You've heard of being in the right place at the right time. But these 10 ridiculously unlucky individuals have a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being in the exact right place but leaving just before the right time. Like the poor sap who was this close to being a member of the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time. Or the only person in the history of the world who was unlucky enough to take a nap in the direct path of a falling meteorite. Or the one guy in a small town who didn't buy a winning lottery ticket.
Although most people feel they make their own luck, you can't help feeling that in a lot of these cases, bad luck came through no fault of their own. Maybe these folks walked under a ladder or petted a black cat.
So if you're having a bad day or feeling patently unlucky, read through these 10 stories of woe and feel a little better thinking, "At least I'm not them." Let's start with the co-founder of a giant tech company who left before it made the big time.
Apple Co-Founder Who Passed Up Billions
Steve Jobs. Steve Wozniak. Ron Wayne. Wait, who?
Yup, there was a third co-founder of Apple Computers, an Atari colleague of Wozniak's named Ron Wayne. In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak were two whiz kids in their 20s with no real business experience, so they brought in the 40-something Wayne to provide "adult supervision" and help with engineering documentation.
It was Wayne who typed up the very first Apple contract, delineating each man's role in the company and their cut of the shares: Jobs (45 percent), Wozniak (45 percent) and Wayne (10 percent). Wayne even created the first Apple logo, a woodcut-style depiction of Newton under the famed apple tree.
But just 12 days later, Wayne called it quits. He knew he didn't quite fit in with the energetic boy geniuses and didn't see a place for himself — or his own ideas — in the future of the company. Plus, he was worried that he might have to use his personal assets to pay any debts they incurred (unlike the other two, he had a house). So he sold back his shares for a total of $2,300 — $800 immediately and the remaining $1,500 later [sources: Martin, Wayne].
Those shares, if Wayne had held on to them for the past 40-plus years, would now be worth close to $100 billion. That's a lot of lost zeros.
Overall, Wayne says he doesn't regret his decision and would likely have quit long before Apple reached its record-breaking $1 trillion valuation. But in a Facebook essay, he admitted that he probably should have stuck around at least until 1980 when Apple went public and Jobs and Wozniak became instant millionaires.
And then there's more bad luck for Wayne concerning his original Apple contract. Wayne kept the document in a dusty file cabinet for decades until he finally sold it to a collector in the early 1990s for $500. That very same contract sold at auction in 2011 for $1.59 million [sources: Martin].
Twice Bombed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Of the roughly 283,000 Japanese survivors of the atomic blasts that obliterated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in rare company. Only about 10 unlucky souls were witnesses to both bombings, but Yamaguchi's was the unluckiest case on record [source: Atomic Bomb Museum].
In 1945, 29-year-old Yamaguchi worked as an engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and was in Hiroshima on August 6 for a business trip. Stepping off a tram, he was enveloped by a blinding white light. "Little Boy," the first atomic weapon ever used in war, had detonated just 2 miles (3 kilometers) away. Yamaguchi survived, but suffered serious burns across his torso and two ruptured eardrums. More than 80,000 men, women and children were killed by the blast.
Eager to get home, Yamaguchi braved the peak radiation zone of downtown Hiroshima to catch a train the very next day to Nagasaki. On August 9, while in his office telling his boss about the horrors he witnessed in Hiroshima, the U.S. forces dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki. As the room filled with the same blinding white light, "I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima," Yamaguchi told the British publication the Independent, in 2009.
Yamaguchi kept quiet about his double-bombing status until his 80s, when he wrote a memoir called "Twice Bombed, Twice Survived" and became an advocate for denuclearization. "It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened," he said in an interview when he was 93 and in the final stages of cancer, probably caused by exposure to so much radiation from the two atomic bombs [source: McNeill].
Only Person Hit By a Meteorite
On Nov. 30, 1954, Alabama resident Ann Hodges became the first — and possibly only — person to ever be struck by a falling meteorite. The 8.5-pound (3.8 kilogram) space rock burned across a clear blue sky before crashing through Hodge's roof, bouncing off a radio and striking her in the hip as she napped on the couch.
According to astronomer and meteorite expert Michael Reynolds, the odds of a meteorite striking a populated area, let alone an individual person, are staggeringly remote. "You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time," Reynolds told National Geographic.
