Every now and then, someone will treat me like I'm a big deal. Now, you and I both know I am not a big deal. But, because I'm on TV in my town, it's not unusual for someone to make a fuss. I always thank them, because I appreciate the kind words.
Even though my “celebrity” is limited to a local level, I do not take it lightly. When I was growing up, seeing anyone who was on TV was a heart-stopping moment. That was back when being on TV actually meant something. There were no tawdry reality shows, and we had about 500 less than 503 channels. Whether it was John Wayne or a screaming car dealer, everyone on TV was famous to me.
I remember the first time I saw a local TV celebrity in person. I was about 10, and he was on my TV every night. I saw him in a supermarket, and mustered up the courage to say hello. He looked at me as if to say, “Yeah, I get that all the time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find the hemorrhoid medicine.”
Now that I'm on local TV, I can't possibly do that to anyone. If anything, I over-compensate. I smile and speak to total strangers, just in case they know who I am. If they do, they surely walk away saying, “Well, that guy isn't stuck up at all, is he?” If they don't know me, I'm sure they wonder, “Why is that strange man smiling and waving at me? Are there any uniformed officers nearby?” I always err on the side of friendliness.
It got me thinking about my own encounters with famous people. Over the years, I've written about interrupting President Carter's vacation, to his mild annoyance, and the time Kenny Rogers reduced my wife to a stammering puddle with his overpowering Kenny Rogers-ness.
But there are a few stories I have not yet told. Remember singer B. J. Thomas, of “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” fame? In the 1980s, I had gotten permission to interview him in his dressing room before a concert. At the assigned time, I knocked on his door. A young woman answered, not particularly happy to see me and my photographer.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. I told her that B.J's road manager had set up an interview. She rolled her eyes and said, “Mr. Thomas is on a tight schedule, and I didn't know anything about this. Go ahead and set up while I get him, but I'm warning you, you'd better make this quick!” She hustled into a nearby room.
We set up as in a hurry, putting up the lights, leveling the tripod, attaching the camera, and testing the microphone. Five minutes later, B.J. strolled in, all alone, just as cheery as a big star could be. I immediately launched into a medley of apologies about any problems we may have created, and told him we would make this interview super-fast.
“What's the problem?” he asked. I caught my breath and told him that his assistant had warned us to make it snappy, because of his tight schedule.
He laughed, and said, “Take your time. No hurry. She just likes being in charge.” We did the interview at a leisurely pace, and talked as if we were old friends. I was a fan already, and have been a bigger fan ever since.
There were two other stars who must remain nameless, because I don't enjoy going to court. Both had a reputation for drinking too much, and saying inappropriate things. Both more than lived up to their billing. I interviewed both just before they performed, and they weren't any better on stage. The audience noticed too. They are not stars any more.
I've met and/or interviewed all three Mandrell sisters, Alex Trebek, Bob Hope, Geraldo Rivera (in his boxers), Richard Simmons (in his short shorts), Lester Holt, Bob Barker, Ted Turner, Tom Jones, and Minnie Pearl, among others. In most cases, our encounters were before the age of selfies. In a way I regret that, but in another way I don't. I'm glad I could just live in the moment, without posing for a silly picture.
Unfortunately, I have never met Willie Nelson, but I know someone who did, and he shared this story. He was setting up the stage for Willie at a show in 2001. He pulled out a 1977 magazine with Willie on the cover, and asked him to sign it. Willie said he'd like to look at it first, and took the magazine out to his bus. He returned about an hour later, signed the magazine and said, “Thank you for letting me read that. I don't remember anything from the 70s, and I just learned a lot about myself.”