Tell Us About the Most Incredible and Unlikely Historic Friendships

Check out this picture of Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain, then keep reading…

(Image: Recuerdos de Pandora/CC BY-SA 2.0)

That’s cool, but it’s not the greatest historic friendship ever. Whenever I get down there’s one image that I like to think of:

Just look at it. George Lucas. David Bowie. Jim Henson. Having a laugh while working on Labyrinth. I like to think about what their conversations must have been like, what it must have felt like to just be around three creative juggernauts (George Lucas still counted back then). It’s maybe one of my favorite examples of an unlikely collaboration/friendship among iconic cultural figures, but it’s far from the only one. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (or as I like to call them, “The Initials Clique”). Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald. These are all pretty modern examples, but the list goes on and on. Now tell us about your favorite unlikely, surprising, inspiring, or just plain fascinating friendships and collaborations throughout history!

In the conversation below, tell us about your favorite unlikely historic friendship. Include any interesting trivia or anecdotes about the relationship that you might know (Tolkien and Lewis saw Snow White together!), and why the relationship means so much to you. If there’s any pictures of the people together, include that too! Your responses may be included in an upcoming round-up article on Atlas Obscura. Friendship makes the world go round, but some friendships shake its foundations.


You already took my favourite - J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Hah, “The Initials Clique” - that’s a good one. Inklings forever!


I love this stuff. Einstein and Chaplin became good friends after Einstein started teaching at CalTech. Geniuses of completely different varieties. I imagine them sitting around and cracking each other up. Here’s a picture from when the Einsteins came as Chaplin’s “date” to the premier of City Lights.


Oh this is a good one! I had no idea!

Off the top of my head , here are a few that I can remember.

Alexander Von Humboldt and Simon Bolivar

Ernest Hemmingway and Roald Dahl

Thom Yorke and Daniel Craig

Rudyard Kipling and T.E. Lawrence

Wilfred Thesiger and Haile Selassie

M.K. Ghandi and Charlie Chaplin

Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Jean Paul Sartre

Orson Welles and Winston Churchill

Fidel Castro and Muhammed Ali

David Attenborough and Bjork

Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata

Ernst Junger and Albert Hoffman

David Bowie and Nina Simone

Jorge Luis Borges and Ernesto Sabato

Julio Cortazar and Charlie Parker

Marlon Brando and Desmond Morris


Your knowledge of incredible friends is very impressive. Would have loved to be in a room with Orson Welles and Winston Churchill. I bet they talked about jowls a lot.


Well that would be a common ground thing as they were both quite jowly / bulldog-like guys.


David Attenborogh and Bjork! That’s pretty great.


Bowie and Iggy Pop is another great creative friendship. They became close while Bowie was recording his albums in Berlin- Iggy helped Bowie kick a nasty cocaine habit, and Bowie helped Iggy with his heroin addiction. They hung out, and Bowie played piano in some of Iggy’s live performances in the 70s. As a thanks later, Bowie recorded Iggy’s song ‘China Girl’ because some of the royalties would go to his (then struggling financially) friend.

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney is another legendary friendship, but the story behind that one ending is legendarily full of animosity. Paul suggested buying rights to popular songs as a way to have passive income- his umbrella company had bought the rights to many songs. Michael responded by buying the rights to many Beatles songs, despite Paul and Yoko Ono trying to pool their money and buy them from a previous management company.


Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

Henry Ford and Walt Disney.

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Definitely an interesting one. There was a fascinating documentary about it a while back by the BBC , the two of them met up and talked about how nature inspires music.

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Seth Bullock (of Deadwood) and Teddy Roosevelt.

A$AP Rocky and Donald Trump…


A couple of unusual friendships spring to mind…

Brian Eno (musician) and Danny Hillis (inventor of super-computing) take an annual week long drive around the USA.


Samuel Beckett (playwright) and Andre the Giant (wrestler).


Thank you for sharing this video. I thoroughly enjoyed it and yes, even laughed out loud. :slight_smile:

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Ginsberg and Scalia come to mind for recent history. They served 22 years together and despite being opposite ends of the political/social spectrum managed to treat each other with civility and respect. They would as readily make jokes about each other as they would pay compliments on one another. We could learn a lot from their ability to keep things civil. More information is easy to find vai the net on their unlikely yet long lived friendship.


Marlon Brando and Wally Cox. They were roommates for several years.


Don’t forget Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Ford first met his boyhood idol in 1896 when he worked as a chief engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company. They forged a friendship that was nurtured on yearly road trips/glamping adventures. How great is that?

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Alice Cooper and Salvador Dali.
In 1973 Salvador Dalí created a portrait of Alice Cooper’s brain using chocolate éclairs, ants, diamonds and early holographic technology.


I am preeeeety obsessed with this idea and have spent some time drawing maps of these relationships! Here is one I did that starts with the painter Vermeer and the scientist Leeuwenhoek, because it’s an amazing example of where it seems almost certain they knew each other and influenced each otherbut we can’t know for sure. The rest of these relationships are well documented