Oscar’s most memorable moments almost never come courtesy of the planned production numbers or the acceptance speeches. Nothing sticks in the memory more than something unexpected, especially when it is also shocking and controversial. Perhaps no moment in Academy Awards history was more unexpected and memorable than what occurred during the 1974 ceremonies as co-host David Niven stepped onstage to announce the name of the next presenter. Few people today remember that it was mega-star Elizabeth Taylor who presented the next award, much less what that award was. What is remembered is that Niven was interrupted by the sight of a naked man racing across the stage behind him. Niven’s response has led many to suggest the whole thing was an arranged stunt: “Isn’t is fascinating to think that the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing his shortcomings.” A little too clever for some to believe that Niven came up with it on his own. Niven’s quip has gone into Academy Award trivia books, but the name of the streaker has been lost to history.
The Oscar streaker was named Robert Opel. He had been quickly apprehended by the security guards backstage and he revealed to them that he had managed to get past them in the first place by masquerading as a reporter. Had it happened today, the press would feature his story ahead of Iraq and he would have been interviewed on every talk show and entertainment show around. Robert Opel in 2008 would become a bona fide celebrity and possibly even make a deal for his own reality show based on what crazy stunt he would try next. In 1974 you still usually had to have some kind of talent to become a celebrity. Robert Opel did the best he could to translate his moment of fame into a full time career. For awhile he was a moderately successful stand-up comedian. He also had a career of sorts as guest at swanky Hollywood parties where he would often strip down once again and streak. Poor Robert Opel was just born too early, however, and it wasn’t long before his celebrity ran out. He wound up owning a San Francisco sex shop by the late 70s. Things would get even worse. One night in July 1979 two men showed up in Opel’s store with guns, demanding money and drugs. Opel, perhaps unwisely, responded to their threat to blow off his head if he didn’t comply by telling them they’d have to blow his head since had no money. They responded by doing just that, in the process killing the most famous nobody to ever appear on the Academy Awards telecast.