Encore

Roseanne Arnold's national blunder

The sitcom star's mangled performance of ''The Star Spangled Banner'' shocked critics and viewers alike

Oh, say can you see...a national crisis brewing? For better or worse, celebrities had been crooning the national anthem for years, but on July 25, 1990 — as part of ''Working Women's Night'' at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium — Roseanne Barr delivered the most notoriously strangled rendition of ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' in showbiz history.

''I'm doing this because I think it's cool,'' Roseanne told a journalist just before her performance. ''I'm one of the last great singers in the world. You tell me what you think.'' Suffice it to say, the Metropolitan Opera wouldn't be calling. In front of 25,000-plus fans (there to see a Padres-Cincinnati Reds matchup), and with her fingers planted firmly in her ears (she later claimed she was confused by the sound-system delay), Roseanne belted out a grating, off-key rendition of the patriotic ditty. And then, as the crowd booed and jeered, she topped it off by grabbing her crotch and hocking a loogie onto the field a la every crass ballplayer cliche. Afterward, the self-styled blue-collar heroine offered: ''I did well, I think. You can tell they wanted more.''

What they really wanted was her head on a (home) plate. By early the next morning, Roseanne's ''performance'' had blown up into a bona fide world news event. More than 1,000 angry calls flooded the San Diego Padres switchboard, some of them from people in tears. CNN and ESPN reran the clip endlessly. Even President George Bush weighed in on the vocal butchery, terming it ''disgraceful.'' Says Jeff Wald, Roseanne's former manager and exec VP of her current talk show: ''She had been in the dugout with the players, and they told her how funny it would be if she scratched her crotch and spit the way they did. And it wound up just totally not working.... But it was never her intent to be disrespectful.''

Padres officials issued an apology — while the star, deluged with a slew of death threats, called a press conference to clear the air. ''None of this was meant viciously,'' she said at the time. ''From now on, I'm going to concentrate on the show and not leave myself unprotected.''

Of course, Roseanne didn't change a lick of her envelope-pushing ways. Throughout the decade, there would be a controversial gay kiss on her sitcom; nasty letters to journalists who criticized her; lawsuits against the tabloids; even public plans to turn her marriage into a threesome by wedding a female assistant. But it's her shenanigans at Jack Murphy Stadium, and the ensuing national hoopla, that still stand as one of celebdom's legendary better-sorry-than-safe moments. Leave it to Roseanne to upend one more cliche: It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.


Time Capsule: July 25, 1990

AT THE MOVIES: Harrison Ford earns his pinstripes in the top film, Presumed Innocent.
IN MUSIC: There's a lot of love on the pop chart: Billy Idol's ''Cradle of Love'' rests at No. 3, while Mariah Carey's ''Vision of Love'' is No. 5.
IN BOOKSTORES: George F. Will's baseball tome Men at Work is a nonfiction grand slam.
AND IN THE NEWS: Three Northwest Airlines pilots accused of flying while under the influence of alcohol go on trial in Minneapolis. The case, which ends in the conviction of all three, sparks debate about airline pilots' drinking on duty.

Originally posted Jul 23, 1999 Published in issue #495 Jul 23, 1999 Order article reprints