Steve Jobs’ Most Outrageous Moments

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One thing everyone can agree on about Steve Jobs: he never failed to be interesting. From his “Reality Distortion Field” to his frequent temper tantrums, he was notorious for his outrageous behavior. Here are some of his most memorable moments of outrageousness.

Steve Jobs was a very complicated man that different people describe differently. Where some knew him as a tyrant, others remember a very personable man with a great sense of humor. He never claimed to be a saint, but the mark he left on the world changed numerous modern industries forever. His unquenchable thirst for design perfection, his powerful drive to change the world, his unique attenuation to nuances of the environment and objects around him… There’s never been anyone else like him, and likely never will be again. For whatever reason, he seemed to think that he was special and that the normal rules of behavior and etiquette didn’t apply to him.

Here are a few examples of how he stepped outside the norms of society, always defying what the world expected him to be.

The time he lied to his oldest friend, tricking him out of money he was due

Before Apple existed, before Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I computer, Steve Jobs was tasked by Atari with building a circuit board for the video game Breakout. He knew little about circuit board designs, so he asked for help from his friend Woz, offering to split the fee between them. Jobs explained that Atari needed the number of chips on the board lessened. Woz, thrilled to be working on a real video game, worked around the clock for four days straight to finish the project as fast as possible. His finished circuit board wowed Atari’s engineers by cutting down the number of chips by 50 — an astonishing achievement at the time.

The problem was, Jobs had lied to Wozniak about almost the entire project. Unknown to Woz, Atari had offered Jobs a $100 bonus for every chip he could eliminate on the circuit board. Jobs instead told his friend that Atari had offered a flat pay rate of $700, so upon its completion, Jobs paid Wozniak just $350. When truthfully, Atari had paid them $5,000, meaning Jobs had cheated his friend out of more than $2,000. He’d also imposed an artificial deadline on the project, because Jobs was planning to go out of town in four days.

The kicker is that Jobs never told Wozniak about what he’d done. It was ten years later before Woz found out the truth, and he wasn’t even told about it. He read it in a book that detailed the history of Atari. Wozniak was never angry or bitter about it, though he admits to crying after reading about it in that book. He also says that he would have given it to Jobs, if he’d told him the truth and said he needed the money. [Source 1, Source 2]

The time he refused to acknowledge paternity of his daughter

Lisa Brennan-Jobs, born in 1978, was conceived out of wedlock by Steve Jobs and Chris-Ann Brennan. But for years, Jobs refused to acknowledge paternity of his little girl, going so far as to swear in court documents that he was “sterile and infertile.” Years later, he had a change of heart and publicly acknowledged the truth of Lisa’s parentage. (He also admitted that Apple’s “Lisa” computer was named after her, though he vehemently denied it at the time.)

At least this story has a happy ending. When Lisa was a teenager, she and her father reconnected, and she got to know him for a few years while living with him and his family. Jobs paid her tuition at Harvard University, where she studied journalism. She has since been published in numerous prestigious magazines. [Source]

The time he screwed over longtime friend and Apple employee Dan Kottke

In 1981, shortly after Apple went public, the original group of employees were given stock options by Steve Jobs. But he staunchly refused to give any options to employee number twelve, his friend Dan Kottke. Kottke and Jobs first met at Reed College, where they hit it off and later traveled together to India, where they “backpacked around in search of spiritual enlightenment.”

Jobs never stated his reasons for refusing to give Kottke Apple stock options, but the situation was awkward, to say the least. Obviously there was some kind of falling out between the two men, but neither ever divulged the details. When another employee heard about Jobs’ position regarding the stock options, he approached Jobs and made him an offer. If Jobs would give some of his own stock to Kottke, so would this employee. Jobs’ curt reply underscored the finality with which he wanted this subject to drop. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll give him zero.” [Source 1, Source 2]

The time he tried to change the name of the Macintosh to the “Bicycle”

Jobs didn’t get along with Jef Raskin, who first conceived of the Macintosh project and gave it its name. So when Raskin went on an extended leave of absence, Jobs, with the help of another apple employee named Rod Holt, attempted to assert his dominance over the project by changing the name of the Macintosh. Falling back on his own quote about how computers were like “bicycles for the mind,” Jobs decreed that the Mac’s new name was Bicycle. Everyone on the Mac team was ordered to immediately begin referring to it by this new name. But the name was so silly, no one would use it, and Jobs and Holt were finally forced to give up, letting the team keep the original name.

