Salvador Dali’s birthday is this Wednesday, and while we could use that opportunity to talk about his contributions to surrealism, let’s be real: we all want to talk about his exotic pets. And offensive masquerade costumes. And deeply upsetting birthday presents. To celebrate the eccentric man’s legacy, here are six of the most eccentric things about him. Now you know where Archer gets its ocelot jokes from.
1. He believed he was the reincarnation of his dead older brother
Before Salvador Dali was born in 1904, his parents had another son named Salvador. That boy died before his brother came into the world, and his specter was a major presence in Dali’s life. When Salvador was five, his parents took him to his older brother’s grave and told him he was the reincarnation of their deceased eldest son. Apparently, little Salvador kinda bought it. He would later express some of these complicated feelings through a portrait of his older bro (or self?) in 1963.
2. He had a pet ocelot named Babou
For an oddball like Dali, a simple cat just wouldn’t suffice. Instead, he kept a Colombian ocelot named Babou as a pet. Dali frequently took Babou with him on trips, just to make sure everyone knew he had freaking ocelot. And it worked: even the writers of Archer took notice.
3. He got embroiled in a Lindbergh baby scandal
In 1935, Dali’s friend Caresse Crosby decided to throw him a “surrealist ball.” He was about to return to Europe after a year in New York, and so a bizarre masquerade party seemed like the appropriate send-off. In keeping with the theme, Dali’s wife Gala came as an “exquisite corpse.” The costume included a baby doll, strapped to her head and devoured by ants. Because of the timing, a reporter interpreted this as an offensive reference to the Lindbergh baby. The story had spread all over Paris by the time Dali and Gala arrived, forcing the couple to apologize for a scandal they didn’t even spark.
4. He nearly suffocated on an antique diving costume he wore to a lecture
Dali was a guest speaker at the 1936 International Surrealist Exposition in London and, in order to demonstrate his genius, he delivered his talking points in an old deep-sea diving helmet and suit. But Dali obviously didn’t do a test run, because he almost suffocated in the helmet mid-lecture. The crowd was supposedly so enthralled with the artist that they believed his wild gesticulations were part of the act, but luckily, a more level-headed poet by the name of David Gascoyne came to the rescue.
5. He did a book signing from bed… in the middle of a store
As a promotional stunt for his 1962 book, The World of Salvador Dali, the artist set up his own private hospital room right in a Manhattan bookstore. While wired to machines measuring his blood pressure and brain waves, he signed copies for fans -- who even got a souvenir printout of the man’s BP readings to take with them.
6. He gave Mia Farrow a dead rat for her birthday
The fact that Dali was close friends with teenage Mia Farrow is weird enough. But the present he gave her when she turned 19 was truly out there. He called it “Violence in a Bottle” and it was a large glass jar containing a lizard chowing down on a rat. Guess that’s what friends are for?
Feature image via Wikicommons