Pope John Paul II: Friend Of Bono, Fan Of Pop Culture

Pope quoted Bob Dylan and was dubbed the 'first funky pontiff' by Bono.

Pope John Paul II, who died Saturday of complications caused by a urinary infection, will be remembered as a religious and political figurehead, but the arts and popular culture also played a significant role in his adventurous life.

The pontiff, who was an actor and a playwright in his youth, held annual concerts at the Vatican, quoted Bob Dylan and met with U2 singer Bono about lowering Third World debt.

In 1997, John Paul II invited Dylan to perform for him at the World Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy (see "Bob Dylan Plays For Pope, Delivers Acclaimed New Album"). After the concert, the pope referenced the singer/songwriter's famous song "Blowin' in the Wind," describing Christ as "the road a man must walk down before they call him a man."

Later that year, the pontiff hosted B.B. King at the fifth annual Christmas concert at the Vatican, where the blues legend presented one of his trademark "Lucille" guitars to the Roman Catholic leader (see "B.B. King's 'Lucille' To The Pope After Vatican Concert").

John Paul II then welcomed Ricky Martin, Jewel and British pop star Cleopatra to the concert a year later (see "Jewel, Cleopatra To Play For Pope").

In 1999, the pope met with Bono to discuss his Jubilee 2000 mission, which looked to rich countries to help reduce the debt of the world's poorest countries (see "Bono, Bob Geldof, Others Appeal To Pope For Debt-Dropping Support").

"He's one of the great showmen of the 20th century," Bono said, dubbing him "the first funky pontiff" after their meeting (see "Bono On The Pope: 'The First Funky Pontiff' "). "I told him this and he picked up my wraparound shades and put them on. He's great, such grace and humanity."

John Paul II reportedly stayed in touch with Bono after their meeting, and in May of 2000, joined the Eurythmics, Lou Reed and Andrea Bocelli at a concert in Rome to reduce world debt (see "Eurythmics, Lou Reed, The Pope For Jubilee").

Most recently, in January of 2004 at the Vatican, the pontiff presided over a performance of breakdancers from his home country of Poland who had done charity work for disadvantaged children. John Paul II waved his hand after each dancer and then applauded the group, saying, "For this creative hard work, I bless you from my heart."

The pope also found himself at the center of a pop-culture debate last year when reports surfaced that an unnamed source at the Vatican said the leader liked Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," saying, "It is as it was." But the pontiff's private secretary later insisted he had no comment on the movie.

Of course, the most controversial pop-culture moment involving the pope occurred in 1992, when singer Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of John Paul II and said, "Fight the real enemy," after her performance of Bob Marley's "War" (in which she changed the lyric "social injustice" to "sexual abuse") on "Saturday Night Live."

O'Connor eventually apologized to the pope, calling her act "ridiculous." She went on to join the congregation of the controversial Irish Bishop Michael Cox, who eventually ordained the singer as a priest, a move the pope was quoted as calling "bizarre." NBC, which received thousands of complaints (including one from Frank Sinatra, who said he wanted to "punch" O'Connor), was eventually fined $2.5 million by the Federal Communications Commission. The performance was not aired again.

The pope has also been spoofed in pop culture over the years, especially for his Popemobile. Howard Stern arrived at the New York premiere of his 1997 "Private Parts" film in a Popemobile replica, and the armored vehicle made an appearance on "The Family Guy" cartoon in 1999. Steve Martin also portrayed the pope on "Saturday Night Live" in 1979.

John Paul II was also a successful arts contributor in his own right. In 1994, after his book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" earned a $6 million publishing deal (with the money going to the church), he became the first pope to become an international best-selling author.