Many years later, Jobs would encounter a similar situation before the launch of the iMac, when he almost decided to call the all-important new desktop computer the “MacMan.” Apple fans agree that in both cases, Apple side-stepped a landmine. [Source]

The time he appeared as FDR in an internal Apple promotional video

Months ago, this video came to light, in which Jobs took on the role of President Franklin Roosevelt as part of a pseudo-sequel to the infamous “1984” TV commercial. But this video, dubbed “1944,” was used only internally, as a way of “firing up the troops.” Whether or not it was a good idea is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it’s a pretty outrageous bit of egomania, even for Steve Jobs.

The time he fired Pixar employees with no notice

Before Pixar became the hit-making studio we know it as today, there came a time when its owner, Steve Jobs, made cutbacks in order to keep the company afloat. But in typical Jobsian style, he made employee cuts instantly, decisively, refusing to offer any kind of severance pay. When a surviving Pixar employee begged Jobs to at least give the fired employees two weeks’ notice, Jobs’ response was, “Okay, but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago.” [Source]

The time he insisted Apple Stores had to have rare Italian stone tile floors

When Apple’s retail stores were starting to catch on, Jobs remembered a particular stone sidewalk he’d encountered on a trip to Florence, Italy, and was convinced that Apple needed that same stone as floor tiles in their stores. Some Apple VPs tried to convince him to mimic the Italian stone’s color and texture with concrete, but Jobs would not be moved. It had to be authentic, high quality Pietra Serena sandstone, from Il Casone quarry in Firenuola, Italy. The tiles are extremely expensive, and the quarry hand selects each piece of stone to ensure consistent quality of shades and veins. But Jobs got what he wanted, and those Il Casone stone tiles are still used in most Apple Stores today. [Source]

The time he berated the MobileMe team

MobileMe was a disaster. It was meant to sync up your mobile devices with your primary computer, but it never worked like it was supposed to, and users hated it. After a scathing review by the Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg, Steve Jobs gathered the team responsible for MobileMe together at the Apple Campus’ “Town Hall” auditorium, where he stood on stage and berated the group for a solid half hour. He told them, “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation. You should hate each other for having let each other down.” Reportedly, he then fired team manager Rob Schoeben on the spot, and replaced him with Eddy Cue.

Clearly, Jobs was making an example of the MobileMe team’s failure. Not an uncommon occurrence in corporate America. The difference is that it wasn’t enough for Jobs to merely reprimand his subordinates — he had to spend half an hour emotionally demoralizing and draining them, so they would truly understand, in his eyes, the depths of their failure and his disappointment. That was an experience, I think, unique to being employed by Steve Jobs. [Source]

The time he refused traditional cancer treatment

October, 2003: Steve Jobs is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. Over the next nine months, again and again he refused his doctor’s orders to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Instead, he pursued alternative methods of fighting the cancer, including a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies, juice fasts, and more. He even consulted a psychic at one point.

Eventually, he was forced to concede that his alternative therapies weren’t generating results, and agreed to a surgical procedure to remove the pancreatic tumor. Although the surgery was a success, the cancer returned a short time later, and… well, we all know how the story ends. Physicians have since suggested that Jobs’ stubborn, senseless refusal of standard treatment was the key factor that led to his untimely death at the age of 56. Sometime after that nine month period, Jobs himself admitted that he refused standard cancer treatments because he feared the violation of his body being cut into. [Source]

The time he directed Apple personnel to lie to the media about his cancer diagnosis

You can’t be one of the most successful men in the world, and expect to take a leave of absence without questions being raised. But against all logic, this appears to be precisely what Steve Jobs was hoping for when he temporarily stepped down from his position as CEO to attend to his cancer treatment and recovery. Of course the media wanted to know the truth, and rumors about his health spread like wildfire. It didn’t help that his physical presence became increasingly emaciated over time.

Whether he feared how news of his illness might affect public perceptions of Apple, or he simply didn’t want his privacy invaded, he made the dubious choice to order his people at Apple to unequivocally deny his cancer diagnosis to the media. This strategy went on for over six months, with excuses shifting frequently from one absurd claim to another. The “official” media statements said things like, Jobs had been victim to a “common bug” and was taking antibiotics. Or there was the memo written by Jobs himself to his own employees, claiming to have been suffering from a “hormone imbalance” for several months. But near the end, when it became obvious that Jobs’ medical situation was more serious than he’d been willing to admit, Apple’s official answer to media inquiries became simply, “It’s a private matter.”

Steve Jobs’ famous Reality Distortion Field had served him so well over the course of his career, but this was one time when it failed. [Source]

The time he stormed out of a 5-star hotel

When Steve Jobs once planned a trip to London, his friend and trusted designer Jonathan Ive went to the trouble of personally handpicking a 5-star hotel for the CEO to stay at. But he’d no sooner walked into the hotel room than he called Ive on the phone, declared the place “a piece of sh*t,” and stormed out. [Source]

The time he chewed out an old woman over a smoothie

Sometime in 2005, Jobs visited a Whole Foods in California, where he ordered a fruit smoothie. When the aging barista didn’t make it to his satisfaction, he flew into a blistering tirade about her “incompetence.”

