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17 Memorable Kisses Throughout History

8 minute read

Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss

Rodin's The Kiss
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of the most famous depictions of love in art, this marble statue illustrates Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, two lovers from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Their kiss is so passionate, you would not know that they were condemned to hell after their affair. The duo was originally part of doors he designed called The Gates of Hell until 1886, “when Rodin decided that this depiction of happiness and sensuality” did not fit, sculpted a separate statue, and exhibited it in 1887, according to the Musée Rodin in Paris. A version of The Kiss was supposed to be displayed in Chicago in 1893, but the couple’s embrace was deemed too erotic for public viewing.

Thomas Edison’s The Kiss

In this 1896 film, May Irwin and John Rice, actors in the New York stage comedy The Widow Jones, reenact a 19-second-long kiss from the show. Shot by Edison’s Vitascope cinema projector, it is considered to be the first movie kiss. Not everyone found it romantic, however, like painter John Sloan, who reportedly wrote, “Magnified to Gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over, it is absolutely disgusting.”

Hershey’s Kisses

Hershey To Challenge Kraft Foods With Cadbury Bid
Bloomberg/Getty Images

The tear-drop chocolates date back to 1907, and now Hershey’s plant in West Hershey, Pennsylvania, can produce up to 70 million of them a day. For Valentine’s Day, Hershey’s makes more than 8 million pounds of Hershey’s Kisses and sells more than 800 million individual Hershey’s Kisses. Over the years, the bite-sized treats have been wrapped in different colors and have been worn like a bra by “I Kissed a Girl” singer Katy Perry on the Jul. 7-21, 2011, cover of Rolling Stone.

V-J Day in Times Square Kiss

VJ DAYAlfred Eisenstaedt / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
Alfred Eisenstaedt / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

The caption for Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph in the August 27, 1945, issue of LIFE was “In the middle of New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.” (Read more about the photograph at LIFE.com.) In 2012, CBS News identified the sailor and nurse in the photo as George Mendonsa, a retired fisherman from Rhode Island, and Greta Friedman, and brought them together again in Times Square.

The Kiss of Death

The Godfather: Part II

Some kisses are far from romantic. In The Godfather Part II (1974), mob boss Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) kisses his brother Fredo (John Cazale) in Havana and reveals that he knows Fredo had betrayed him: “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” TIME’s Richard Corliss called the scene, “one of the most powerful kisses in movies: the kiss that kills.”


Kiss Album Cover Portrait Session
Ginny Winn—Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Between the band members’ “signature makeup, explosive stage show and anthems like “Rock And Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City,” they are the very personification of rock stars,” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wrote about 2014 inductee KISS. Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley started rocking out in 1972 and became one of the most popular bands of the 1970s. While Peter and Ace peeled off in the 80s, the band continued to rock out at Super Bowl XXXIII, the 2002 Winter Olympics, the American Idol finale in 2009, and even graced the cover of Playboy magazine in 1999. Still performing today, KISS claims to have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide over a 40-year career.

World Leaders Kiss

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker
Helmuth Lohmann—AP

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic in 1979, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker shared a “fraternal kiss” (also once referred to as a “Kremlin kiss”) — an expression of solidarity exchanged between Eastern Bloc pols when the Soviet Union existed. There was a Dmitri Vrubel mural of this moment on the Berlin Wall captioned “God help me to survive this deadly love affair.”

Al and Tipper Gore Kiss

Vice President Al Gore kisses his wife Tipper Gore
Robert Nickelsberg—Liaison/Getty Images

The Vice President Al Gore made headlines when he hugged his wife Tipper tightly and kissed her for three whole seconds — which felt like forever — at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17, 2000. Back then, TIME wrote, “The sheer carnality of the kiss — the can’t-wait-to-get-back-to-the-hotel-room urgency, the sexual electricity flowing south — was riveting.” Political commenters called the kiss both a calculated attempt to humanize Gore and a statement of monogamy intended to show that he was his own man and not like his boss, Bill Clinton, who had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Gore did not win the 2000 presidential election, however, and the couple separated a decade later.

