It’s 2019! Twenty years since the pivotal year of 1999, a monumental moment in time that saw a slew of memorable movies, songs, and all kinds of cultural events make waves across the globe.
1999 was also the last year of the 20th century and the millennium (well, depending on who you ask), and it went out with one hell of a bang. From worries about apocalyptic computer failures to the retirement of some of sport’s biggest stars to, well, the usual insanity we come to expect year-to-year, 1999 was packed to the gills.
Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane.
1. It was TV’s big year of debuts
A number of great shows appeared on the scene in 1999, including the widely beloved presidential drama The West Wing and cult favorites Futurama and Freaks and Geeks. Two classic standouts also took the world by storm that year. For kids, it was the irreverent and surreal SpongeBob SquarePants, which continues to delight youngsters and stoners alike.
And, for the parents, there was the launch of HBO’s The Sopranos. David Chase’s incisive look at the violence and psychology surrounding a mob boss and his family — both blood and Mafia — has since gone down in the annals as one of the great TV dramas of all-time.
2. Bill Clinton was acquitted in impeachment trial
It’s getting harder to talk about our current president without at least thinking about the “i-word” — what with the scandals that have hit the administration, and more surely to come. But 20 years ago, there was an actual impeachment to deal with. For a time, anyway. After much hand-wringing, bloviating, and debate, on February 12, 1999, then-President Bill Clinton was acquitted on two charges of impeachment (perjury, obstruction of justice). While the acquittal brought the legal proceedings related to the scandal to a close, the fallout would echo through time, and follow the Clintons all the way into Hillary’s 2016 presidential candidacy.
3. Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan
Heading into the 1999 Oscars, few thought that any film other than Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s visceral World War II epic, would walk away with the Best Picture statue. Ryan racked up scores of awards and 11 Oscar nominations. But it was the period piece Shakespeare in Love, with its 13 nominations, that would shock Hollywood by bringing home Best Picture in one of the more memorable recent Oscar upsets. Ultimately, Ryan won five Oscars, including Best Director for Spielberg, while Shakespeare took home seven, including one to Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress. It’s worth mentioning, in light of more recent developments, that Shakespeare benefitted from what was essentially a bully campaign led by the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein.
4. U.S. won the first Women’s World Cup
When some American soccer fans lament how the U.S. has never won a World Cup, it’s always good to remind them that’s just the men’s World Cup. In fact, the U.S. Women’s team has won three, the first of which was the 1999 tournament, held right here in the U.S. That tournament also gave us one of the most iconic moments in American sports: Brandi Chastain scoring the winning penalty kick to clinch the final over China, and the impassioned celebration that ensued.
5. John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan retired
1999 had plenty of great sports moments, including that World Cup win, but there was also a trio of big-time retirements. Denver Broncos QB John Elway said goodbye after winning his second straight Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the greatest hockey player to lace up skates, Wayne Gretzky, called it a day, bidding goodbye with 894 career goals, a record that still stands. And NBA legend Michael Jordan retired for a second time, ending his comeback that saw him lead the Chicago Bulls to a second three-peat. Of the three retirees, only Jordan would mount one more comeback — which only served to convince everyone that there is something to be said for staying retired.
6. Napster debuted
If you listen to Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, or any sort of digital, streaming music, you have Napster to partially thank. We probably would have gotten to the age of streaming music eventually. But the original Napster, which opened up music downloading to the masses when it launched in 1999, pulled the music industry kicking and screaming into the internet age. Sure, it was, at the start, completely illegal (it’s now a totally legit service owned by Rhapsody) and the service was plagued by mislabeled songs, but the idea of sitting at your computer and downloading hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs to build a digital library, came about thanks to Napster. It wasn’t pretty, but few revolutionary steps are.