Jobs’ anger was gone almost as fast as it came on, and to his credit, he softened and offered his sympathies for having to work a thankless job at her age. [Source]

He never had a license plate on his car

Ever one to work the system to his own advantage, Jobs somehow learned of a law in California that let him skirt the issue of license plates on his car. The law states that drivers, when buying new vehicles, have a maximum of six months to receive their plates and have them affixed to the car. Call him clever or call him crazy, but Jobs intentionally exploited this loophole by leasing a new Mercedes-Benz SL every six months, thereby never at all having to put a license plate on the car he drove.

Exactly why he went to such lengths as this is unclear. Most likely, he believed it gave him a level of anonymity while driving in public. But perhaps there could have been some paranoia involved as well. [Source]

The time he engaged in an email war of words with a college student

In September of 2010, Chelsea Isaacs of Long Island University was researching Apple for a school assignment. She attempted repeatedly to get some help from Apple’s Media Relations department, but no one would answer her calls or reply to her emails. Frustrated, she sent an email to Steve Jobs himself, asking for his help. His abrupt reply to her appeal: “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.”

Isaacs was furious. She defended herself and then tried again to explain her situation. They went back and forth a few more times until an exasperated Jobs sent one last reply that said simply, “Please leave us alone.” I’m guessing he regretted having replied to her at all, but this wasn’t an unusual situation. Jobs was known to occasionally reply to personal emails, seemingly on a whim. [Source]

The time he refused to wear an oxygen mask in the hospital because it was “ugly”

Near the end of his battle with cancer, hospital staff tried to put an oxygen mask over his face while he was being sedated. But even in this state, he was able to rip off the mask, muttering that he wouldn’t wear it because he hated its “ugly” design. He then ordered that he be brought five different mask options and he would pick one that he liked. That was unnecessary, though, as his wife helped to distract him enough that the staff could get the mask on him.

In addition to the mask, he also told them he hated the oxygen monitor he was forced to wear on his finger. He told the hospital staff that the small device was “ugly” and “too complex.” [Source]

Got an outrageous Steve Jobs story that’s not on this list? Sound off in the comments below.

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Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

21 thoughts on “Steve Jobs’ Most Outrageous Moments

    1. Listen to me Caskey, shut up and take a seat. What gives you the right to spew your crap on this blog? Steve Jobs was a public figure and a provocative one at that.

      Robin, don’t waste your time responding to trolls and morons (like Caskey). They either won’t comprehend or they won’t come back and see your response. Focus on what gets you useful results..


  1. Never said it was news. Right next to the headline, it clearly says, “Feature.” It’s no more news than our popular “Inside Apple HQ” photo gallery is. With the anniversary of his death fast approaching, it felt timely to take a look back. It’s not the first time we’ve published retrospectives, and it won’t be the last.

    On a personal note… I really love Apple and its products. But if and when the day comes that I stop writing about Apple, it’ll probably be due to burnout from dealing with snarky, know-it-all “fans.”

    1. I’ve had some issues with several of the articles coming out of this site in recent months..primarily due to sloppy writers. Thanks for insulting this reader. You’ve finally convinced me to remove Apple Gazette from my daily reading list.

    2. And..if you don’t want to be sloppy in your writing, you could have included at the beginning of the article that this was being posted due to the upcoming anniversary of his death. I probably wouldn’t have said anything if you had qualified the article. It’s also a little petty and telling that you feel the need to post a snarky reply to anyone who gave some feedback on the article. It’s also very telling that the only comments about this post are negative. If you were looking to explore this topic and had done it thoughtfully, I feel like there would have been a conversation about the topic down here, not just criticisms.

    3. “Hello, Pot? This is Kettle. You’re black.”

      And your first comment wasn’t snarky, how? You added nothing constructive, nothing of value to the conversation. Only empty criticism. How exactly does that qualify as “feedback”?

      I’m sorry if you were offended, but guess what. So was I. I’m so sick of spending of hours and hours and hours researching and writing and taking time away from my family and my kids to come up with quality content for Apple fans — the most vocal of whom just come and nitpick it apart. Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with new and interesting Apple-related topics to write about that haven’t been done before? Think about it: There are zillions of Apple blogs out there, examining every aspect of Apple news, history, culture, products, personnel, etc. And after all that well-meaning, hard work, I don’t need mean-spirited, sarcastic criticism. Sue me. Try walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes before you lob needless criticism their way that shows you know nothing about them, their intentions, or how much thought and work went into what they do.

      If your only reason for being here is to gripe and complain and spread negativity, then please do take it elsewhere.