Hodges' life didn't get much better after getting smacked by the interstellar traveler. Although she only suffered a nasty bruise from the incident, it thrust Hodges and her husband into the media spotlight. Overcome by the mob of people gathered outside her house, Hodges was transferred to a hospital to recover.
Next came a nasty court battle with her landlord, who claimed the famous space rock was hers. Hodges eventually won the lawsuit, but never found a buyer for what she and her husband had hoped would be a valuable object. Instead, Hodges had a nervous breakdown, divorced her husband and died at age 52 in a nursing home. The meteorite remains on display in the Alabama Museum of Natural History [source: Nobel].
'Best' Beatles Drummer Dumped Just Before Fame
Best first met the Beatles in the late 1950s when they were still called The Quarrymen and played the opening night gig at a Liverpool cafe owned by Best's mom. At the time, the band consisted of a revolving cast of musicians, including several drummers. It wasn't until 1960 that the core group of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison had coalesced into the Beatles and needed a drummer for a series of gigs in Hamburg, Germany.
They asked Best, who had drummed for his own Liverpool band, The Blackjacks, to come along. The Beatles' time in Hamburg was transformative for the young rockers. They found their trademark blues-infused sound and amassed crowds of giddy fans. Best felt like he became close to the other boys while living in ramshackle apartments in Hamburg's red light district.
But Best was in for a rude awakening when the band returned to England in 1962. Right before the Beatles were scheduled to record a few singles for record label EMI, the band's manager Brian Epstein called Best into his office and broke the bad news.
"He said, 'Pete, I don't know how to tell you this. The boys want you out' — those were the words — 'and it's already been arranged," recalled Best in an interview with the Financial Review. Various reasons have been posited for the sacking, but most likely it was simply that the others bonded better with replacement Ringo Starr.
Best took it hard, even attempting suicide in the 1960s, before coming to grips with his short-lived time as a Beatle. In 1968, while the Beatles were still riding high, he was working at a bread factory to support his family, later becoming a civil servant. But he eventually started his own band and finally received a fat royalty check from "The Beatles Anthology," released in 1995, which included early demos with Best behind the drums. But he never spoke to John, George or Paul after he was sacked [source: Connolly].
Lost Five Homes in Five Hurricanes
Melanie Martinez is lucky to be alive. In 2012, Martinez, her husband and her elderly mother were trapped in their attic as the storm surge from Hurricane Isaac flooded her home south of New Orleans. They desperately hammered and punched their way through the roof where they were finally rescued along with their five cats and three dogs.
Yet being alive is about the only thing lucky about Martinez, who has the unfortunate distinction of losing not one, not two, but five separate houses to five separate hurricanes. True, Martinez chose to rebuild her house five times in the same Louisiana flood plain, but what are the odds that Hurricanes Betsy (1965), Juan (1985), George (1998), Katrina (2005) and Isaac (2012) would rip through each and every one of them?
To add insult to injury, Martinez's last house was selected for a $20,000 makeover by the A&E reality show "Hideous Houses," which installed a new kitchen, new appliances and a new sewing room just for Martinez. The transformation was aired a few weeks before the arrival of Hurricane Isaac. Needless to say, it's all gone now [source: Carroll].
When asked why she continued to live in that spot, Martinez told The Guardian in 2012, "I was born here. It's home, home, home. But we want to move somewhere that's hilly, you know? To a house on a hill."
Three Vacations, Three Terrorist Attacks
Jason Cairns-Lawrence and his partner Jenny need a new travel agent. The unlucky British couple booked a series of ill-fated international holidays in the 2000s that defies all probability.
First was a sightseeing trip to New York City that found them in the Big Apple on Sept. 11, 2001 when hijackers flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers, killing more than 2,700 people in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
A few years later, Jason and Jenny chose to vacation closer to home, booking a few nights in London in July 2005. A day into their visit, four suicide bombers attacked the London Underground, killing 52 people and wounding more than 700.
Looking for a getaway destination in 2008, the couple chose Mumbai, India. To their horror, terrorists struck yet again, opening fire on a luxury hotel and railway station in the country's largest city, killing 174 people [source: Roy].
Three vacations. Three of the decade's deadliest terrorist attacks. We can only assume poor Jason and Jenny are on a lifetime CIA watch list.
