For as long as there have been people of power and prestige, there have been bodyguards. Although movies and television might paint the life of a bodyguard as exciting and exotic, it is often equal parts tedium and danger, long hours on edge anticipating the worst. Below are 10 facts about bodyguards, from men who protected world leaders to those who betrayed the very men they were paid to protect.
A member of the SS, Rochus Misch served as one of Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards throughout World War II. Misch was very close to the Fuhrer, claiming that Adolf gave him the generous wedding present of 1,000 marks and 40 bottles of wine in 1942. Misch said that he was present during the 1944 “July Plot” to assassinate Hitler and was present in the bunker when Adolf and his new bride Eva Braun committed suicide. After the war, he was captured and tortured by the Soviets and sentenced to hard labor, then released eight years later. Thereafter, he and his wife Gerda operated a store in Berlin.
Despite the fact that Gerda was Jewish (a secret the couple’s daughter wouldn’t reveal until 2009), Misch has been described as one of the most profound Hitler apologists and Holocaust deniers. In a 2005 interview, he said, “I ask you, if Hitler really did all the terrible things people now say he did, how could he have been our Fuhrer? How is that possible?” The last survivor of Hitler’s death bunker, Misch died in 2013 at the age of 96.
Serving as a bodyguard is one of those jobs that the public views as rife with excitement. A bodyguard is always on edge, ready to reach for his gun and engage in battle to protect his charge. However, any guard that is frequently called upon to perform violence is probably bad at his job. The vast majority of any good bodyguard’s responsibilities call for planning any possible contingencies ahead of time and sticking to a tight protocol.
For instance, if a member of a security detail is called upon to be a driver, his sole responsibility is to stay behind the wheel, no matter what happensoutside the car. His job is to memorize primary routes, alternate routes in case of emergency, and the locations of safe houses. He is advised to keep the gas tank full and the car idling at all times in case a quick getaway is required. While this might seem like the work of little more than a glorified taxi driver, it’s all an integral part of a speedy evacuation.
8Al Capone’s Brother
Al Capone was born into a sprawling Italian family with nine children. Two of his brothers, Ralph and Frank, joined him on the dark side, but his brother James took an entirely different road. James left home as a teenager and served in World War I. Thereafter, he changed his name to Richard Hart (after Western film star William Hart), presumably to distance himself from his older brother Al, who was already beginning to establish an ugly reputation in New York. Bizarrely enough, he became a federal Prohibition agent in Homer, Nebraska. His Wild West panache and habit of carrying twin pearl-handled pistols earned him the nickname “Two Gun Hart.”
He was later hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to control the presence of alcohol on various reservations. In the summer of 1927, Hart was assigned, along with other lawmen, to act as a bodyguard for President Calvin Coolidgeand his wife while the couple visited the Black Hills of South Dakota. The irony is almost unbelievable—one brother was protecting the President of the United States at the same moment the other was running the most notorious crime syndicate in America.
The vast majority of bodyguards won’t be tasked with anything more daunting than clearing a path through a mob of autograph seekers, but the potential for danger is always on the table. Few can attest to the sacrifices a guard might have to make better than Trevor Rees-Jones, who served as the bodyguard for Egyptian heir Dodi Fayed. On August 31, 1997, Jones was in a Mercedes Benz carrying Dodi Fayed, Princess Diana, and the driver, Henri Paul. The car was traveling at 100 kilometers per hour (65 mph) in an attempt to elude paparazzi when it crashed head-on into a wall. None of the passengers was wearing a seat belt.
Fayed and Paul died at the scene, and Diana passed shortly afterward from extensive internal damage. How Rees-Jones survived at all is a study in the miracle of modern medicine. Although the airbag in the Mercedes deployed, Trevor’s face was demolished. According to Dr. Luc Chikhani, the attending plastic surgeon, “We’d never seen a case like this. All the bones were smashed. His profile was completely flat.” His own mother only recognized him from scars on his legs.
It took 11 and a half hours to perform the initial surgery to repair Rees-Jones’s face, patching it back into shape with over 30 titanium plates and screws and using family photographs as a model. Years later, he still bears deep scars and his memories of the night are hazy, but he does claim to remember Diana calling out for Dodi after the crash.
Conspiracy theorists had a field day with the crash, with some (including billionaire business magnate Mohamed Al-Fayed), claiming that the incident had been orchestrated by MI6 on instructions from the British royal family. The truth was a little more mundane—driver Henri Paul was drunk at the time and had been taking prescription drugs that were incompatible with alcohol.
Winston Churchill was one of the most photographed subjects of World War II. A close examination of this material often reveals a stern, flint-eyed subject in the background. This man was Walter Thompson, Churchill’s personal bodyguard. Thompson served Churchill for two stints totaling 18 years between 1921 and 1945.