  2. I find this a sad and vindictive hatchet job. Cherry picking the poorest moments from a man’s life and presenting them, without context and without a right to reply, is a low point in the existence of this web site.

    1. I find it sad that you’re so quick to assume that I have some kind of malicious agenda. Sheesh, knee-jerk much? I have no personal investment in Mr. Jobs’ life, so how could I possibly possess feelings that could be labeled “vindictive”?

      We’ve run a number of features about Steve Jobs since his untimely death, including a collection of all of his clever “One more thing…” moments from his keynote speeches, a collection of his greatest quotes and sayings, a look at his surviving family members, and more. I never considered any of these features skewed toward a positive or negative opinion about him. Just retrospectives on different parts of his life.

      As I said in the article’s intro, Steve Jobs was a very complicated man, and a true original. There are so many different aspects of his life that I could write about him for years — his personality, his achievements, his history, his education, his legacy, and on and on. This was intended as nothing more than a look at another part of his life.

    2. There are so many different aspects of his life that I could write about him for years — his personality, his achievements, his history, his education, his legacy, and on and on.

      I don’t know about anyone else here but I’d surely want to read your POV in case I missed anything from Walter Isaacson’s (authorized) take on Jobs.

  3. Awesome article Robin!

    I don’t understand the butthurt negative commenting here.
    You probably didn’t know Jobs personally so why? Your favorite hero wasn’t a saint, so?

    At least it’s different from bashing anti-Apple sites, yet not the usual glorifying shit.

    / iPhone user

    1. Hmmm,

      I studied Apple’s strategy as part of my MBA and like most billionaires Jobs was an obessive dickhead.

      He was a petulant and egotistical megalomaniac traits common amongst self made billionaires.

      Through his 20’s Jobs worked extremely hard (almost as hard as Bill Gates). But aged 30 his child like tantrums got him fired, Apple were sick to the back teeth of Steve Jobs.

      This drove a stake of self doubt through Steve Jobs heart and forced him to re assess. He bought Pixar and his timing was great, the guys at Pizar did an incredible job of Toy Story.

      Fortunately for Jobs, Scully made a terrible go of Apple and Jobs got a second chance with the love of his life.

      Then in 2003, Jobs got cancer and this scared the sh*t out of the petulant little boy living inside Jobs body. He threw himself back into his work as a means of distraction, his cancer and fear of death driving his motivation to make a perfect product before he died.

      Whilst Bill Gates was realising there’s more to life than work and was busy taking holidays, getting married, giving up power and giving away money… Steve Jobs was terrified of failing to leave his mark on the world, he was scared of underachieving and was working 16-20 hours a day whilst suffering with cancer in order to make the iPhone.

      Well he did it. He did a brilliant job, he suffered no time wasters, he was focused like a laser, he was all too aware of death.

      When you have a big dream there comes a day where you make a choice, do you pursue that ambition with all your soul, or do you give it up and leave the world forever with unfinished business?

      Jobs story is one of realising your purpose and asking how much sacrifice are you willing to give to your purpose. With Jobs from 2003 he gave 100% to Apple, just like Bill Gates did up to 2000.

      Few people in the whole world, have ever sacrificed EVERYTHING to pursue their perceived purpose in life.

      I’m talking about working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for a decade. Because that’s what is takes.

      There is no magic and no secret formula to this kind of success, it takes a brute force war-dialling strategy. You have to surrender your soul to the purpose.

      And in hindsight… It’s not worth it.

    2. Look into mirror, don’t ya hate the ugly mirror?
      According to how you talk back on a dead man, yo no better.

  4. While this is ancient history, I thought I’d take a moment to clarify. I was not fired by Steve Jobs. Not in front of the MobileMe team in 2008 and not ever. Steve was rightly pissed at engineering for screwing up the product and made some organizational changes by moving all engineering under Eddie Cue. I left Apple six months later after successfully launching new versions of iWork and iLife at MacWorld ’09 to pursue other interests including co-founding a nonprofit agency that provides social and emotional support to students in our local schools.

    As the head of worldwide product marketing for apps and Internet services at the time, I absolutely should have sounded more alarms about the deficiencies in the MobileMe architecture (which led to the scalability problems), but I was not the “manager of the product” as was reported at the time. And not the one that Steve was screaming about in the infamous all hands meeting.

    Don’t believe everything you read online, especially from sources as questionable as the one that originally spread this rumor. Incredibly poor reporting with no fact checking. Sensational link bait? Yes. Accurate? No.

  5. I am related to the man myself, and ill tell you, there is a hot streak of rude behavior in my own family. Obviously its nothing compared to Jobs, but there are some pretty crazy stories. Something about the “please leave us alone” email engenders that straight forward aggressiveness. Picking a damn fight for no reason, lol.

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