Muntadhar al-Zaidi was released from Iraqi prison after serving nine months for the crime of throwing a shoe at President George W. Bush on his last trip to Iraq (the joke inside the country was Mr. Zaidi's conviction was handed down because he missed.)
The TV journalist has become something of a local hero for expressing widespread public anger at Bush and America in such a dramatic way. In Arab cultures, it's considered impolite merely to expose the sole of your foot. Superstitious Iraqis hang baby shoes from their rear-view mirrors to ward off bad luck and the evil eye. Throwing a shoe? That's a declaration of war.
Though there are now serious issues to be dealt with in the wake of Zaidi's release – he came out of jail with a front tooth missing and alleges he was tortured by officials during his detention – he's not the first man in history to make a splash using a shoe for something other than its intended purpose. And he spawned a legion of imitators, from Britain to India.
Here's our list, in reverse order, of the most enduring cases of shoe misuse, with Zaidi at No. 5.
4. Shoeless Joe Jackson
OK. The slugging left-fielder got his nickname for not wearing shoes. The way he told it, as a teenager playing his first year of professional ball, he developed a painful blister from a new pair of spikes. The next day, his manager insisted he stay in the lineup so he played in his socks. While legging out a triple a heckling fan on the third-base line noticed his predicament and yelled out "You shoeless son of a gun you!" The name stuck -- and became infamous when he was banned from baseball (and kept from a certain Hall of Fame place) for his involvement in the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal in which some of his teammates agreed to throw the World Series in exchange for payoffs from gamblers. Jackson maintained his innocence -- and his series leading .375 batting average would appear to back him up -- but baseball never forgave him.
3. Maxwell Smart
In the late 1960s, the bumbling spy played by Don Adams made his shoe phone the most famous unconventionally-used shoe in the world. Long before the invention of cell phones, Smart would take his shoe off and pad about in his socks while receiving orders -- usually tripping over the furniture in the process. A typical shoe phone conversation on his show, Get Smart, went like this. Operator: "You have dialed incorrectly. Give me you name and address and your dime will be refunded." Smart: "Operator, I'm calling from my shoe!" Operator: "What is the phone number of your shoe?" Smart: "It's an unlisted shoe, operator." Such bits were wildly popular in their day -- enough so to make his shoe phone the second most famous prop in television history, according to no less an authority than the CIA (no, I'm not making that up.)
2. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev
Stalin's successor as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union didn't mess around. As a young party operative he aided in Stalin's purges, and set the tone for his dealings with the West when he told a delegation of ambassadors in Poland in the late 50s that "we will bury you." A few years later, at a 1960 meeting of the UN, he showed that his fires hadn't dimmed with age. Furious that a Filipino delegate at the podium was calling for freedom for the Eastern European states under Soviet control, Khrushchev took off his shoe and repeatedly banged it on the table in front of him, demanding that "this toady of American imperialism" be silenced. Here's the iconic shot of Nikita in action.
1. Richard Reid
Mr. Reid, aka Abdul Raheem, aka the "shoe bomber" would at first glance appear to be a terrorist version of Maxwell Smart, with one big distinction: He's real, and his intent was to murder hundreds. The Englishman converted to Islam while in English prison for a string of juvenile muggings, and made his way into Pakistan, where he met with operatives close to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. In December of 2001, Reid was dispatched to blow up an American Airlines flight traveling from Paris to Miami with explosives concealed in his shoe. After his homemade detonator failed, he desperately lit match after match to create the explosion he hoped would kill himself and everyone else aboard, not realizing you can't light plastic explosives with a match. His fellow passengers noticed and overpowered him. The fallout from this terror attack was a life sentence in a US federal prison. He's left a lasting footprint: the mild inconvenience of taking off our shoes to go through airport security screening. (Here's a picture of the terrorist mastermind.)