The Beard Hall of Fame
Long before he invented the wheel or rendered the woolly mammoth extinct, man and beard forged a relationship that has sustained throughout the ages (especially during the winter months). Flowing facial locks and ringlets have come to define some of history’s most iconic figures, from philosophers to kings, lumberjacks to vikings, Sikhs to Hasidic Jews, and so on. This list of the all-time greatest beards is enough to make you get down on your knees and thank God you weren’t born a lady.
Best Athletic Beard: Brian Wilson
Even if Brian Wilson was a terrible pitcher, his epic face ‘fro would still earn him a spot on this list. But the fact is he’s one of the finest closers in modern baseball; he earned 48 saves in 2010 alone, a seasonal benchmark that has only been bested by four other National League pitchers since 1876. And let the record show that Wilson’s beard is merely one of the many extravagant styles he’s displayed over the years. He sported a spandex tuxedo to the 2011 Espy’s, and donned a pair of bright orange cleats during the 2010 All-Star Game; when the league fined him $1,000 for wearing ‘non-conforming shoes’, he bragged that he was “wearing too much awesome on [his] feet”.
Runners-up: Kimbo Slice, James Harden, Brett Kiesel
Best Hollywood Beard: Pai Mei
As if the Kill Bill films weren’t awesome enough, the second installment was graced with the presence of Pai Mei (played by Gordon Liu), a hard-nosed kung fu master whose tutelage is instrumental to Uma Thurman’s ass-slaying prowess. To say Pai Mei loves his long, wispy beard is an understatement. One of the character’s favorite pastimes is running his hands through the gleaming white mane that graces his chin, laughing maniacally all the while.
Runners-up: Leonidas (300), The Dude (The Big Lebowski), Joaquin Phoenix (real-life)
Best Literary Beard: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
He may not be considered the finest Russian novelist (that honor is typically bestowed to fellow beard-wearer, Leo Tolstoy), but Dostoyevsky’s presumably vodka-drenched mouth mullet ranks first among the world’s greatest literary minds. Imagine how difficult it must have been to write classics like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov by hand with his black beauty rustling against the parchment. Historians say old Fyodor led a troubled life (he spent time in a Siberian labor camp, and was nearly executed by a firing squad), but those moments spent in front of a mirror must have been positively blissful.
Runners-up: Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway, Alan Moore
Best Military Beard: Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Decorated Civil War general, successful industrialist, inventor, Rhode Island senator; Ambrose Burnside wore many hats during his lifetime, but none of them hold a candle to the epic hair helmet that adorned his face. You could make the argument that he never wore a beard at all; his mustache and cheek whiskers were always in full bloom, while his chin remained clean-shaven (the term ‘sideburns’ is derived from his surname). But before we disqualify old Ambrose on a slight technicality, feast your eyes on his marvelous growth pattern and then tell us he doesn’t belong on this list.
Runners-up: General Stonewall Jackson, Frederick I Barbarossa, Saladin
Best Musical Beard(s): ZZ Top
Was there any question? This classic rock trio — comprised of singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (can’t make that up) — has been churning out singable ballads since the early 70’s. But even die-hard fans know ZZ Top’s true trademark: abdomen-length man business. In 1984, Gillette offered the band $1 million to shave their facial hair as part of a razor ad campaign. They promptly declined. “No dice,” Gibbons said. “Even adjusted for inflation, this isn’t going to fly.” Amen, brother.
Runners-up: John Lennon (post-Beatles), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)
Best Philosophical Beard: Plato
What a fantastic beard convention Ancient Greece must have been! Sophocles, Socrates, Aristotle, Pericles — the list of grizzled Athenians goes on. And while we can only speculate as to who sported the finest fuzz drapes in all of Athens, historians and sculptors suggest that honor goes to Plato. When he wasn’t busy inventing modern democracy or questioning the material world, one assumes Plato spent a good deal of time grooming his beard and conditioning it with olive oil (or whatever they used back then).
Runners-up: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, David Kellogg Lewis
Best Presidential Beard: Benjamin Harrison
Most of us associate the commander-in-chief with a clean-cut appearance. But in the latter half of the 19th century, facial was highly fashionable — hell, it was downright customary — and a handful of presidents sported beards throughout their tenure, none more impressively than Benjamin Harrison. His administration (1889-93) was somewhat forgettable; his most notable contribution was passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (which he supported but barely enforced), while most historians remember him as the guy who served in between Grover Cleveland’s two, non-consecutive terms. But if sporting an awesome soup-catcher is Harrison’s most enduring presidential legacy, then so be it. Who cares about politics, anyway?
Runners-up: Abraham Lincoln, Chester A. Arthur, James Garfield
Best Scientific Beard: Charles Darwin
It’s only fitting that Darwin — a life-long naturalist and one of the first people to posit the theory that mankind evolved from apes — sported a beard of simian proportions. Though he was clean-shaven for most of his younger years, he spent the last decades of his life ensconced in a chaparral of white fur that would have made Kris Kringle jealous. To mark his 200th birthday in 2008, a few strands of Darwin’s wispy facial hair were displayed at the British Natural History Museum.
Runners-up: Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Edmong William Logan (Google him)
Best Villainous Beard: Grigori Rasputin
Of all the rat bastards to leave their stain on human history, Rasputin arguably sported the best beard — a dubious distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. The “Mad Monk” who helped bring down the Romanov Dynasty reportedly used his impressive chin stalks to seduce the tsarina, while the tsar apparently mistook Rasputin’s disheveled appearance for mystical prowess and enlisted in Rasputin to help his son beat hemophilia. While we can’t ascertain to the metaphysical powers of Rasputin’s beard, we do know that he was ridiculously hard to kill; he survived being stabbed, poisoned, shot, strangled, clubbed, and castrated before his assassins threw him in a river and drowned him once and for all.
Runners-up: Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Yosemite Sam