William Jefferson Clinton, better known to the world as Bill, celebrates his 71st birthday on August 19, and while history will judge where he stands in the pantheon of presidents, there is no doubt that Clinton was one of the most skilled, successful, and charismatic politicians ever to appear on the national stage.
In 1992, Only 18 years from the time he was an unknown, 28-year-old University of Arkansas law professor running a losing campaign for Congress, Clinton came seemingly out of nowhere to defeat the sitting president, George H.W. Bush, and become the 42nd president of the United States.
Four years later, Clinton easily won reelection to a second term, soundly defeating a respected, veteran Republican senator, Bob Dole of Kansas, by 8.5 percentage points. And while his second term was dogged by a sex scandal involving Clinton and a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky, even impeachment proceedings against Clinton led by a Republican Congress could not dent his popularity.
Clinton survived the impeachment effort and remained in office, registering a whopping 66 percent job approval rating in December of 2000, his last full month as president — the highest approval rating ever recorded in the Gallup poll by a president in December of his last term.
Below are five fascinating facts about the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, that aren’t as widely known as his presidential accomplishments and scandals.
Clinton Was a Young Governor — But Not the Youngest Ever
When Clinton won the Arkansas gubernatorial election in 1978, he was only 32 years old — but his youth did not, in fact, make him the youngest person ever to serve as governor of a U.S. state. Nor did it make him the youngest former governor in American history, as he incorrectly claimed in his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
That honor, as well as the honor of “youngest governor ever elected,” belongs to the “boy governor” of Michigan, Stevens Mason — who became that state’s first governor when the Michigan Territory was granted statehood, largely thanks to Mason’s efforts, in 1837. Mason was only 24 years old. And when Mason stepped down he was only 28.
Clinton, however, was the second-youngest governor to leave office as the result of losing an election. After his first two-year term, Arkansas voters booted the then-34-year-old Clinton out. Only Idaho Governor Frank Hunt was younger, losing his 1902 reelection bid at the age of 31. In 1982, Clinton ran for governor again, and this time, he won.
His 1974 Congressional Race Featured the First ‘Clinton Scandal’
Clinton had aspired to a career in politics since boyhood, an aspiration that became destiny in his mind when at the age of 16, on July 24 of 1963, he traveled from Arkansas to Washington D.C. as part of the American Legion Boys Nation. There, he shook the hand of President John F. Kennedy. A photo of the historic meeting between the teenage Clinton and Kennedy can be seen by clicking on this link.
So when Clinton was only 28 years old and a mere six months out of Yale Law School, with no experience in public office, he ran for United States Congress. He took on a popular Republican incumbent, John Paul Hammerschmidt, in a heavily Republican district. Clinton lost the race, but he surged from only 23 percent in the polls as late as September to capture 48.2 percent of the vote in November — a stunning performance that marked the callow Clinton as potential political superstar.
But the race also featured what would be the first of numerous scandals that seemed to follow Clinton throughout his career and ultimately almost cost him his presidency. Compared to what was to come, the 1974 scandal was trivial, however, as Clinton faced anonymous accusations that while a law professor he had carelessly lost a pile of student test papers. Whether the scandal took any toll on Clinton at the time appears unlikely, as the race was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal coming to a conclusion in Washington with the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
He is an Avid Jazz Fan and Originally Planned To Become a Musician
Clinton took up the saxophone at age 9, and practiced diligently to become proficient on the instrument — attempting to emulate his musical heroes, the legendary jazz saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. But Clinton quickly realized that while he was a solid sax player, he would never reach the level of the great jazz artists.
“I could not stand to hear myself play until I was 15. By the time I was 16, I thought I was getting pretty good and I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘Would you ever be Coltrane?’ and the answer was no,” he recalled in a 2014 interview. “So I had to become a fan.”
Clinton’s knowledge of jazz is so extensive that he appeared as a commentator in a recent documentary about Coltrane, Chasing Trane, as seen in the promotional video below.
Johnny Carson Helped Save Clinton’s Political Career
Considered one of the Democratic Party’s brightest young stars, Clinton was selected in 1988 to give a nominating speech for the party’s presidential nominee that year — Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis — at the Democratic Convention. But given the biggest opportunity on the most prominent stage of his political life, Clinton completely botched it. He delivered a windy, 35-minute speech bogged down in intricate policy details that bored the convention crowd to the point where Clinton was nearly booed off the podium.
Realizing that the Arkansas governor had likely torpedoed his own political hopes by bombing in front of his first national audience, Clinton’s advisors came up with a plan — they would try to get the young politician booked on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which at the time was the most popular late-night talk show by a wide margin and hosted by the nation’s top tastemaker.
Carson initially refused, stating that he had a policy against allowing politicians on his show. But once the legendary late-night host relented, Clinton was booked — just a week after his disastrous convention debacle. Instinctively understanding the value of self-deprecating humor, Clinton traded good-natured one-liners with Carson, all at his own expense. The performance, in front of a larger TV audience than the convention itself, immediately rehabilitated Clinton’s image and propelled him into his own bid for the presidency four years later — a campaign that he would ultimately win.
Watch the behind-the-scenes story of Clinton’s career-saving Johnny Carson appearance, as told by close Clinton advisor and friend Harry Thomason, in the video below, courtesy of PBS.
Clinton Has Written a Novel and is Shopping the Rights to Hollywood
Collaborating with bestselling author James Patterson, Clinton recently completed his first novel, a thriller titled The President Is Missing. The plot of the book is being kept tightly under wraps, but Clinton has promised that it will be based on insider information that only a former president could know.
“Drawing on what I know about the job, life in the White House and the way Washington works has been a lot of fun,” Clinton said earlier this year.
The novel is due to be released in June of 2018 — but Clinton is not waiting until then to strike a movie deal for the book. Last month, the former president, along with Patterson, took several meetings in Los Angeles, pitching the book to such big-time producers and directors as Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and George Clooney. Whether or not they reached a deal to sell rights for the film adaptation has not been revealed.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]