Why 2016 was the most surreal year ever

Sean Rossman
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Fisher and Reynolds arrive for Elizabeth Taylor's 75th birthday party at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2007 in Henderson, Nev.

Good riddance, 2016.

It was tragic.

Scores of beloved pop culture icons died in 2016. Children were snatched by alligators and gorillas. We witnessed people die on Facebook Live, and dozens were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.

 It was bizarre.

A hip-hop musical about our founding fathers tore up Broadway and the Chicago Cubs ended a more than century-long World Series skid. And oh yeah, Donald Trump outlasted all other candidates to win the presidency.

So, it's fitting "surreal" was the word of the year in 2016. Merriam-Webster said the word's definition was searched significantly more frequently by users in 2016 than in other years. Meaning, "Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream," the word spiked most during Trump's victory, but also after terrorist attacks in Belgium and France and an attempted coup in Turkey.

How surreal was it? Remember all this?

Everyone died

Well, not everyone, but it seemed that way.


Celebrity deaths came swiftly with 2016's arrival, starting with David Bowie in January and followed by pretty much everyone we loved from film, music and even the halls of power.

The most heartbreaking came at the end, when actress Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack on an airplane. A day later, her bereft mother, actress and singer Debbie Reynolds, died after she was rushed to the hospital. 

Hollywood and music took the biggest hits, losing Prince, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Garry Shandling and Leonard Cohen among others.

Sports icons weren't spared. Boxing great Muhammad Ali, Pat Summit and Arnold Palmer all died. The year's fallen government leaders included former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn, Fidel Castro, Antonin Scalia, Shimon Peres, Nancy Reagan and Janet Reno.

Just when we thought we couldn't take anymore, December took from us — in rapid succession — singer George Michael, actor Alan Thicke, Fisher and Reynolds.


A Mexican soap opera star and Spicoli helped capture a drug lord

Sean Penn, drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.

Actor Sean Penn's foray into journalism, in which he stealthily visited and interviewed Mexican drug lord El Chapo, led to the fugitive's January arrest.

Other than Penn's incidental take-down of a cartel leader, the story proved to be more interesting for who was involved— Penn's A-list persona, the underground Mexican drug trade and the romance of Mexican telenovelas.

Mexico Attorney General Arely Gomez said El Chapo's connection with Penn broke their search open. El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman, had sought out producers and actors for his biopic. Penn and soap opera star Kate del Castillo would visit Guzman, who at the time was on the lam after escaping a Mexican jail a second time.

Penn, in an explosive and controversial article he penned for Rolling Stone, described the meeting in Mexico, which he conceded was a failure because it didn't spark a broader conversation about the war on drugs. Castillo, a noted critic of the Mexican government, would come under investigation for her contacts with Guzman. The pen pal bond she built Guzman led to the interview, but her flirtatious text messages with the drug lord raised eyebrows. And more, there were questions over whether Guzman helped bankroll her tequila business.

Meanwhile, Guzman faces serious charges in the United States, among them murder, weapons possession, organized crime and money laundering.

"Fake news" entered the zeitgeist

Police surround Comet Ping Pong after a man with an assault rifle entered the restaurant. The restaurant that was the subject of a fake news story claiming it was the center of a child sex ring orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John Podesta.

Forget sensationalism, or yellow journalism. 2016 went for the jugular with what now has become known as "fake news."

It means exactly what it sounds like, and it played a huge role in our presidential search and even sparked an initiative by those at Facebook to get rid of it.

It's everywhere, for gosh sakes. It perpetuated the rumor a 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim was a myth and that his mourning father was a paid actor. More famously, a man shot up a Washington D.C. pizza shop because he believed — through fake news — the restaurant hosted a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton.

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the threat of fake news. As did Clinton, who called it a danger.

A sexting investigation derailed our presidential contest

Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton.

FBI Director James Comey's late-October decision to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information recast attention on the closed investigation, throwing the already divisive election into complete disarray.

The source of the review was very 2016: A separate investigation into allegations former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sending sexual messages to a 15-year-old girl. Investigators found the Clinton emails while searching Weiner's devices, which were also accessible by his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Ultimately, Comey's office again decided not to charge Clinton after reviewing the emails. 

People started chasing Pokemon again

A man plays Pokemon while commuting home from work inside a train in Bangkok, Thailand. Pokemon Go's debut in Thailand alarmed the country's military regime, prompting the junta chief to warn youngsters against playing too much and the army to ban the game from barracks.

Pokemon's resurgence hit like a ton of bricks this year. The Japanese characters that captured hearts in the late 1990s returned to our smartphones.

But the nostalgia almost was too much for some. Pokemon Go, the game in which players capture Pokemon out in the wild using their cell phones, proved to be downright dangerous and stripped us of our human decency.

Police reported several close calls shortly after the game launched, prompting agencies to warn people to stay alert while playing the game.  

People wouldn't stop playing, even at risk of life. Two men fell off a cliff, a man slammed his vehicle into a Baltimore police car and an Arizona couple was charged with counts of child abuse after they were accused of leaving their 2-year-old son home alone to go play the game.

It caused other issues. One woman discovered a body while playing. The Pentagon urged troops and other Defense Department employees not to play on their government cell phones and a Michigan couple filed a class action lawsuit claiming the game had ruined Americans' quality of life. Nothing was sacred. Players invaded cemeteries and museums to honor Holocaust victims. 

All in the name of Pokemon.

An Access Hollywood segment about a soap opera cameo became a major talking point in the presidential election

Donald Trump's hot-mic conversation during which he brags about groping women, incited a wave of backlash just a month before Election Day.

The infamous conversation, obtained by the Washington Post, was taped on an Access Hollywood bus ahead of a segment on Trump's appearance on Days of Our Lives

Among Trump's most notorious anecdotes were his comments about a married woman and his encounters with beautiful women.

"I did try and f--- her," he said of one woman. "I moved on her like a b---- but I couldn't get there."

He later said he immediately starts kissing beautiful women.

"I don't even wait," he said. "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything — grab them by the p----."

Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman

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