Here's Johnny - The recognition thing
For the last three-plus years, I've been in Midway at least twice a month to cover city council meetings and other matters, and I wish I'd had a chance to meet Sam Shepard (see story on page 1). I knew the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award-nominated actor had a farm nearby and occasionally frequented local establishments. I knew his reputation was that of a quiet gentleman, and figured if I bumped into him, I'd try not to invade his privacy. Much. Maybe I would have, just a little, just to introduce myself, tell him I admired his work and, oh yes, perhaps ask if he'd ever read any of mine - maybe one of the slightly-above-average "Here's Johnny" columns. On the other hand, I might have left him alone. I dunno. I will not pretend to compare the wee bit of "Hey, where do I know you from?" I get from time to time due to my days in television news to the celebrity - much less achievements - of a man like Sam Shepard. Outside of Central Kentucky, and the Louisville area, I'm completely anonymous to strangers, and that's the way I like it. To people who ask the aforementioned question, my answer is usually, "Post Office wall?" (a reference to the FBI's Most Wanted lists posted in such places). Usually they don't get the lame joke, and usually, I end up explaining what I did before I came to The Sun, then complain, "I'm not gonna be able to rob a bank in these parts without a mask for another decade." They usually get that one. I suppose I could don a mask, but I don't fancy what would happen were I to get caught, and besides, robbing banks is wrong. Point is, I do have something of an interest in how people react when they see a familiar face, and why they so often make something of a fuss over it. Sam Shepard, I can understand. He was a brilliant writer, actor and musician, and was, as the old saying goes, "movie star handsome." Some ordinary-looking (if tall) bloke who does, or used to do, television news? Not so much. Many moons ago, after actor Woody Harrelson was cleared of marijuana cultivation charges in Eastern Kentucky for openly planting hemp seeds, he spent part of the next day at the TV station where I worked. He and fellow activists were shooting a documentary about the hemp movement. I'd covered the trial and interviewed Harrelson the next day. He was as open and funny and down-to-earth as a fan would hope, and didn't mind posing for pictures before he left. (Yes, one of them was with me.) As he was about to leave, I walked alongside him in the hallway and asked about the nature of celebrity, explaining that while in these parts, I might get a few double-takes, he must face stronger reactions most everywhere. "I'm just curious - what's that like?" I asked. Harrelson paused for a moment, and I thought briefly that he might issue a Deep Thought or hilarious anecdote about a besotted fan. "It's pretty wild, man," he said. I wonder how many strangers approached Sam Shepard over the last 40-plus years, or Woody Harrelson since his work on "Cheers." Some, no doubt, emboldened by a few alcoholic beverages, were a little obnoxious, while others were merely obsequious - as if, because Sam and Woody were famous, they mattered more. I can only say with certainty that I can't recall anyone, due to my work in TV news in Bowling Green, Louisville and Lexington, being anything less than polite and a bit curious. Some folks, not knowing where they know me from, are even apologetic - as if knowing the identity of a semi-familiar face is a required civics lesson. That's crazy talk. I've met other famous people in my lines of work, from Charlton Heston to Senators Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman, and found them all to be polite and sometimes, quite charming. In Louisville in 1998, just before an interview, Lieberman caught a falling, video camera-equipped tripod just before it hit the ground, thus assuring him of at least the vote of the photographer who didn't secure it and probably mine, too. So I suppose the lesson here, if there is one, is that our parents were right: Most people mean well, and it doesn't cost a thing to be kind. Besides, those folks who think they know you from somewhere might buy the next round. R.I.P., Mr. Shepard. Thanks for your work - and thanks for your kindness to strangers.