The stories behind the names we all know: The man from that photo

Photo: Alberto Korda

Names and images are pretty memorable things, but the stories behind their significance not so much. Many of us, when presented with the name – or face – of a famous person will recognise it; however, that’s all we can do, recognise them: if asked, we would not be able to say why they are famous.  Either the information simply slips our minds, as we have so many other things to remember as students, or we were just never made aware of the stories behind their fame.

Here’s the thing about famous historical people – there’s a lot of them. As students we learn about these people everyday through a variety of sources. But no matter who you are, there has been a moment when you were presented with the image of a historical figure and all you can respond with is “I think he’s a famous old actor”. This series focuses on famous, almost mythic people about whom most people generally know very little about. We will aim to remind/inform you of the stories behind some of these famous people.

As the series progresses you will come across some names that you already know a lot about. But remember, everyone’s different life experiences leaves them with a unique set of gaps – and some of the names you know very little about will seem obvious to someone else.

The first person to kick-start this series is Che Guevara, who is also known as “that communist dude” or our personal favourite “The hottest mass-murderer of all time”. Here is all you need to know about that guy.


Che Guevara: ‘The man from that photo.’

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Lived: 1928 – 1967

In 10 words: Charismatic, attractive, ruthless Marxist revolutionary, the symbol of anti-authoritarianism.

His deal:

We can’t be the only ones who have spent their lives wondering about why the guy on the t-shirts and posters is such a big deal. Time Magazine has named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the 20th century, and today his image is a ubiquitous insignia that symbolizes rebellion against authority, capitalism and imperialism. But who was ‘El Che’?

Che was an Argentine, chess loving, Marxist intellectual. He gained a medical degree and became a doctor, before deciding that he’d rather be a rad dude, taking two long motorcycle journeys across South America which fundamentally changed the way he viewed the U.S and the conditions in Latin America. His ambitions led him to Mexico City where he met the infamous Castro brothers and immediately hit it off because both parties shared a mutual hatred of the US and blamed imperialism and neocolonialism for most of the world’s suffering. Together, they sailed to Cuba and overthrew the brutal government there in a 2 year long guerrilla war. He was a pivotal member of Fidel Castro’s regime, both as brutal executioner of members of the previous governments, and as the Cuban finance minister. He was largely responsible for shifting Cuban trade relations away from the US and towards the Soviet Union. He was a pretty lively dude, spending most of his time in other countries trying to incite revolution, until he messed up and was captured by the CIA equipped Bolivian military and executed at the age of 39.

Things He Hopes We Don’t Remember:

  • As Minister of Finance in Cuba, the motivational principle he put in action was a massive failure and caused an increase in absenteeism.
  • “I ended the problem with a 32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain…. His belongings were now mine.”
  • Many view him as the butcher of La Cabaña due to his role in executing thousands of suspected war criminals and political prisoners.
  • Known to his friends as Chancho, which translates to pig. This was due to the fact that he would brag about how long he would go without bathing.
  • The two radio transmitters given to him by Havana while he was in Bolivia were faulty. He was left isolated and with nobody to help him – then he died.

Other Notable Facts:

  • He had 2 wives and, 5 children. It looks like he used guerrilla tactics in the bedroom as well as in the field.
  • He had Chronic Asthma.
  • He was a fully qualified doctor, sworn to save lives…
  • His real name was Ernesto Lynch, which wasn’t catchy enough.
  • He had a taste for poetry, chess, and philosophy, despite being rather violent.
  • The CIA’s ‘biographical and personality report’ stated “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino.”
  • He was raised to sainthood after death, Saint Che.
  • The days that Guevara described as the most painful during the war in Bolivia were partly due to his allergy of mosquito bites that caused them to turn into bubons.
  • He signed the Cuban banknotes by simply writing ‘Che’ showing just how much he valued money.

Last Words:  “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.”

Written by Sam Ashworth, Ali Shah and Alberto Ferro