Every man could use a role model. For many of us, it's our father. Maybe for you it's Michael Jordan. Or Barack Obama. Or Jesus. Point is, it's entirely up to you, but it's still a good idea to have someone to emulate -- but not copy. You don't have to start speaking with an Italian accent just because you think Galileo was the man. We're just saying that over the course of human history, certain men (and women) have stood tall, sometimes above all others during their particular time, and the reasons their lives are (or were) so remarkable are worth exploring.

Often those lives played out in reality, although sometimes the incredible feats we admire in others were created inside the minds of talented artists. Either way, we all need a little guidance now and then — especially when we get lost in the scramble of this cruel world. With that thought in mind, here are 10 world-class icons to help mold your own humble existence.

  • 1

    Mahatma Gandhi

    Gandhi is, plainly, the man. He championed nonviolent resistance in the 20th century and brought an end to British colonial rule in India. He was a human being of incredible mental and physical discipline, with great insight into the nature of society and the human heart. You’d be setting the bar extremely high if you sought to achieve even a fraction of his wisdom and achievement — but why not shoot for the stars?

  • 2

    Max Rockatansky (aka Mad Max)

    Mad Max is the universal id that struggles with questions of survival and a reason for being. Despite the violence and brutality of his existence -- his wife and infant son were murdered, driving him nearly insane, now he cruises through the Wasteland alone in search of food and gasoline -- Max eventually finds his way back to humanity. He does so by helping those in need. Rescuing others in a world that often seems without meaning is the act of a humble hero, as well as the embodiment our baser selves striving for something better.

  • 3

    James Madison

    Founding father James Madison exemplifies some of the best a nascent country had to offer (and some of the worst, as he did own slaves). Madison was the nation's fourth president and one of the main authors of the Federalist Papers, which led to his being dubbed "The Father of the Constitution." Not bad, as far as nicknames go. He was also an important advocate for the Bill of Rights. You could do a lot worse than aspiring toward a legacy of public service like James Madison’s.

  • 4

    Bethany Hamilton

    This one-armed surfer (who is, yes, a woman) could teach the fellas out there a thing or two about true grit. While surfing at the tender age of 13, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a tiger shark. Despite her injury, she got back up on her board and eventually became a professional surfer (with a custom board designed just for her), author and media personality. Talk about incredible perseverance in the face of hardship, about following your dream no matter what the obstacle, about ... well, choose your own inspirational cliché.

  • 5


    Not real and certainly not human, but still, this lovable, battle-hardened Wookiee exemplifies all the traits you'd want in a friend. He’s incredibly strong, loyal to a fault, doesn’t talk too much and can fly starships (a skill those in our galaxy will need one day). What more could you ask for in a giant teddy bear and Afghan Hound combination?

  • 6

    Easy Rawlins

    Easy Rawlins, the P.I. brought to life by author Walter Ellis Mosley, plies the detective trade in Los Angeles in true-crime fiction fashion. This WWII vet goes about building his career while bringing an element of relatable compassion to the racial politics and injustices that permeate American life. While not perfect, Easy strives to better himself in an unfair world, and generally succeeds through force of will, a strong sense of what's right, and the desire to get ahead.

  • 7

    Elon Musk

    Elon Musk is often called the “real-life Tony Stark,” and if the public at large is comparing him to Iron Man, he must be doing something right. Musk helped create PayPal and Tesla Motors (the cars with "Insane Mode"), then took his money and founded SpaceX. He's also working on something called the Hyperloop, which sounds amazing. We could say the sky's the limit for this mega mind, but since he’s busy building rockets that shoot into space, the sky really isn't even close to being the limit.

  • 8

    Muhammad Ali

    "The Greatest," aka Muhammad Ali, well ... that nickname really says it all, doesn’t it? He was an inspiration to millions, unabashed in how he fought and sparred (with both fists and words) in life, exuding charisma by the ton while advocating for social change. He wasn’t without his share of controversy, but anyone who manages to capture even an iota of Cassius Clay in his or her own life would be on the right track to carving out a righteous existence.

  • 9


    The “Father of Modern Science” changed the way humanity viewed its place in the universe (pointing out that we are not actually the center of it), ruffled the feathers of the establishment of his day (the Catholic Church), and got us to really try to figure out the stars above. Galileo Galilei vastly improved the world he was a part of, and his contributions to humanity can still be felt today. Not bad, as far as time spent on this tiny planet goes.

  • 10

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a brilliant man who isn’t limited by labels and is curious about almost everything. This astrophysicist, science educator and host of the reboot of the Cosmos television series has a knack for breaking down the amazingly complex into digestible pieces for the masses to consume. In an age when science reigns supreme — yet many still ignore basic scientific facts — that’s quite a skill. Tyson speaks truth to power, and indeed truth to all (the wise and ignorant alike).


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