We've all been there. You're yukking it up at a party and someone cracks a one-liner about Kato Kaelin over their gin and tonic. A few people chuckle, a few more ask, "Who?" and you quietly wonder: what the hell happened to that guy? Nerve's got your answer with our exhaustively researched look at the forty greatest lost icons in pop-culture history. Come on in and catch up with the walking ephemera everyone's only mostly forgotten.
40. Kato Kaelin

He was the world's most notorious house-guest. A wannabe actor and baseball player, Kato Kaelin was living on O.J. Simpson's lavish Brentwood, Calif., property the night the former football star allegedly murdered his estranged wife and her boyfriend. A key witness in the trial, Kaelin offered more comic relief than evidence, spewing his flakey, surfer-dude rejoinders and so exasperating prosecutor Marcia Clark that she dubbed him a "hostile witness." Things have only gotten trashier for the career sponge. After a speaking tour appropriately called "The Sixteenth Minute" and an unrealized reality show in which he would have freeloaded off other D-list celebrities, Kaelin has cameoed in a spate of toss-off TV shows, including a pay-per-view strip poker series peopled by assorted Playboy bunnies and WWE Divas. (Calling Verne Troyer!) More tellingly, Kaelin, who looks a lot like Larry Birkhead, has appeared shirtless on the cover of Playgirl and, weirdly, in the New Yorker.

39. Mazda "Zoom Zoom" Kid

We confess to total mystification at this kid's cult popularity. Micah Kanters was ten years old when the marketing wizards at Mazda decided to stuff the lad into an undertaker's suit and have him say "zoom zoom" into the camera. (In case you were wondering, according to Mazda, "zoom zoom" refers to the "exhilaration and liberation from experiencing the emotion of motion."). Now he's telling interviewers that "the ladies love the zoom-zoom. ... [I]n all seriousness, that commercial has done more for me romantically than anything I could have ever dreamed of." Kanters, who attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy — a breeding ground for the virgins of tomorrow — is also some sort of high priest of a religion of his own devising, one that involves the worship of cheese. "You see," he says, "world domination is only the means to an end. The end being me controlling every piece of cheese in the known universe." Maybe the guy just had the munchies. According to imdb.com, Kanters was kicked out of IMSA on "marijuana-related charges."

38. Clinton Underwear Inquisitor

In 1994, seventeen-year-old Laetitia Thompson asked the president a question on MTV, and by the commercial break she had become an unwitting symbol of America's vulgar political discourse. "All the world's dying to know," Thompson said. "Is it boxers or briefs?" Bill Clinton blushed, shook his head, and answered, "Usually briefs." A great chin-stroking overtook the media, and soon everyone was wondering stupidly if the rules had been forever changed. Meanwhile, Thompson, the daughter of Dateline NBC correspondent Lea Thompson, set about entering the profession whose standards she had apparently single-handedly destroyed. After graduating from Princeton with a degree in history, Thompson got her master's at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Tisha then became an investigative reporter with Baltimore's ABC affiliate, and asked enough good questions to bring about the largest recall of a children's product in American history.

37. Interfering Cubs Fan

Steve Bartman, a twenty-six-year-old youth-baseball coach, was by all accounts a fine young man and an asset to the community. And then, on an October night in 2003, he put on a ballcap and a pair of headphones and went to a Cubs game. Need we say what happened next? The short version: Chicago's up 3-0 against the Marlins and just five outs from its first World Series since 1945. Bartman rises to catch a foul ball down the left-field line. So does Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. Ball bounces off Bartman's hand and winds up somewhere in the stands. Cubs lose the game and, a day later, the series. Bartman winds up with six cop cars outside his home for protection. Cubs fans go on to prove once and for all that they're the most self-indulgent collection of neurotic brutes since the Spanish Inquisition. Even the Illinois governor suggests poor Bartman join the witness protection program. (A true Cubs fan, however, curses Alex Gonzalez's name, not to mention his cinder block of a glove.) Since then, Bartman has remained out of view, turning down interviews, endorsement deals, even $25,000 for an autograph. He has comported himself admirably and with considerable grace. Meanwhile, a Chicago lawyer bought the infamous foul ball at auction for $113,824 and hired a Hollywood special-effects expert to blow the thing up in a public ceremony.

36. American Kid Caned in Singapore

Michael Fay was your average American teenager: hyperactive, bored, prone to defacing property. In the early 1990s, he touched off a geopolitical firestorm when Singapore officials sentenced him to six canings for vandalizing cars and stealing street signs. The punishment so shocked Western sensibilities, President Bill Clinton himself asked for clemency, succeeding only in reducing the sentence to four canings. So it was that on May 4, 1994, Fay was stripped naked, bent over on his arms, strapped to a trestle, and struck with a half-inch rattan rod. Fay has largely disappeared from the public eye since, surfacing here and there for assorted petty crimes: reckless driving, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and sniffing butane (which he blamed on the Singapore ordeal). Four strokes clearly wasn't enough.

Commentarium (4 Comments)

Dec 02 08 - 2:53pm

Two things on The Micro Machines Guy:

1) He was the voice of Blur in the Transformers movie (cartoon).

2) He's dead.

Dec 02 08 - 6:25pm

like a number of celebrities said to be dead, john moschitta jr is actually quite alive.

Dec 03 08 - 3:03pm

Is it my computer, or are pages 5, 7 and 8 blank for some reason on your end?

Dec 08 08 - 12:59am

"After graduating from Princeton with a degree in history, Thompson got her master's at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Tisha then became an investigative reporter with Baltimore's ABC affiliate, and asked enough good questions to bring about the largest recall of a children's product in American history."

Yaaaay! Go Mizzou!