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History of the ’90s podcast: Top stories of 1990

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As this decade comes to a close, host Kathy Kenzora looks back and counts down 10 of the most memorable events from 1990.

If 1990 was anything, it was a year of incredible change — sure, it was the beginning of a new decade, but more than that… much more… it was the start of a new era in human history. The decade that followed ushered in the end of communism and apartheid. It saw the beginning of technological wonders that would both bring the world together and divide it… and along the way, change the very way we communicate with each other… It was also a time for some of the greatest achievements in music, television and sport.

Number 10 – The Milli Vanilli Scandal

When Milli Vanilli released their debut album Girl You Know It’s True in 1989 — the German pop duo were made to rule the charts. Just a few months later, in November, their German record producer Frank Farian held a news conference to tell the world that the guys didn’t actually sing a single note on the album. He said he hired the unemployed models to lip sync in videos for songs already recorded by three studio musicians. Days later, the National Academy of Recording Artists and Sciences revoked their Grammy award.

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You Tube Video
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Number 9 – The Fall of Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson, then 23, was undefeated when he stepped into the ring in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990, to fight Buster Douglas. He was the overwhelming favourite to win the title match because he had never lost a fight as a professional boxer. But from the start of the fight, Tyson lacked fire and intensity, and in the 10th round, everyone watched in disbelief as Douglas landed a right uppercut, followed by a left and then right to Tyson’s head and Iron Mike dropped in a heap to the floor. 

It was one of boxing’s all-time biggest upsets, right up there with the June 2019 upset of Anthony Joshua by Andy Ruiz Jr. Tyson’s crushing defeat marked the beginning of the end for his career and public persona. Over the course of the 90s, Tyson would fall further from grace with a series of bizarre, violent and often criminal acts.

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In this Feb. 11, 1990, file photo, champion Mike Tyson lies flat on his back after being decked by challenger James “Buster” Douglas.
In this Feb. 11, 1990, file photo, champion Mike Tyson lies flat on his back after being decked by challenger James “Buster” Douglas.

Number 8 – The Debut of Seinfeld

No one in 1990 had a clue that a sitcom built around a group of fussy, self-absorbed people who obsessed over the minutiae of daily life would go on to become the most influential show in TV history.  But it did!

The cast of ‘Seinfeld’ – Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander.
The cast of ‘Seinfeld’ – Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander. STREVT

Number 7 – The Hubble Telescope

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The world’s first space telescope started circling the earth in April 1990, marking the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s invention in 1609. The 11-ton Hubble telescope, which is the size of a bus, cost $1.5 billion and 20 years to develop. 

Since then, Hubble has provided more than a million out of this world photos from new galaxies far, far away. And it produces much more than stunning pictures. Its scientific instruments have revolutionized our understanding of the universe and its history.

In this April 25, 1990, photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space.
In this April 25, 1990, photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space.

Number 6 – Noriega Surrenders

On Jan. 3, 1990, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega stepped out of the Vatican embassy in Panama City and surrendered to U.S. authorities. He had taken refuge in the embassy after U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama.

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Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spied for the Central Intelligence Agency until drug trafficking and his brutal regime sparked the U.S. to take action.

Number 5 – USSR in Turmoil

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s ambitious Perestroika program of economic and political reforms floundered in 1990. Instead of making things better, living conditions within the once great superpower continued to deteriorate with shortages of bread, sugar, meat, cigarettes and other goods. 

In February, the Communist party gave up its monopoly on power, kindling separatist desires among some Soviet republics. One by one, Soviet countries declared sovereignty.

In this file photo taken Aug. 1, 1991, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens after signing the START arms reduction treaty in the Kremlin, Moscow. (AP Photo/Boris Yurchenko)
In this file photo taken Aug. 1, 1991, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens after signing the START arms reduction treaty in the Kremlin, Moscow. (AP Photo/Boris Yurchenko)

Number 4 – The Oka Crisis

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In the summer of 1990, all eyes were on the small town of Oka, Que., where a land claims dispute erupted in a dramatic showdown between Mohawk protestors, police and the army. It started when negotiations broke down over plans to expand a golf course and condo development on the disputed land.  

After an order came down from the mayor of Oka, Quebec police in riot gear stormed the barricades using tear gas and concussion grenades to cause confusion. During the brief gunfight that followed, a 31-year-old officer was shot and killed.  

The 78-day standoff that followed became known as the Mohawk Resistance.

Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Brad Laroque alias “Freddy Kruger” come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Que., Sept. 1, 1990. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Brad Laroque alias “Freddy Kruger” come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Que., Sept. 1, 1990. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen) Shaney Komulainen/The Canadian Press

Number 3 – The Invasion of Kuwait

When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion and occupation of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, it set off a dizzying sequence of events that would eventually result in the first Gulf War.

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Number 2 – Mandela’s walk to freedom

With his fist raised in the air, anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and into freedom on Feb. 11, 1990. It was the first time he had been seen in public since 1964 when he was sentenced to life behind bars for a charge of sabotage.

In this Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie upon Mandela’s release from Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town South Africa.
In this Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie upon Mandela’s release from Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town South Africa. AP Photo/Greg English

Number 1 – Germany is Reunited

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At midnight on Oct. 3, 1990, fireworks exploded outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

More than one million people danced and celebrated the birth of a new country

East and West Germany were officially reunited after 45 years of Cold War separation.

This was the dramatic climax of a dizzying year of change — the map of Europe had been redrawn — something many believed would never happen.  

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Email: 90s@curiouscast.ca

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