What It’s Like to
Meet a Celebrity

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in ,

In Short: Normal People.

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I’ve had the good fortune to meet many famous people, including Star Wars creator George Lucas (long before he was famous), magician and skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi, original Star Trek’s “Scotty” Jimmy Doohan (and “Chekov” Walter Koenig — and “Trouble with Tribbles” writer David Gerrold), Science Fiction Grand Master Larry Niven, magicians Penn & Teller, America’s first female astronaut (and physicist) Sally Ride, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, and quite a few others.

How? Lucas was a tenant at a ranch my father co-owned — and where, I’d like to believe, he fell in love with ranches, leading to his own Skywalker Ranch. Randi was a fellow speaker at two conferences where I also spoke.

Doohan was at an appearance at Universal Studios for the very first Star Trek Adventure video made on replica Star Trek sets, where park guests in line for the show were picked to play various roles in each video. I happened to be picked as an engineer, so I was dressed in costume when Doohan popped in to say hello to his engineers. Weirdly, I was the only one in the group not afraid to step up and chat, and he was happy to talk while we waited a half-hour for things to get underway.

Koenig came to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the time I worked there, while in town to work on (I’m pretty sure) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That’s also where I met Ride, who was doing a tour of NASA centers, and Gerrold: he came to speak at an event, and I volunteered to be his escort — he came early enough for me to give him a short tour around the lab, and he was so full of wonder and appreciation I felt like I was the celebrity!

It’s Magic! Me, Teller, Penn, and me. Yeah, I had them sign my program after the show. (Photo: my buddy Christopher Knight — but not the one who played on The Brady Bunch.)

Niven was in the audience when I gave a talk at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where he’s a member. He was kind enough to speak to me afterward, and chuckled when I told him his book Lucifer’s Hammer* scared the crap out of me because it was so plausible.

Penn & Teller had me come up on stage as a “firearms expert” to witness their famous shoot each other in the mouth illusion. And Wozniak is a long-time reader who said when I was in town to let him know so we could go to dinner, so I did, we did, and he brought a few other computer pioneers along so we could all meet each other.

They Are Much Alike

The one description applicable to all of them, in my experience, is: they’re just normal people. None of them were full of themselves, and they all were gracious and kind, even if some were a bit amazed that people wanted to meet them.

The Doohan story is especially telling: if a “celebrity” is there to meet people and say hello, don’t be afraid to step up and say hello! The best way to make them comfortable is to tell them you enjoy their work, maybe saying what, in particular, entertains or enlightens you. And then step back to let others approach if anyone is waiting.

After all, they really are regular people even if well known, and pretty much everyone is happy to talk briefly if they’re not busy or trying to get somewhere.

* FTC Notice: If you buy Amazon products through this link we may receive an “affiliate” fee, which does not affect the price you pay.

Randy Cassingham is WiLt’s head writer and publisher. His flagship publication This is True, established in 1994, is the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet.

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20 thoughts on “Meet a Celebrity”

  1. Thanks for this Randy. Many people seem to forget that celebrities are just folks with jobs that are different from our own. Back in college I used to set up lights for concerts and met a few musicians over the years. Like you say most were down to earth who didn’t mind having a conversation provided you didn’t fawn over them. We all put our pants on one leg at a time….

    Yeah, fawning is awful. Example: Brent Spiner (“Data” on Star Trek:TNG) told the story of being at a store, and a gal had her face glued to the outside window looking at him and mouthing, “I love you … I love you … I love you … I love you ….” Ugh! -rc

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  2. I remember meeting Mary Tyler Moore years ago, when I was, oh, maybe 10 or 12 years old, at a conference in LA. I was vaguely aware she was famous for some reason 🙂 but she was really Just Another Old Person in the group. I remember my mom being pleased that MTM seemed to be genuinely interested in her (mom’s) work with the organization they were both involved in, and like you say here — she was just another, regular, person!

    (Frankly, I was far more in awe of Marshall Kirk McKusick when I first met him. FWIW, he turns out to be a really nice guy.)

