Strangely Enough, Part of Me Still Wants to be Famous!?

Editorial by Tom Dooley

It's easy to be caught up in the whole, gosh golly gee whiz bit of being interviewed and recognized. It's alot of fun. But at the same time, there is a sort of creepiness to it. The idea that as you walk the earth like Kane from Kung Fu, you realize that everyone knows you are Kane from Kung Fu. They want your autograph because you were cool on that show, and they want to talk about walking on rice paper and sticky feet. Celebrity is a strange thing, and I have never really understood it till recently.

        --Harry Knowles, Web Film Critic


When I read these words on Harry’s Ain’t It Cool movie review site, it was like an exclamation point after a week of musing over the phenomenon of celebrity. Princess Diana’s death has, among other things, wrenched this issue into global focus. The circumstances of her death forced me to see that we might have all had a hand in this tragedy. In a sense, the global community "loved" her to death.

There is something creepy about celebrity, even on a much smaller scale than Diana. Last year I was at a football game here in Tucson. It was the Copper Bowl or something, featuring Wisconsin and, uh… well, I don’t remember. But at any rate, at half-time we walked down the street to a 7-11 to buy some beer, and suddenly I realized that the guy standing in line in front of me was Fred Savage’s big brother from The Wonder Years. Except he wasn’t big—he’s about five feet tall and looks like he’s sixteen and twenty-eight at the same time. Everybody else in the store knew it was him, and he knew we all knew, but nobody said or did anything overt. It was just… well… creepy. I felt sorry for the little guy, because he couldn’t even go to a 7-11 during the half-time of a football game (to buy a pack of gum, by the way) without everybody knowing who he was. Which in itself isn’t so much the weird part. What makes it weird is that all these people who knew him by sight were complete strangers to him.

If it’s creepy for people like Harry Knowles and the guy from The Wonder Years, I can only begin to speculate what it was like for Princess Diana and other people of similar celebrity status. This is part of the reason why I feel uncomfortable when I do see a celebrity. I sympathize with their lack of anonymity so strongly that I don’t want to let them know I’ve "spotted" them.

I say it is only part of the reason because I have to admit there’s another reason I feel awkward around celebrities. A part of me is still the little kid who grew up in the Alaskan wilderness, and I don’t really know how to deal with meeting celebrities yet. I mean, while I know intellectually that NBA players and rock stars and television sitcom actors are real, flesh and blood, somewhat everyday folks, it still comes as a shock to me when I encounter them and experience all that to be true. Even though I’ve never asked (nor will ever ask) for an autograph, I’m just as star-struck as anybody else.

Not that I’ve met (even superficially) a lot of celebrities.

When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I got to see the Packers… sort of. I braved a major storm to see the Pack at the airport after they beat Chicago back in 1989. I got there nearly an hour early, thinking that since there was a blizzard going on I might be one of the only people there and get to hang out with the team or something. Well, I didn’t know Green Bay very well yet. Even though it was nearly midnight, it was already so crowded that I couldn’t get within ten feet of the walkway the team would be using. In the end, I only managed to get a blurry picture of what I later speculated was Tony Mandarich. Sounds pretty limp, I know, but up to that point I’d never seen anybody that was even remotely famous in "real life."

Once, while driving my infamous ’76 silver El Camino in downtown Chicago, I came upon an on-location shooting for Dolly Parton’s film Straight Talk. A crowd of people had formed on the sidewalk around the shoot, and all I could see as I drove past was a giant puff of blonde hair that either signified Dolly or a stunt double. The light turned red, and I was stopped right at the intersection. People all around in cars and on the sidewalks were straining to catch a sight of Dolly. Then I noticed that the guy driving a beat up Chevy to my right, waiting on the other street perpendicular to me (it had been roped off), was Dolly’s co-star James Woods. I made eye contact with him, and I think we both realized at the same time how funny it was that all these people behind him were straining for a glimpse of the action, not realizing that Woods was right there! I smiled and waved at him, and he did the same in return.

Well, there was nothing particularly creepy about either of those encounters, but that was because all those people were functioning as celebrities when I saw them. A couple weeks ago, though, I saw Kerri Strug buying a frozen yogurt (she lives her in Tucson and announced during the Olympics that she loves a local place called The Yogurt Station, and sure enough, that’s where I saw her). The main reason I recognized her was that she was very, very tiny. My second clue was when the manager came out from the back to talk to her, and she had that voice. Part of me wanted to say HI and tell her what a great job I thought she did in the Olympics, but it was a meek part that quickly succumbed to my urge to leave her alone and pretend I didn’t know who she was. It didn’t seem right somehow when she was just trying to get a frozen yogurt. I had a right to do so without being hassled—why shouldn’t she?

Again, though, we’re talking about celebrity on a relatively small scale. With Princess Diana, the conversation takes on almost mythical overtones. In fact, in Diana’s case, I’m reminded of Psyche, the most beautiful woman of her time. She was so beautiful that people would come from miles around just to look at her. She was loved and admired by everyone. But also, like Diana, she was one of the loneliest women of her time.

Today, we’re creating a new kind of mythology. Our "immortals" are created by the media. Just like the Greek gods, our celebrities lead larger-than-life existences. Heck, many of them seem to be nearly as promiscuous! And, in a very real sense, their celebrity lends them a degree of immortality. Elvis, whether you’ve seen him lately or not, lives on. Fred Savage and his big brother, Kerri Strug and Tony Mandarich and Princess Diana all live on. The only glitch in the whole deal is that some of these people really are still alive, and are trying to do things like buy gum and eat frozen yogurt, and for some of them life is just creepy, and for some it’s downright intolerable. We’ve granted them immortality, and for that we’ve exacted a terrible price: their mortality.

Well, I probably can’t say much more about this topic that hasn’t already been said plenty in the last few weeks, but I would like to mention what I thought was one of the most remarkable images I saw throughout this whole episode with Princess Diana. It was a picture of Mother Theresa, herself holding a photograph of Diana as she mourned for Diana’s death. Three days later, Mother Theresa would pass away as well: One immortal following another… up to Mount Olympus. One can only assume it will be easier for them there.


Ultimate Kerri Strug Page:

Official UK Royal Web Page:

Ain’t It Cool Web Site:

Official Green Bay Packers Site:

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