Wolf Files: Contemporary Curses

Australia's prime minister became the victim of a curse last week, when an Aboriginal woman in possum skins pointed a kangaroo bone at him. But these days, putting a curse on someone is as easy as shopping on the Internet.

Modern-day shamans and voodoo doctors are online, alongside psychics and faith healers. But instead of giving you visions of wealth and fame, they promise to inflict sickness and misery on those you hate.

In the contemporary curse market, hexes come with return and exchange policies. Many sites take credit cards, and if you send a lock of hair, they'll build you the perfect voodoo doll.

And if you fear you're the victim of a curse, they'll lift that naughty hex just as fast as you can whip out a credit card.

Of course, if you're rich and famous, you can pay six-figure retainers to your personal shaman, like Michael Jackson reportedly did.

You'd think that having a brother in the White House would be a source of security, but first brother Neil Bush complained through a lawyer last year that his estranged wife, Sharon, was pulling out his hair as part of a plot to cast an evil spell.

I'm not saying there aren't people who deserve to be cursed. It's just that most curses fail to perform as promised in the advertising. Just ask King Tut.

"Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king," was supposedly etched on the king's tomb.

Indeed, Lord Carnarvon, who financed the excavation that uncovered Tutankhamen's tomb, died in 1922, just days after he entered the crypt. Thus a legend was born, even though the 56-year-old British earl had been a sickly man.

The gods apparently decided not to punish Howard Carter, Carnarvon's chief archaeologist, who lived another 17 years, passing away at age 65.

In fact, the 26 people directly responsible for the King Tut excavation lived, on average, more than 73 years, according to paranormal investigator James Randi.

"Far from being a curse, it might be lucky to disturb a pharaoh's tomb," Randi says. "These people beat the life span expectation for those days by about a year."

Later studies even showed that the British press, enamored with mummy stories, invented the curse scrawled on Tut's tomb, Randi says. "The headline King Tut's Curse Strikes Again! is just too good to resist."

Now, let's check in on some other celebrated curses:

The Curse of Michael Jackson: The erstwhile "King of Pop" paid $150,000 to levy a curse on Steven Spielberg and 24 other people, according to Vanity Fair. Jackson reportedly hired an African voodoo chief, who sacrificed 42 cows in a special ceremony.

According to the March 11 article last year, Jackson was said to be furious with Spielberg for nixing a deal to star him in Hook, Spielberg's version of Peter Pan.

As part of the ritual, Jackson supposedly underwent a "blood bath." The singer declined to comment on the matter.

The Curse of Neil Bush: Marriage is a curse if it ends in a nasty divorce. Last year, Neil Bush's lawyer accused his estranged wife, Sharon, of pulling out his client's hair to make a voodoo doll.

"It was bizarre," attorney John Spalding told the Houston Chronicle. "She literally pulled his hair and yanked it out of his head. He told me about it."

"She said, 'I put a voodoo curse on you,' " Spalding later elaborated to the New York Daily News.

Sharon Bush admitted she yanked out Neil's hair, but not for a voodoo curse. She said Neil was acting so erratically, and she wanted to test the hair for signs of drug use. The tests were inconclusive, she said.

The At the Movies Curse:

After film critic Roger Ebert lambasted Brown Bunny at last year's Cannes Film Festival as the worst entrant ever, director Vincent Gallo called him a "fat pig" with the "physique of a slave trader" and put a curse on his colon. Ebert, who has struggled with cancer, responded that images of his colonoscopy were more interesting than Brown Bunny.

"I'm certainly not gloating," Gallo told Knight-Ridder news service last August. "I don't believe in black magic, and I don't really believe I could have given him cancer for real. If I had any metaphysical powers, I would heal the sick. I did think it was bizarre that I said it and it happened, but I'm not happy he has cancer."

Ebert, who has twice undergone surgery for cancer, is said to be in good health. He stands by his assessment of Brown Bunny. "I have not seen every film in the history of the festival," he says, "yet I feel my judgment will stand."

The Billy Goat Curse:

When did the Chicago Cubs last win a World Series game? On the day in 1945 when tavern owner William Sianis was kicked out of Wrigley Field for bringing his pet goat to the game.

Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, whose "cheeseburger, cheeseburger" workers John Belushi famously parodied on Saturday Night Live, was furious. He had purchased a separate ticked for the goat, as he had many times before. Stadium officials informed him that his goat smelled offensively.

In the years since, the Cubs have been stinking even worse. Sianis sent a telegram to Cubs management promising that Wrigley Field would never again see a World Series game.

Last year, the Cubs came within five outs of winning the National League Championship Series. But the goat returned, some say, in the form of Steve Bartman, a fan who deflected a foul ball that might have been caught, which would have prevented the Florida Marlins' winning rally. In an attempt to break any form of bad karma, Harry Caray's Restaurant in Chicago paid $113,842 for the rights to smash the dreaded "Bartman Ball" in a televised event.

The Curse of the Bambino: Boston Red Sox fans might say the curse of the goat is nothing compared to the curse of the Babe. The team has been hexed since 1918, and some say it's the result of trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

Before then, the Red Sox had won five World Series, the most by any team up to that time. The Yankees had never won a single one. Since then, the Yanks have won 26 times, and Boston hasn't won once.

Last year, just like the Cubs, the Red Sox came heartbreakingly close. In the final game of the American League Championship Series, Boston had a lead over the New York Yankees and their ace pitcher, Pedro Martinez, on the mound.

But Martinez, who had scoffed at the curse of the Bambino, let his team down, and the Yanks won in extra innings.

Ruth, of all people, never wanted to curse the Sox, at least when he was first traded. As the story goes, he flew into a tirade and dumped a piano in Willis Pond, near Boston's Fenway Park, where he lived.

Now, Sox fans, so eager to break the curse, have actually tried twice to dredge up the piano. A team led by salvage expert John Fish announced plans to troll the mile-long pond. Until then, Boston fans might be singing the same old sad song. "It's just a coincidence," Ruth's 86-year-old daughter, Julia Stevens, told the New York Post last week. "Daddy would have never put a curse on his old team. He enjoyed his time playing for Boston too much.

"Daddy will always be a Yankee fan," Stevens said. "But I think he'd understand me pulling for the Red Sox."

The Curse of Superman: The mysterious death of TV's original Superman, George Reeves, shocked Hollywood. Down on his luck and contemplating a career in professional wrestling, Reeves was found in his Hollywood home on June 16, 1959, with fatal bullet wounds and a .38-caliber handgun by his side.

A coroner said the Man of Steel committed suicide, but some believe Reeves was murdered, possibly because of an affair with the wife of a powerful film producer. That's the subject of a forthcoming film, Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Fear of a Superman curse started to brew when famed big-screen Superman Christopher Reeve broke his neck in 1995 while riding a horse. He was left paralyzed.

What's more, Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane, suffered a nervous breakdown, and Richard Pryor began showing signs of multiple sclerosis after appearing in Superman III.

According to one theory, American Indian spirits cursed actors who play Superman as a result of the way they were treated by the white man.

But let's leap over the Superman curse in a single bound. The big screen's first man of steel, Kirk Alyn, lived to the ripe old age of 88.

Still, there are fates worse than death, especially for an actor. In 1987, a year before his death, Alyn laughed about a professional curse — being typecast. After he pulled on the Man of Steel's tights in 1950 for Atom Man vs. Superman, Alyn's career nose-dived. "I couldn't get another film job," Alyn said.

He finally got another credited movie role 27 years later. When Warner Bros. needed an actor to play Lois Lane's father, someone said, "This minor part looks like a job for Superman!" Weigh in on the Wolf Files message board.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.