    For readers not in the know: McKusick was part of the team behind the Berkeley distribution of the Unix operating system. Yeah, I’m more impressed by super experts than super “stars” too. 🙂 -rc

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  3. Yep. Met a few myself. (Mostly musicians, as I’m a musician). Like you say, they’re just people like you and me. Some are mellow and open, some aren’t, just like us. I suppose you’re somewhat of a celeb yourself.

    Maybe — a “W-list” celeb! But I guess “celebrity” is really in the eye of the beholder, and I’m humbled by the several who have gone out of their way to say hello. -rc

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  4. I’ve met a few celebrities. Unfortunately, all of my experiences weren’t nearly as positive. On two different occasions, the person I encountered was so inebriated, at 10:30 AM, and full of themselves that I intentionally avoided further contact. One was barking orders at imaginary people and the other kept cackling like a chicken and bumping into me in a taxi waiting line.

    On one other, I was waiting at an airport boarding gate and thought that I recognized her. This was mere happenstance, I saw no need to “rush and gush”. Two months later, I emailed her employer’s web site, described the place and time, and asked if that really was her. She confirmed it and asked why I didn’t approach and extend a greeting. I told her that I don’t intrude simply because I might recognize someone, celebrities deserve private lives. Notably, this woman has won multiple lawsuits against police who ran her license plates countless times. I didn’t want to further contribute to her invasion of privacy concerns.

    Yup! They’re real people, warts and all with problems just like us.

    Randy, if you’re curious, I can share the names with you privately along with more detail. I don’t see the need to “go public”.

    Thanks, but I’ll respect their privacy too. I feel sorry for those who go crazy with drugs and/or alcohol: it means they can’t handle the rush of fame (or maybe money). If they’re lucky, they sober up and turn themselves around (e.g., Elton John) rather than self destruct (e.g., Kurt Cobain). -rc

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  5. I know David Gerrold and many other authors from SF conventions. (Pro tip: the authors are in the bar. Buy them drinks and they will talk for *hours*.) [Hah! True more often than not. -rc] Also a good place to meet world-class scientists.

    I was good friends with Algis “AJ” Budrys, a very interesting person who authored a number of great books. He was the son of Lithuanian diplomats. He was 4yo when he saw Hitler enter Lithuania. He was a trained opera singer. I was in the room at the New Orleans Worldcon (he was hosting the party) when someone asked him to sing (he was in a tux). He started to sing, when a couple in evening wear came in (they had all been at the Nebula awards). The woman started singing the female part (it was obvious she was also a trained singer). AJ opened his arm, she slid in, and they sang for 10 minutes. Only at a Worldcon.

    David Gerrold is a delight. I recommend his book “The Martian Child”, about his adventures, as a gay single man, to adopt an 8yo boy who thought he was a Martian. Who better to raise a Martian Child than an SF author?

    I first met Niven and Pournelle at 4am at an Octicon where I did not let them into a party (at the request of the host). They were rather drunk, too. I then met Niven a bit later when he was sober, in a room party where he was in full Regency costume. I told him about the Octicon event. He took it gracefully.

    I met Woz once. My officemate at Seagate, Ron, is the SO of Candy, Woz’s first wife. Yes, Woz is a super techno geek/nerd. He helped create a kids science museum in San Jose, on the “Woz Way” street.

    I met Doohan’s widow at the New Mexico Spaceport where a rocket took his ashes and others into space. I was there because I had been able to get a friend’s ashes on the same flight.

    I met Elon Musk once, at the first X Prize Cup event. I volunteered myself and my son to work the event. He was happy the event was well attended and going smoothly.

    I met Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt, an Apollo 17 astronaut. He lives in New Mexico, where I live. He spoke at a professional group I belong to.

    Randy is spot on. Treat them with respect, and they are happy to chat with you.

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  6. It is always fun when you meet someone who is a celebrity and find out they are just like everyone else. Two of the meetings I had were with Three Dog Night (drank beer with them after a show and helped take down the stage) and the following weekend Joni Mitchell (asked her to leave David and marry me…we both laughed and talked and I got a hug and a “no” lol).