He Invented the Telephone, Didn't Profit
Don't dare utter the name Alexander Graham Bell in Italy. There, schoolchildren have been taught for over a century that the rightful inventor of the telephone was in fact Antonio Meucci, an Italian inventor who filed a preliminary patent for his "teletrofono" in the United States five years before Bell, but then tragically died before winning credit for his world-changing invention.
And it's not just Italians and Italian-Americans who believe Meucci had a case against Bell. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2002 recognizing Meucci's contributions to the invention of the telephone. As early as the 1830s, while living in Havana, Cuba, Meucci discovered that sound could be transmitted as electrical impulses through copper wire. In 1850, Meucci and his wife moved to New York City to further develop the technology.
Arriving in the U.S., Meucci was plagued by a series of setbacks. His wife fell sick and became paralyzed. To stay in touch with her, he rigged a short-distance telephone device from his workshop to her bedroom, which he demonstrated publicly in 1860 but received no attention from the English-speaking press.
Meucci was burned in a steamship accident and fell upon hard economic times. At one point, his wife sold all of his telephone prototypes for $6 to a secondhand shop, so he started from scratch. In 1871, without the funds to file a permanent patent on his invention, he paid $10 for a "caveat," which is a notice of an impending patent. Sadly, he didn't even have the $10 to renew the caveat after 1874.
Bell, who shared a lab with Meucci, filed his own patent in 1876 and then got a lucrative deal with Western Union. Feeling that Bell had stolen his ideas, Meucci sued him. The case was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court when Meucci died in 1889. The case died with him, and Bell was considered the inventor of the telephone [source: Carroll].
Only Villager Who Didn't Buy a Lottery Ticket
Every Christmas, in the small Spanish farming town of Sodeto, the homemaker's association (a group representing homeowners in the town) goes door-to-door selling lottery tickets as a fundraiser for community events. In Spain, the special Christmas lottery is called El Gordo (The Fat One), because it delivers the single biggest payday of the year. It's also one of the world's oldest continuous lotteries, first held in 1812.
In 2011, the jackpot was up to $950 million, the biggest ever. Even so, some residents of Sodeto were reluctant to spring for the $26 ticket, since Spain was in the depths of a crippling economic recession plus a prolonged drought. But since the money went for a good cause, each of the 70 families in town chipped in, buying at least a portion of a ticket.
All except one man. Filmmaker Costis Mitsotakis lived outside of town in an old barn he was renovating and the homemaker's association ladies didn't make it out that year. No big deal, right? Wrong.
Defying the incredible odds, Sodeto hit the jackpot, and each of the village families walked away with prize money ranging from $130,000 on the low end to several millions on the high end. Farmers drove into town on their tractors and the mayor took to the streets with a bullhorn to congratulate the jubilant crowd.
Mitsotakis, quickly dubbed the world's unluckiest man, took it all in stride. He had moved to Sodeto eight years earlier to be with his girlfriend. The romance didn't last, but Mitsotakis fell in love with the town and decided to stay. He was happy for the villagers, humble farming families struggling with heavy debts, and even happier to find the perfect subject for a new documentary.
Olympics Hero Who Became a Terror Suspect
The scene was the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Early on the morning of July 27, as thousands gathered in Centennial Olympic Park for a concert, a security guard named Richard Jewell spotted a suspicious green backpack sitting alone on the ground.
Moving quickly, Jewell and other officers ushered concertgoers away from the bag only seconds before it violently exploded. A homemade pipe bomb propelled nails and screws into the crowd, killing one woman and wounding more than 100. Casualties would certainly have been higher if Jewell hadn't alerted authorities and begun to clear the area.
Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell quickly found himself under investigation as a suspect in the bombing. A local newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, published a special edition the very next day naming Jewell as a focus of police attention and national media followed suit. News vans parked outside Jewell's home and barraged him with questions. The local police and FBI conducted multiple investigations. It wasn't until October that Jewell's name was finally cleared.
But the damage was already done. Even though the real Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph, was ultimately caught and convicted, Jewell's name was forever marred by the false accusations of his involvement with the domestic terror attack. He died at 44 years old from complications of diabetes in 2007. However he did manage to win settlements from NBC and CNN and a 2006 commendation from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for saving lives at the Olympics [source: Sack].
Seven Brushes With Death
People often call Frano Selak "the luckiest man in the world" for surviving seven separate brushes with death, but the 89-year-old former music teacher from Croatia sees things differently.
