Leap-Day Birthdays: Famous (and Infamous) Feb. 29 Births

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You’d think a Feb. 29 birthday would be an auspicious thing. The rarest of all birth dates, it confers an extended adolescence — you’re not 40; you’re just a sprightly 10! Alas, a scan of celebrities born on Leap Day suggests potentially bad tidings. If you were born Feb. 29, your fellow candle blowers include:

Aileen Wuornos, convicted serial killer. Fate doesn’t deal many a worse hand than it did Wuornos, a victim of myriad forms of child abuse who in later years shot numerous men to death, claiming self-defense in each case, before being executed for her crimes in 2002. Her Feb. 29, 1956, birth date may be the least auspicious leap birth of them all.

Ja Rule, rapper of “Always on Time” fame. Born Jeffrey Atkins on Feb. 29, 1976, Ja Rule has had limited success since his Murder Inc. days and is celebrating his ninth birthday in New York’s Mid-State Correctional Facility on a gun-possession conviction.

Richard Ramirez, convicted serial killer. (What is it with crime and Feb. 29?) Ramirez, dubbed the Night Stalker by the media, was born Feb. 29, 1960, and was exposed to a family murder 13 years later that may have helped chart his course. A drifter by the mid-’80s, subsisting largely on junk food, he committed a series of violent rapes and killings that landed him on death row, where he remains — undoubtedly looking forward to an imaginary Feb. 29 birthday cake, whether it has 52 or 13 imaginary candles on it.

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Tony Robbins, motivational speaker and self-help writer. His seminars on unleashing the giant within and mastering wealth have sold in droves, but the toothy author, born on Feb. 29, 1960, flopped with the TV show Breakthrough with Tony Robbins in the summer of 2010. Perhaps people just don’t like to take life-coaching advice from 12-year-olds.

Pedro Zamora, The Real World: San Francisco housemate and AIDS educator. After testing positive for HIV in high school, Zamora, born Feb. 29, 1972, courageously took his diagnosis public by appearing on the third season of MTV’s flagship reality show. His HIV-prevention messages reached countless Americans. Sadly, he died from AIDS-related complications in late 1994 — far too early, whether you consider him to have been 22 or 5.

But all is not lost. Some leaplings grow up to have long, fruitful, healthy lives — the singer and talk-show host Dinah Shore, for one. And some have a great sense of humor about it: Gretchen Christopher, a co-founder of the soft-pop vocal trio the Fleetwoods (“Come Softly to Me,” “Mr. Blue”), was born on Feb. 29, 1940, and in 2004 released a CD titled Gretchen’s Sweet Sixteen, on her 16th — er, 64th — birthday.

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