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  7. I’ve met quite a number of celebrities, and most were good experiences. One comedian was so obnoxious, however, that I could never hear his name afterwards without thinking of his nasty, pompous attitude. Meeting Sue Grafton was absolutely wonderful. She knew how to make people feel as if you were in her living room just having a cozy chat. I had gone to a signing, something I’ve never done before or since, and I took a braille copy of one of her books to have her sign. The title and author’s name were in print on the cover, and my ex-husband said she got the biggest smile on her face when she saw it. She held the book up for everyone to see, exclaiming that it was her book in braille. She was so thrilled! Her reaction still makes me smile.

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  8. I worked at Disneyland during the seventies and encountered a few celebrities there. The best was meeting and shaking hands with Cary Grant. He was in the employee cafeteria and shaking hands and chatting with everyone there — very gracious. I also briefly met Don Knotts in a less happy situation. He was being chased by several people and all he wanted to do was enjoy the park. I caught his eye and had him follow me through a backstage (employee only) area and out to another part of the park. He was very appreciative. Like you say, they’re just real people.

    And I’ll bet what he remembered most about that day was how you helped him. Good job! -rc

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  9. I met one in 1962 while I was stationed in Germany for the USAF. I guess he had been bar hopping so the experience was not good. Unfortunately for me he was my favorite Quarterback.

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  10. I worked as a sound editor in the movie industry and have met or at least been in the room with many actors that came through our ADR stage. It seemed to me that the best actors/actresses to meet were the ones that typically played the bad guys. They seemed the most down to earth people to talk with.

    Interesting observation! I’ll bet you have some What It’s Like to… stories to tell yourself. -rc

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  11. I have to agree with what John said about the actors who play the bad guys being some of the nicest people. I hear Aaron Paul (Jesse on Breaking Bad) is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and he will go out of the way for his fans. And some of the biggest stars are understandably gun shy about how they have been treated and come off as jerks (and some are just total jerks).

    Perhaps my favourite story is not meeting a celebrity. Back in the 90s, I owned a video store, and had a friend/business associate who ended up becoming friends with Kevin Smith (of Clerks fame). He (the friend) stops in one day and says “where were you last night? We stopped by with Kevin and you weren’t here. He wanted to meet you”. I probably got more mileage out of telling the story of Kevin Smith wanted to meet me, and I blew him off, than if I had actually met the guy.

    Now that’s a smart way to look at it! -rc

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  12. I have been to many Star Trek/Sci-Fi conventions over the years and met and talked with many of the actors. From my point of view, about 99% were more than happy to talk to you. Only had one actor who seemed like he couldn’t care less. Most of the time I was in an autograph line, say a few nice things to them about their work, and then a short conversation would take place, to the dismay of the people behind me. Grace Lee Whitney and George Takei are two that come to mind that genuinely loved talking to the fans.

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  13. I’ve met several bands after the show. We waited by the tour bus, along with the groupies. Well my friend was an amazing artist & had drawn pictures of either the singer, drummer or a guitarist. I’d show the right person the picture & we’d get back stage passes. I’ve got pics of us together & autographs.

    Our favorite was Paul D. of Matchbox 20. My friends art teacher wouldn’t grade her pic of him, she said it needed more work. Well he signed it and wrote an amazing note to the teacher. “Art is done when the artist says it is, and since this is a pic of me and I absolutely love it, I give it an A+++++++”. Her teacher then gave her the A & all 7 plus’s.

    I also got to have a conversation with the lead singer of Third Eye Blind at our MN state fair during the concert. Again holding a pic my friend drew, a tech brought us out backstage passes.

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  14. When I was a graduate student, I met Adm. Grace Hopper, computer pioneer. My chairman had invited her to speak at a computer conference and she had lunch with him and his doctoral students. We were all working on computer applications in education, topic she was speaking on. I also had the privilege of driving her to the airport and waiting for her flight. She was fun and very interesting. She made me feel like I was the most important researcher in the world. She especially loved talking about blind alleys we had gone up.

