The German word "schadenfreude" refers to pleasure taken in the hardship of others. Not the prettiest of human emotions — but in some cases understandable. Here are 9 controversial public figures whose struggles and setbacks in the past year may have inspired a few private smiles:

Controversial actions: The money manager and former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange embezzled as much as $13 billion from his wealthy investors in a Ponzi scheme he perpetrated over the course of many years.
Comeuppance: This past June, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in jail, the maximum allowed, to the bitter pleasure of his victims.

Controversial actions: The Italian prime minister called President Obama "sunburned" in a reference to his skin color, was indicted for several counts of corruption, and was drawn into a sex scandal involving teenage girls.
Comeuppance: This December, Berlusconi was attacked by an angry demonstrator wielding a scale model of the Milan Cathderal, allowing Italian Facebook users to indulge in a little schadenfreude.

Controversial actions: The beauty queen vexed many liberals by voicing her views against gay marriage at the Miss USA pageant in June.
After photos of a seminude Prejean surfaced, pageant organizer Donald Trump said she could keep her "Miss California" crown — but he fired her a month later for failing to make appearances on behalf of the pageant. (See "Donald Trump," below.)

Controversial actions: The outspoken CNN commentator polarized Americans with his outspoken views on illegal immigration and comments that seemed to dignify the discredited "birther" theories that have dogged President Obama.
Comeuppance: Dobbs resigned from CNN abruptly in November, reportedly under pressure. His critics shouldn't cheer too loudly perhaps: Dobbs is now reportedly mulling a run for President in 2012.

Controversial actions: Over the years, the ascerbic late-night talk show host's wisecracks have alienated many people — not least Sarah Palin, about whom he made a widely-criticised joke in June, infuriating Palin supporters
Comeuppance: Letterman suffered his own humiliation later in the year when a blackmailer's threats led him to admit on-air that he'd conducted affairs with female staffers.

Controversial actions: In 2003, the talk-show host made what many considered racist remarks about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donald McNabb. Paraphrasing Limbaugh's comments, the New York Times reported that McNabb "was overrated because the media wanted a black to succeed." The article continued, "Over the next six years, McNabb threw for nearly 150 touchdowns and went to a Super Bowl."
Comeuppance: Limbaugh was dropped from a consortium attempting to buy the St Louis Rams in October. His McNabb comments were cited as evidence of unacceptable prejudice.

Controversial actions: The "American Idol" judge has rubbed many observers the wrong way with his penchant for self-glorification, once declaring himself "bigger than Bruce Springsteen."
Comeuppance: Though a single by the winner of Cowell's UK reality show, "The X Factor," has traditionally nabbed the number-one spot on the British pop charts, an anti-Cowell Facebook campaign pushed Rage Against The Machine's song "Killing in the Name" into the top slot this year.

Controversial actions: The stock pundit and host of CNBC's "Mad Money" has a long history of questionable ethics and subpar investment advice.
Comeuppance: In March, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart delivered a devastating takedown of CNBC's coverage of the economic meltdown, skewering Cramer in particular for failing to give his viewers sensible investment advice.

Controversial actions: The modest entrepreneur who has named over 20 real-estate developments after himself and reportedly charges $1.5 million for an hour-long lecture came in second to Kanye West as the "Most Egotistical Man of the Year" in an OK Magazine reader poll.
Comeuppance: The Donald's casino business, Trump International, filed for bankruptcy in February. It wasn't all bad news for Trump, though: His luxury hotel company reportedly doubled in size this year.


Before Carrie Prejean: 7 disgraced beauty queens
David Letterman's apologies
Bernard Madoff's life sentence
Rush Limbaugh: Victim of a smear campaign?