When most people think of a hero, they picture Superman swooping through the air to save the day in its most dire moments. But these 21 real-life heroes have saved the world in much more realistic, admittedly less grandiose, ways.
21. Frank Serpico
This New Yorker is known for whistleblowing on police corruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His actions prompted Mayor John V. Lindsay to appoint the landmark Knapp Commission, which investigates corruption within the NYPD. As a result of Serpico's efforts, the NYPD was drastically changed. Michael Armstrong, who was counsel to the Knapp Commission and went on to become chairman of the city's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, observed in 2012 “the attitude throughout the department seems fundamentally hostile to the kind of systemized graft that had been a way of life almost 40 years ago.”
Much of Serpico's fame came after the release of the 1973 film Serpico, which was based on the book by Peter Maas and which starred Al Pacino in the title role, for which Pacino received an Oscar nomination.
20. Lassana Bathily
Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shop assistant, was hailed as a hero in the hostage crisis known as the “Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege” in the city of Paris in January 2015. During the gunman situation, Bathily helped hide people in a cold storage container in the basement of the store. After Bathily was able to escape the store himself, he was immediately arrested by police who suspected him of playing a role in the attack. He was released an hour and a half later and provided the officers with a key to open the store’s metal blinds, assisting them in looking for the gunman and saving the rest of the hostages.
19. Candy Lightener
Candy Lightner is the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in September 1980. She transformed a personal tragedy—the death of her young daughter—into a noble mission against drunk driving by forming this grass-roots organization dedicated to curbing alcohol-related traffic deaths. Lightener’s daughter was senselessly killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. According to the organization’s reports, they have saved over 300,000 lives.
18. Danielle Gletow
This passionate children’s rights advocate had spent nearly twenty years of her life living in familiarity with the disheartening state of the foster care system. A past emergency placement guardian and now adoptive parent, Danielle was a witness to the circumstances surrounding the “forgotten children” of the system. She saw babies, toddlers and adolescents robbed of their blissful innocence, and this led her to seek to bring love, hope and joy to each child through the work of her foundation, One Simple Wish. By empowering everyday people to grant a child’s wish through the organization’s website, as well as through programs, initiatives and community partnerships, she is working to make a difference in the lives of children who are less fortunate.