By People Staff
December 30, 1996 12:00 PM

“Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” asked the Pop artist Andy Warhol. The past 12 months proved to be a time of seismic shifts. Icons teetered, symbols shook, stars transformed themselves, and newcomers weren’t at all what we expected. Though the notables of ’96 were swiftly moving targets, throughout the pages of this annual issue we managed to track them down and halt them in their trajectories—at least for a colorful and informative moment or two.

No one made a more glorious about-face than Rosie O’Donnell, who went from stand-up shtick to sit-down substance behind the snappiest talk show desk on TV On both sides of the Atlantic, Diana emerged again, svelte, shining and without Charles in charge, while Brooke Shields went from being America’s most celebrated virgin since Doris Day to a worldly young TV star on her hit show Suddenly Susan. Even our evolutionary ancestors were into image massage: Binti-Jua, the mountain gorilla who saved a boy’s life in the Brookfield Zoo, became a rallying symbol of her endangered species—and an example to us all. A few newsmakers took us by surprise. We expected accused Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to display the twisted face of a monster, but we saw instead the pained visage of a tortured soul.

Some stars remade themselves with clothes. George Clooney traded his ER scrubs for Batman’s rubber duds without missing a heartbeat, and the NBA’s strangest starter, Dennis Rodman, took the publicity game to a new level by donning a wedding dress to promote his book. No one, of course, soared higher than 53-year-old astronaut Shannon Lucid, who ignited a lot of our jets—older woman, working mom, explorer. Perhaps she speaks for many of this year’s Intriguers when she says of her rocket ride to the stars, “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”