"I always think I was unlucky to have been in [these accidents] in the first place but you can't tell people what they don't want to believe," Selak told The Telegraph in 2010.
Selak's first death-defying escape came in 1962, when his train from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik jumped the tracks and careened into an icy river, drowning 17 fellow passengers. Selak himself suffered a broken arm and hypothermia. A year later, on his first and only airplane flight, the plane went down, killing 19. Incredibly, Selak was sucked out of a malfunctioning door and landed unharmed in a haystack [source: Hough].
The hits just kept on coming. Selak was on a bus that skidded off the road into yet another icy river. Two of his cars caught fire, one burning off his hair. He was hit by a bus in Zagreb. And in 1996, he swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and barreled off the road, leaping free at the last second as his car plunged 300 feet (91 meters) off a cliff.
The only truly lucky thing that happened to Selak was winning $1 million when he bought his first-ever lottery ticket in 2005 to celebrate his fifth marriage. "I guess all the earlier marriages were disasters too," Selak joked to the Telegraph.
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Author's Note: 10 People with Incredible Bad Luck
There's nothing that makes you feel quite as lucky as reading about other people's misfortunes. Not that any of these people deserved the bad luck that befell them, nor am I reveling in their misery. It just makes you grateful that your life is full of ordinary bad luck — missing your connecting flight to Dallas, locking your keys in the car — and not the life-altering kind. It's also heartening to learn that after initial struggles, most of the people on our list came to terms with their situation and even emerged thankful for their missed opportunities and lousy luck. Good for them!
- Badcock, James. "Spain crosses its fingers for El Gordo lottery's €2.24bn prize money." The Guardian. Dec. 21, 2014 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/21/spain-el-gordo-lottery-sodeto-documentary
- Carroll, Rory. "Bell did not invent telephone, US rules." The Guardian. June 17, 2002 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jun/17/humanities.internationaleducationnews
- Carroll, Rory. "Melanie Martinez: the unluckiest woman in America." The Guardian. Aug. 31, 2012 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2012/aug/31/melanie-martinez-americas-unluckiest-woman?newsfeed=true
- Connolly, Ray. "Pete Best: The happiest Beatle of all." Daily Mail. April 7, 2007 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-447201/Pete-Best-The-happiest-Beatle-all.html
- Daley, Suzanne. "In Spanish Village, Everyone's a Winner. Almost." The New York Times. Jan. 31, 2012 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/world/europe/tiny-village-of-sodeto-wins-big-in-spains-lottery.html?pagewanted=all
- Hall, James. "Sacked Beatle Pete Best has unfinished business with Paul McCartney." The Financial Review. April 13, 2018 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.afr.com/lifestyle/arts-and-entertainment/music/sacked-beatle-pete-best-has-unfinished-business-with-paul-mccartney-20180405-h0ye02
- Hough, Andrew. "Frano Selak: 'world's luckiest man' gives away his lottery fortune." The Telegraph. May 14, 2010 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7721985/Frano-Selak-worlds-luckiest-man-gives-away-his-lottery-fortune.html
- Martin, Emmie. "Apple just hit a $1 trillion market cap — here's why its little-known third co-founder sold his 10% share for $800." CNBC. Aug. 2, 2018 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/02/why-ronald-wayne-sold-his-10-percent-stake-in-apple-for-800-dollars.html
- McNeill, David. "How I Survived Hiroshima — and Then Nagasaki." The Independent. March 26, 2009 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-i-survived-hiroshima-ndash-and-then-nagasaki-1654294.html
- Nobel, Justin. "The True Story of History's Only Known Meteorite Victim." National Geographic. Feb. 20, 2013 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/02/130220-russia-meteorite-ann-hodges-science-space-hit/
- Roy, Amit. "Thank God! Jason and Jenny Aren't Coming Here." The Telegraph of India. Dec. 2, 2008 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/thank-god-jason-jenny-aren-t-coming-here/cid/515963
- Sack, Kevin. "Richard Jewell, 44, Hero of Atlanta Attack, Dies." The New York Times. Aug. 30, 2007 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/30/us/30jewell.html
- Wayne, Ron. "Why I Left Apple Computer After Only 12 Days, In My Own Words." Facebook. Feb. 22, 2012 (Oct. 22, 2018) https://www.facebook.com/RonGWayne/posts/370073493010333