There were few human beings on the planet who carried a bigger bull’s-eye on their back than Winston. In the 1920s, when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies (and therefore responsible for Ireland), he was targeted by the IRA. During World War II, when he served as Prime Minister, there was a bounty on his head from any number of organizations, including the Nazis, various nationalist groups, and, of course, the odd lunatic. In 1940, Thompson defended Churchill from the mistress of French prime minister Paul Reynaud, Countess Helene de Portes, who tried to attack him in a fit of rage.
Despite his stoicism, the pressures of the job did get to Thompson, resulting in a nervous breakdown and the end of his first marriage. After he retired from service at the close of World War II, he received the British Empire Medal and would later pen a successful autobiography detailing his adventures. Churchill would go on to die at the ripe old age of 90, but he surely would have succumbed years previously if not for the efforts of his trusted bodyguard.
5Michael Clarke Duncan And The Notorious B.I.G.
The hulking Michael Clarke Duncan is perhaps best remembered for the role of the simple minded, magical giant in The Green Mile. Duncan got his start in the mid-1990s, appearing in bit parts on TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Married With Children. Meanwhile, he paid the bills by acting as a bodyguard for some of the biggest names in entertainment.
One of his charges was rapper Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. In early 1997, Wallace had taken on extra security as the East Coast/West Coast rap feud heated up in the wake of Tupac Shakur’s death. Duncan was scheduled to work for Wallace on the night of March 8, but he switched shifts with a co-worker who was performing security for Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. At 12:45 AM, the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down inside his GMC Suburban in Los Angeles following a party hosted by VIBE magazine. Duncan heard the tragic news the next morning and asserted that it was the last night he would work as a bodyguard.
For a long time, female bodyguards were decidedly rare. But in recent years, they’ve become more and more prevalent in the bodyguard business. Deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi famously employed a retinue of women known as the “Amazonian Guard” to protect him. According to one female bodyguard, the appeal is largely their ability to blend in.
Female guards appeal to Arab clientele in particular, who for religious reasons are uncomfortable with unrelated men being around female family members. Female bodyguards are also popular in China and Russia, as in the case of model-turned-guard Anna Loginova, who served clients like Russian Light Welterweight boxer Kostya Tszyu. Despite her training, Loginova was involved in a carjacking in 2008 and died defending her own Porsche Cayenne.
The vetting process for hiring bodyguards is intense; after all, you’re not merely hiring them for their defensive capabilities, but for their loyalty as well. You are literally putting your life in their hands. Not surprisingly, this has backfired in a number of instances. Perhaps the most notable instance in recent history was the assassination of Indira Gandhi, who was shot dead on October 31, 1984, by bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, who were Sikhs.
While Satwant had only recently been employed as a guard, Beant had been known to Gandhi for a decade. The two men were taken into custody, where they apparently tried to attack other officers and were gunned down. Beant was killed and Satwant survived—only to be hanged later. The assassination was a retaliation due to clashes between the small Sikh minority of India and the Hindu majority.
In 2011, Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri allegedly shot Taseer because of the governor’s hard-line approach of denying capital punishment to those who insulted Islam. Some in the Muslim community view Qadri as a hero, and a mosque is being built in Faizabad, Pakistan in his honor.
In his salad days, Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier was a defensive tackle for the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams. After his retirement, Grier was inspired by Robert Kennedy’s views on civil rights and the two became close friends. On the night RFK was assassinated at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel, Grier was acting as bodyguard to Kennedy’s wife, Ethel Kennedy. Grier was a few steps behind, walking with Ethel, when chaos rang out. Ethel toppled to the floor and Rosey went to assist her, but as the screaming increased, he ran into the kitchen to find that Robert had already been shot.
Grier was able to disarm the assassin and keep him from becoming the victim of mob violence. He was crushed by the incident and would go on to say, “When Bobby Kennedy died, it changed my life completely. It was a tragedy for his children, his family and for all of us. I gave up football and became involved in trying to help young men avoid a life of violence, and now I’m a minister working to help the community. That’s something Bobby taught me: that individuals can make a difference. That was his inspiration, and God’s message to us all.”
1Lincoln’s Missing Bodyguard
The Secret Service was formed in 1865, the year that Abraham Lincoln was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth. However, the initial purpose of the agency was not to protect the President, but to halt the flow of counterfeit currency. On the night he was killed, Lincoln was under the protection of a single police officer named John Parker. Despite having survived an earlier assassination attempt, Lincoln was not overly concerned about his security. Unfortunately, there could not have been a worse choice to protect him. Parker had a spotty history of drinking and sleeping on duty.
During the play at Ford’s Theatre, Parker had been given a seat were he could keep close watch on the President. Unfortunately, he decided to go have a drink at the nearby Star Saloon during intermission. When Booth approached, Parker wasn’t anywhere near his station. Historians debate whether his presence would have made any difference anyway—Booth was a big star at the time and probably would have been allowed to visit with Lincoln just as Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington would likely be allowed to shake President Obama’s hand today.
Despite his lethally irresponsible behavior, Parker kept his job, even being assigned at least once to protect Mrs. Lincoln, who viciously upbraided him for his role in Abe’s death. Three years later, he was once again caught snoozing on the job and was finally fired from the police force.