King Juan Carlos I
While visiting military headquarters in Madrid this week, Spain’s King Juan Carlos I fell on his face, but luckily was not injured. The 74-year-old monarch, who had hip-replacement surgery earlier this year, only bruised his nose—and perhaps his ego. Clumsiness apparently runs in Spain’s royal family: at a White House state dinner in 2000, Juan Carlos’s wife, Queen Sofia, tripped in front of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Luckily, the first lady’s catlike reflexes came to her rescue.
President Gerald Ford was perhaps the greatest athlete ever to occupy the White House—he was a star football player at the University of Michigan and turned down an NFL contract after graduating—but he is best remembered now as a klutz. That reputation is due in no small part to tripping while coming down the stairs of Air Force One in 1975—a feat he repeated while walking up airplane steps in 1979. Ford’s clumsiness was also cemented in the American consciousness by Chevy Chase’s caricature performances on Saturday Night Live. In this clip, Henry Kissinger (played by a young Al Franken) tries to convince the ex-president to run for office again. But that first step is a doozy.
For more than 40 years, the United States tried to bring about the fall of Fidel Castro. In 2004, the Cuban leader did it all by himself. While speaking at a graduation ceremony in Santa Clara, Castro tripped while leaving the stage. Although he fractured his knee and broke his left arm, “El Jefe” quickly reassured the Cuban people that he was still in charge. “I will do what is possible to recover as fast as possible, but as you can see I can still talk,” he said after the accident. “Even if they put me in a cast, I can continue in my work.”
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has racked up a lot of frequent-flier miles. But in January 2011, she had an unexpected “trip.” While boarding her plane during a visit to Yemen, Mrs. Clinton stumbled and was offered a helping hand from an aide. Although unhurt, Clinton did injure her elbow in 2009 after a fall that required surgery. Showing diplomatic grace after the incident, she joked: “I broke my elbow, not my larynx.”
George W. Bush
Although the Segway safety manual recommends wearing a helmet and using a “spotter” for first-time riders, George W. Bush didn’t follow directions. While testing out the motorized people mover on a 2003 vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine, the president fell off the scooter, but landed safely on his feet. His father, who was riding behind him at the time, experienced no Segway stumbles.
Prince William and Prince Harry
Relying on two legs for balance is tricky enough—depending on four can be twice as dangerous. In 2005, Prince William was thrown from his horse while playing in a charity polo match with his brother Harry. Although William landed on the head that will someday wear the crown, he was uninjured and got right back on his pony. Five years later, it was Prince Harry’s turn. During a charity match in Barbados, Harry was thrown and then threw his polo mallet in anger. Though the prince later joked, “The reason why I was throwing my mallet down was because I met this nice businessman at dinner last night who offered me $50,000 for Sentebale if I fell off my horse today.” Six months later, playing in another match for the same charity, Harry’s ride repeated the same trick.
During a 1996 presidential campaign stop in Chico, Calif., Republican nominee Bob Dole fell off the stage after a railing gave way. The 73-year-old senator had his fall broken by a group of photographers, but his sense of humor was still intact. “I just went over the top,” he quipped.
Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc
Ironically, it was a nasty fall that caused the political rise of Romania’s Emil Boc. During a 2006 live television appearance, Boc, who was then mayor of Cluj-Napoca, fell more than 10 feet from a see-through stage. A video of the spill was soon posted on YouTube and Boc suddenly had a national profile. Two years later, he was elected prime minister of Romania—but the next year his government fell. Boc stayed in power until earlier this year, when he resigned amid protests over austerity measures.
Unlike President Ford, Barack Obama shows no fear while boarding Air Force One: the president frequently trots up the stairs. But running for president is not without its perils. At a campaign stop in Tampa this June, Obama was jogging to the stage when he tripped. The smiling president immediately joked with the crowd, “I was so fired up, I missed a stair!”
Even music royalty is not above the law of gravity. Although Lady Gaga had shown remarkable mastery when it came to walking in Alexander McQueen’s perilous “armadillo boots,” she was brought down to earth in June 2010 at London’s Heathrow Airport while wearing some thigh-high platform boots. Earlier that year, Gaga had said of her outrageous image: “‘When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year-old girl, then I say, ‘… you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.’” But do it carefully.