    Wow! I would have loved to have met her. An absolute legend. -rc

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  15. When I was about five years old I lived in a small town in the southern part of Denmark, where my father was a farm hand responsible for the cattle. There also were about 12-14 horses in the stables where I did my share to help out. One day I observed a man approaching one of the horses in a way I formerly had been told was inappropriate. With all the aplomb of a five-year old I told him so. He then looked down on me and said, that I was a brave young man and that as a reward I should have his portrait. I was somewhat nonplussed when he then gave me a coin. When I asked my father what the man meant, he explained to me that the man was our king, Frederik the Ninth, and the coin actually carried his portrait. Thus I learned who the king was and who owned those horses.

    Now that’s a novel way to meet a celebrity! I hope you still have that portrait. -rc

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  16. Celebrity experiences can go both ways. Bad: I took a date to a club owned by a well-known comedian who always claimed he go not respect. Had a complaint about the food, and pushed to see someone in authority. Was taken down to the comedian’s office, where he was just as full of himself and obnoxious as his stage persona.

    On the other hand, for a few years I was a member of Mensa in NYC. At one meeting the speaker was Isaac Asimov. A couple of us spotted him in the bar of the hotel before the meeting. I had brought my copy of “The Sensuous Dirty Old Man” by “Dr. A.” * He was very gracious in signing it for me, especially since, as he said, I was one of the very few people to have bought a copy.

    *For those who don’t remember, “The Sensuous Woman” by “J” and “The Sensuous Man” by “M” were bestsellers in 1969 and 1971 respectively.

    I would have loved to meet Asimov. -rc

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  17. About 1953 when I was 10 y.o. there was a benefit for African students and Harry Belafonte was the guest artist. We were waiting and waiting for the show to start so in the interim my father sent me out to get popcorn and on my way back I was distracted by something and walked right into someone, stepping on their toes. I looked up and there was Harry Belafonte looking down at me with the biggest smile imaginable.

    Many years later I was an extra in a mini-series “Black Fox” starring Christopher Reeve. He was such a nice guy, cheerfully signing Superman comic books for kids. On the last day of shooting every time he walked by me I asked if I could take a picture of him. I guess I was being a bit of a nuisance because he finally came out of his trailer just so I could take my pictures. I took some and he went back into his trailer.

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  18. In the early 70’s I had a Holiday job wrapping gifts at Noonan’s Dept Store in Santa Monica, CA. I had already been a trouble-maker of sorts, starting with singing holiday songs & then bringing in ‘Santa’ hats for the 3-4 girls wrapping. Noonan’s carried fancy dishes and serving items up front, and more prosaic kitchen items in the rear of the store, including some harder-to-find items.

    One afternoon we got quite a pile of items to wrap for a customer who was waiting. I ended up with the fireplace popcorn popper (a wire basket on a long handle) and was informed the customer wanted it wrapped in a way that did not immediately give away what it was. I pulled a LOT of corrugated paper off the roll, started securing it longways around the popper (end-to-end), and began singing holiday songs again.

    Next thing we know, several customers joined in — including the fellow waiting on the popper: Ron Howard. He sang with us the whole time we were wrapping his gifts, about 20 minutes. We all got to come around the counter & shake hands with him before he left, saying he’d had a great time.

    Fun! And a great memory for you. -rc

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  19. I am an antique car dealer in South Carolina. In the mid 70’s I received a phone call one day and the person ask if I would hold for a call from Buddy Hackett. When he came on the line, I immediately recognized his voice. He asked me if I still had my 1950 Riley Roadster. He said he was a car dealer in Las Vegas and was interested in this particular car. I told him that I had already sold it. He thanked me and ended the conversation.

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  20. Penn Gillete was an early computer person also. He had a regular column in one of the many magazines that cropped up and only lasted a very few years. It may have been PC Computing; I really do not remember which it was.

    In one column I recall he expressed his appreciation for Uma Thurman: when he resolved any computer problem, real or imagined, he said the fault was in the “Thurman”.

    Penn wrote for PC/Computing magazine in the early 90s. -rc

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