7. Bluetooth made its debut
Speaking of big tech releases of 1999, another important one we sometimes take for granted came in July of 1999, when the specifications for Bluetooth 1.0 were released by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a group made up of Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba. While that group first formed in 1998 and work on the actual technology started years before that, the specifications release in 1999 won the “Best of Show Technology Award” at that year’s COMDEX expo. The new technology was a small revolution, enabling wireless connectivity between products, and paving the way for the ability to connect wireless headphones to your phone, or your phone to stereo systems, that would eventually become standard.
8. The euro went into action
The drama over Brexit continues to stretch into 2019, which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the euro, the official currency of about two-thirds of the countries making up the European Union. The euro, whose symbol is denoted as €, first launched on January 1, 1999, but was only used for “invisible” transactions, according to the EU, like “accounting purposes and electronic payments.” It would be three more years before the hard currency hit the streets for consumers. By then, the euro had already established itself as a financial cornerstone of the EU.
9. NASA lost two Mars probes in one year
Sure, NASA just landed its InSight probe on Mars in November 2018, following the success of rovers like Curiosity, Spirit, and Opportunity. But 1999 was a hard year for NASA. It lost two Mars-bound probes: the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander. The Climate Orbiter burned up entering Mars’ atmosphere in September 1999 because Lockheed Martin’s team, which helped build the probe, used English units of measurements while NASA used the metric system. As for the Polar Lander, it was lost in December 1999 on its descent to Mars. Though it’s still unknown exactly what happened to that craft, it’s surmised that its engine stopped firing while the craft was still a good bit above the surface, resulting in a crash.
10. Pokémon’s first film captured America’s hearts
The Pokémon empire might feel like it’s been around forever, but it was originally rolled out in Japan in the mid-1990s. The Japanese video game/card game/television show empire crossed over to the U.S. by 1997, a snowball rolling down a mountain that exploded in popularity in 1998 and 1999, capped off with the November 1999 U.S. release of Pokémon: The First Movie. The movie was a hit at the box office, bringing in $85 million in the U.S. (it raked in nearly $78 million everywhere else with its initial 1998 release), and setting the stage for a continuing series of games, videos, and even films that will continue in 2019 with the release of the hotly anticipated Ryan Reynolds-voiced Detective Pikachu.
11. A slew of popular youngsters were born
Just watch as a bevy of young stars turn 20 this year. Guess what? They were born in 1999 and set on a path that’s lead to today. Ice skater Nathan Chen was born on May 5, 1999; he’s gone on to rack up an impressive collection of medals and trophies, including the bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in the team competition (Team USA!). Then there’s Sabrina Carpenter, the singer and BFF from Disney’s Girl Meets World, born May 11, 1999. And, of course, there are the Dolan twins, Ethan and Grayson, who were born in December 1999 and have become two very popular stars on the platform where all the kids are these days, YouTube.
12. Vladimir Putin became president for the first time
Vladimir Putin’s rise to power was already well underway in 1999, but that was the year that saw him ascend to the presidency of Russia and a power he had yet to know. Putin was a deputy prime minister for then-president Boris Yeltsin in August 1999 when Yeltsin appointed him to the position of prime minister. It was just a few months later when, on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin abruptly resigned and appointed Putin as acting president. Putin kept the seat after winning the 2000 election and has been in power ever since, serving as president until 2008 (Russia has a limit of two consecutive terms), serving as prime minister again from 2008 until 2012, and returning to the presidency in 2012.
13. Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France
It began as one of sports’ greatest triumphs and ended as one of its biggest scandals. In July 1999, cyclist Lance Armstrong powered his way to his first Tour de France victory just a few years after beating cancer. It would be the first of seven consecutive Tour de France wins for Armstrong, launching him to international fame that would eventually include his own series of Nike ads and bring attention to his LIVESTRONG foundation. But whispers of doping by Armstrong and his team were there from the start and, in October 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released results of an investigation that concluded Armstrong and his team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Nike following the USADA report and, in January 2013, Armstrong would finally admit to doping, after years of denial, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
14. The great Y2K panic happened
Ah, the good ol’ days of 1999, when we headed into the holidays looking forward to the new millennium — and the panic we thought might ensue thanks to the Y2K bug. The power grid crashing! Planes falling out of the sky! Of course, none of it happened. The entire global celebration went off without a hitch as everything (and various patches) worked just fine. There was, however, no fix for your dad constantly telling you, “Well, actually, the new millennium doesn’t start until 2001 because …”
15. The Melissa Worm hit PCs
Before the world descended into a Y2K computer panic, there was the PC-based Melissa Worm panic. The malware was reportedly the first “successful mass-mailing worm,” springing from a porn-related Usenet group and causing mayhem for Microsoft users. Once a victim opened the virus on their computer, the worm was able to grab dozens of addresses from the Outlook address book and send itself out, causing a rapid spread that overwhelmed email servers to the point of shutting many of them down
16. Fabio killed a goose with his face
Few will forget the indelible image of a bloodied Fabio, the result of an unfortunate mishap in which a goose collided with the supermodel’s face during a ride on a roller coaster. The incident happened in March 1999 when Fabio took part in the inaugural ride of Apollo’s Chariot, a then-new roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. At some point during the ride, a goose refused to yield the right of way to Fabio’s face and, well, the goose paid for that mistake with its life. Despite a cut that required stitches, nothing in Fabio’s face was broken.
17. Matthew McConaughey was arrested (naked, with bongos)
Ah, those heady, early days of McConaughey’s career, before his troubled dip into romantic comedy and before the Oscar-nabbing McConaissance … we’re thinking of that night in October 1999, when police arrested McConaughey for suspicion of possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and resisting transportation after they had to break up a party in which McConaughey was playing the bongos naked. Years later, McConaughey’s lone regret remains not closing the window so he wouldn’t bother the neighbors. And that just makes the story even better. Bless you and your naked bongo parties, Matthew.
18. The Columbine High School shooting occurred
School shootings had happened before April 20, 1999, but the attack carried out by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on that day marked a new moment of horror in America, one that has sadly been repeated too often in the 20 years since. The pair would ultimately kill 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives and shaking a nation to its core, sending it a navel-gazing spiral that sought answers and someone to blame for the violence, from video games to Marilyn Manson. The year saw another deadly mass shooting when, on September 15, Larry Ashbrook walked into a church in Fort Worth, Texas and opened fire, killing seven before killing himself. The 20 years that have followed have proven that it’s our country’s culture of silence around mental health and porous gun laws that are most to blame as mass shootings at schools and elsewhere continue unabated, from Sandy Hook Elementary to Parkland, Florida.
19. Woodstock ’99 went to hell
Plans have been announced for an event marking the 50th anniversary of the famed Woodstock music festival later in 2019, but anyone who was around for the 30th-anniversary “celebration” called Woodstock ’99, held in late July 1999, knows why this is a bad, bad idea. While the 1994 event celebrating the 25th anniversary is best remembered for mud, the 1999 event went horrifically badly. Hot temps combined with exorbitant prices for food and water created a widespread environment of frustration while artists like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit encouraged fans’ unruly behavior. It all exploded in a wave of violence that included multiple allegations of sexual assaults and several fires set by fans. It’s not uncommon to see the word “riot” used with regard to Woodstock ’99, which continues to live in infamy.
20. Tony Hawk landed the first 900
Tony Hawk was already a skateboarding legend in the summer of 1999, when, at ESPN’s X-Games in San Francisco, he became the first skateboarder to ever land the trick known as the “900” at a competition. It gets its name from the two-and-a-half rotations the skater makes in the air before landing — spinning 900 degrees — and is revered because of the technical skills needed to land the trick. (Hawk himself noted a small group of skaters who completed the spin, but he said they didn’t successfully land the trick.). Several other skaters have since landed the 900, and one young skater, Tom Schaar, even landed a 1080 (three complete rotations) in 2012 thanks to the development of the MegaRamp, which enabled skaters to reach greater vertical heights and thus make more rotations. Hawk put a stamp on his achievement in 2016 by nailing another 900 at the age of 48 on the 17th anniversary of his first 900.