited, the press, she went on to make the whole thing seem even stranger during her acceptance speech, stating pointedly that she was “so in love” with her brother. Given the events of earlier in the night, Haven probably already had a pretty good idea of how she felt about him, but it is nice to be mentioned.
The name Kenneth Horne will mean little to most people in the US, but his 1960s radio show Round the Horne was a favorite of UK listeners and pushed the boundaries of the time through the inclusion of the gay characters Julian and Sandy. These characters spoke in an underground gay slang called “polari,” with Horne cast as the bemused straight man—in every sense of the word.
The huge popularity of the show meant that Kenneth Horne was heavily in demand during the second half of the 1960s, and on February 14, 1969, he was the host of the prestigious Guild of Television Producers’ and Directors’ Awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Unfortunately, this was to lead to one of the bleakest events ever to happen at such a ceremony, as just before the announcement of one of the awards, Horne collapsed on the podium and died of a massive heart attack.
The ceremony was actually being recorded for screening on television at a later date, so the point at which Horne was taken ill was omitted when the ceremony was shown, with the announcer providing an explanation to the viewers for the awkward break in the film footage. It later emerged that Horne had been prescribed pills for his heart but stopped using them after a faith healer advised him that he did not need them.
Michael Jackson was a huge star in 1996, with his popularity having even survived allegations of child abuse, so when he agreed to perform at the UK music award ceremony the Brit Awards in 1996, it was a big deal. The music scene in Britain was on a high that year, thanks to the chart success of the various bands in the “Britpop” scene, the biggest of which were Oasis, Blur, and Pulp, and most of those groups were also present at the award ceremony. The result of this was a strange incident involving Jackson and the lead singer of Pulp, Jarvis Cocker, which led to headlines in UK newspapers and Cocker being interviewed by the police.
The extravagant performance by Jackson saw him dressed in robes and surrounded by poor children who he was supposed to be saving, but the pomposity of it all was deflated pretty spectacularly when the Pulp front man made his way to the stage, bent over, and waved his ass at Jackson. Amazingly, the incident saw Cocker taken away in police custody, accused of assaulting the children—presumably by brandishing a concealed butt at them—but common sense prevailed, and he was not charged. As with some of the other events on this list, we are lucky enough to still be able to watch it on video, and Cocker was even asked for his thoughts after Jackson died 13 years later.
There are plenty of things you should not do if you are presenting an award, including getting drunk and cursing, but perhaps the most important of all is not to announce to the watching millions that you think the wrong person won. The French actress Mathilde Seigner is most known to audiences outside of that country for her role in the movie Venus Beauty Institute, but in France, she is now equally well-known for what happened at the 2012 Cesar Awards. This is the French equivalent to the Academy Awards, and Seigner was onstage to announce the winner in the Best Supporting Actor category. The nominations for this included both Michel Blanc for The Minister and Joey Starr for Polisse.
It was the veteran actor Blanc who won the prize, and everything appeared to be going as normal up until Seigner told all those at the event and watching on television that she would have preferred Starr to win—and even invited him to come up onstage alongside the actual winner. Blanc tried to defuse the atmosphere that this created by joking that he and Starr should have the award on alternate days, and Seigner eventually issued an apology via her lawyer that tried to defuse the criticism she was receiving. What makes the whole thing even more odd is that she had previously described the rap group that Starr belongs to as being “dirty and ugly.”
The outfits that the actresses wear on the red carpet during awards season are almost as big a deal to many in the media as the awards themselves, so when a celebrity opts for a particularly eccentric dress, it can liven things up enormously. Icelandic singer and songwriter Bjork attended the 2001 Academy Awards wearing a dress that was designed to look like a swan—complete with a head and neck that draped around one shoulder. The singer was attending the awards because she had the lead role in the musical film Dancer in the Dark, for which she also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song. She did not win the statuette, but her outfit attracted plenty of media attention—most of it negative—with a critic from The Boston Globe writing that it made her resemble “a refugee from the more dog-eared precincts of provincial ballet.”
As if the dress itself wasn’t strange enough, the singer managed to make things madder still by raising her skirt and dropping an egg onto the red carpet, much to the amusement of Marjan Pejoski, who designed the dress. Unlike some of the others on this list, Bjork did not really suffer as a result of laying an egg in public, as we all saw her as eccentric and individualist, anyway. Furthermore, 14 years after the negative headlines, the Moma Museum put the dress on display as part of an exhibition dedicated to her.
For some reason, the Academy Awards just seem to be the ones that produce the oddest moments—quite a lot of them involving John Travolta. The best one took place at the 2014 event, when he was given the fairly simple task of introducing the star of the movie Frozen: Idina Menzel. This might seem pretty straightforward to most of us, but things did not go according to plan, as Travolta seemed to think that her name was “Adele Dazeem.”
Menzel handled the situation well and simply sang her scheduled song (any annoyance she may have felt was surely eased when it went on to win the Best Song award), but the incident led someone to create a spoof “Adele Dazeem” Twitter account. Travolta did apologize for his flub with a statement in an e-mail that he sent to the Los Angeles Times, but things were to get even weirder at the ceremony the following year. This time, Menzel had to introduce Travolta and called him “Glom Gazingo”—which we can surely all agree was deserved payback—but Travolta made everyone feel incredibly uncomfortable again by grabbing her face and stroking it while calling her “my darling, my beautiful.”
There have been a lot of awards acceptance speeches that made us all cringe, but perhaps the finest of all came from Jacqueline Bissett at the 2014 Golden Globes. The English star was up for the award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in a miniseries called Dancing on the Edge, but when her victory was announced, we could hardly have expected the bizarre, rambling monologue that followed.
Bissett took ages to actually make it to the stage because she stopped off to give actor Jon Voight a kiss on the way, but she then produced a speech that included more than one profanity, as well as a claim—apparently unconnected to anything else—that the best beauty treatment is forgiveness. Despite having a lot of experience in the industry, including attending various awards shows, she seemed to be overcome with emotion at winning and unable to think clearly.
In an interview a few days after the ceremony, she told Queen Latifah that she had not had anything to eat or drink and that she was still thinking about how she wished she could have some food when they announced her name as the winner. At least the mic didn’t pick up the sound of her stomach rumbling.
I am a freelance writer, based in Dundee. I have previously written for BBC radio comedy shows and currently make films under the name Wardlaw Films.