Ray Bourque’s Stanley Cup Kiss

Ray Bourque
Brian Bahr—Allsport/Getty Images

After more than 20 years in the NHL, Ray Bourque kissed and cradled the Stanley Cup for the first time on June 9, 2001, after helping the Colorado Avalanche defeat the New Jersey Devils before he retired that summer.

Britney and Madonna Kiss

Britney Spears and Madonna
John Shearer—WireImage / Getty Images

Britney Spears and Madonna shocked the world by French-kissing — or playing “tonsil hockey,” as TIME’s Joel Stein described it — at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 28, 2003. Critics compared it to Michael Jackson smooching Lisa Marie Presley at the 1994 ceremony. The image was apparently so appalling to some people that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had to apologize for placing it on the front page of the newspaper. And viewers who saw Miley Cyrus twerk on stage at the awards a decade later will chuckle at The Los Angeles Times description of the Britney-Madonna kiss: “The fact that this yawn-worthy Madonna shock tactic became the central topic of the show’s post-mortems indicates how low the once-essential showcase has sunk.”

Post-Stanley Cup Riots Kiss

Vancouver Kiss
Rich Lam—Getty Images

The fiery riots in Vancouver, Canada, could not subdue the fiery passion between Australian native Scott Jones and Alexandra Thomas, who were photographed making out on the ground in the middle of the street during the chaos that broke out on June 15, 2011, after the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. In the picture, taken by Getty Images photographer Rich Lam, Jones was trying to calm Thomas down after the two had been overwhelmed by the surge of police, The Toronto Star reports. Jones’s father Brett summed up the moment best on his Facebook page: “How’s that for making love, not war?”

World Leaders Don’t Kiss

Benetton Ad
Martin Bureau—AFP/Getty Images

Presumably inspired by the Brezhnev-Honecker kiss, the clothing company United Colors of Benetton’s 2011 ad campaign for its UNHATE Foundation featured digitally manipulated images of world leaders kissing, including Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel locking lips with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, President Barack Obama with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-il with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a high-profile Egyptian imam Ahmed el-Tayeb was removed after the Vatican condemned it as “offensive” to the Pope and Catholics in general. In a statement, the company defended the campaign as “symbolic images of reconciliation – with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation.”

The Obamas on The Kiss Cam

Barack and Michelle Obama are pros at posing for the cameras, yet they did not expect to appear on the “Kiss Cam” at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. during an Olympic men’s exhibition basketball game between Team USA and Brazil on July 16, 2012. The first couple did not kiss when the camera zoomed in on them during the first half of the game — which reportedly prompted boos. But when it came around in the second half, the President kissed the First Lady so passionately that NBC’s Al Roker joked, “Mr. President, get a stadium!”

The Fastest Runner Kiss

Usain Bolt
Bob Thomas—Getty Images

World champion Jamaican runner Usain Bolt kisses the track after winning the 100m and 200m races in record times at the London Summer Games on Aug. 9, 2012–a first in Olympic history. “I am a living legend,” he told The New York Times.

The Longest Kiss

World's Longest Continuous Kiss
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

The Guinness World Record for the longest kiss is 58 hours, 35 minutes and 58 seconds, achieved by Ekkachai Tiranarat and Laksana Tiranarat at a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not event in Pattaya, Thailand, between February 12-14, 2013. They won a $3,300 cash prize and two diamond rings.

TIME Covers of Same-Sex Couples Kisses:

TIME Gay Marriage
Peter Hapak for TIME

Two Apr. 8, 2013, TIME covers featuring the line “Gay Marriage Already Won” superimposed on portraits of same-sex couples kissing instantly went viral and sparked a lively debate. Illustrating an article on the public support for gay marriage leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the magazine argued the cover images “symbolized the love that is at the heart of the idea of marriage,” while commentary on The Wire argued, “that same-sex couples kissing on a magazine cover is still cause for surprise, for shock, for discussions and reactions and double takes, that it would even be a cover, means in fact we’re not quite all the way there.”

Speed Skaters Kiss

Brian Snyder—Reuters

Canadian speed skater Charles Hamelin skated over to his girlfriend, speed skater Marianne St-Gelais, and planted a big one on her while straddling the track barrier after winning a gold medal in the 1,500m short track on Feb. 10, 2014 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The embrace was an encore of their kiss at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com