5 Tales of Celebrities Totally Failing to Be Recognized
The best thing about being a celebrity is people recognize you wherever you go. The worst thing about being a celebrity is people recognize you wherever you go.
But maybe that’s not true. Really, the best thing about being a celebrity is money. The worst thing about being a celebrity, meanwhile, is when people who know all about you finally see you and don’t recognize you at all. Like what happened when...
New Jersey People Called 911 When They Saw Bob Dylan
In 2009, a family saw an “eccentric old man” walk into the yard in front of their house. To them, he was some old guy in sweatpants and two raincoats, probably homeless and probably looking to cause trouble. He was actually Bob Dylan, which was perhaps a far better explanation for both his disheveled appearance and overall mental impairment.
The family called the police, and when an officer arrived, she asked the man to explain himself. He said he’d wandered into the yard because he’d seen a “for sale” sign and was looking to buy a house there — an answer that sounded unconvincing if the man were really some hobo and frankly even more unconvincing if the man were Bob Dylan. He then identified himself as Bob Dylan, and the officer didn’t believe him, particularly since he carried no ID.
The man insisted he was in New Jersey touring with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, indicating that he might have been an escaped hospital inmate, but after the officer loaded him into her car, she humored him and accepted his directions to a hotel. The hotel lot was full of tour buses. A superior officer also met her there, and after looking at the guy, he too agreed this was clearly not Bob Dylan. But the wet hooded man went inside and fetched his passport.
The passport confirmed who he was, as did various people at the hotel. The officers now said, “Okay, you’re famous, but that does not undermine the accusation of trespassing, so we’re going to have to keep you in custody.” Just kidding. They let him go, of course.
Tourists Met the Queen and Didn’t Realize It
At the end of her life, Queen Elizabeth II had perhaps the most famous face in the world and surely the most famous face in England, if for no other reason than from appearing on all those banknotes. Not too many of those banknotes, however, showed her wearing a headscarf, a fashion choice enjoyed sometimes by her but more often by lots of old lady commoners.
One time, tourists were visiting Balmoral Castle and Estate while the Queen was walking the grounds, relatively incognito thanks to her scarf and tweed coat. We imagine security had already checked the tourists for weapons (maces, pikes, etc.), and the Queen was escorted by her personal bodyguard, Richard Griffin. He would have that job for a total of 14 years, after serving other palace guard functions for another 45 years.
The tourists met the Queen on a trail from a picnic site. They talked to her, as tourists talk to fellow tourists, then asked the inevitable traveler question: Where do you live? “I live in London,” she said, “but I have a holiday home just on the other side of the hills.” And how often, they asked, have you been coming here (to Balmoral, not understanding that Balmoral was the holiday home she was referring to). “I’ve been coming here ever since I was a little girl,” she said. “So, over 80 years.” Well, said the tourists, if you’ve been coming here so long, you’ve surely met the queen. “No,” she replied. Then she pointed to Griffin. “But he has.”
Griffin would recall this many times, slightly changing the wording but telling the same basic story. According to another version, her final reply was, “Well, I haven’t. But Dick here meets her regularly.” They then asked for a picture with Dick, who made sure they also got a picture without him but with the old woman, whom their friends back home would surely be able to identify for them.
André the Giant’s Family Saw Him Become a Wrestler But Didn’t Know It Was Him
André the Giant grew fast. He was more than six feet tall when he was 14, but by the time he was full-grown, he was almost seven and a half feet. His family must have seen him shoot up before their very eyes during those years... if they saw him then at all. Which they didn’t because at the age of 14, he left his French village and headed to the city.
He moved furniture for a living and then was recruited from a gym to wrestle. When he was 19, he headed back home, and his parents did recognize him — as a wrestler they’d seen on TV. When he’d appeared on TV, they’d had no idea he was their son. That was because he’d grown and also because he used a stage name. No, not André the Giant. André was his real name. He’d been calling himself Jean Ferrè, a name taken from a 14th-century folk hero. The original Ferrè supposedly killed 70 men in battle, grew ill, then killed five more while on his deathbed. Here’s a painting of him, arranged for maximum butt exposure:
Pat Morita Used Anonymity to Try Out for ‘The Karate Kid’ Twice
Morita didn’t have an easy route into appearing in The Karate Kid. At the start, some executive producer was keen on him and put his name forward. Then a higher-up, Jerry Weintraub (who happened to manage tours for Bob Dylan, by the way), put his foot down and said no. And that was why Pat Morita never appeared in The Karate Kid.
Wait, no, that’s not right. Much further along during pre-production, Morita grew out his hair and beard while getting no acting work, and his agent got him a reading for The Karate Kid after all. After that, his headshot went to Weintraub, who saw it and thought that guy would make for a great Mr. Miyagi. Then everyone around him informed him this was the actor he’d specifically rejected before, so Weintraub felt a little bit of the old resistance return, but after making Morita read five more times, he gave him the part.
Keep in mind, Morita wasn’t some total rando, enough that you’d expect the casting department to forget they’d rejected him before. He was a known stand-up comic and had had his own sitcom, along with appearing even more famously on bigger sitcoms. The unintentional makeover was essential for getting past Weintraub’s defenses. And now you know the true reason behind depression beards. It’s not because men lose hope and stop grooming. It’s a purposeful quest for reinvention.
Steven Tyler Did Not Recognize Himself
In 1984, Aerosmith got back together, following a couple years without members Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. They took a while to get back into the groove of things. One time, they found themselves at a party hosted by DJ Mark Parenteau. Some record came on, Steven Tyler listened to the song, and he said, “Hey, that’s great! We should cover this.” He asked who was singing the song. “It's us, fuckhead,” said Perry.
The song was “You See Me Crying,” from their album Toys in the Attic.
In Tyler’s defense, it’s not their most famous song. Mention its name today, and someone might say, “Oh, you mean ‘Cryin’?” (an unrelated, bigger song they’d release in 1993). At the time, the band had never performed the song at concerts, so Tyler had forgotten it.
Also in Tyler’s defense, he’d spent a lot of the years between recording the song and that party on heroin, which had eaten holes in his memory. He may even have been on heroin during the party itself. And the other members may have been on heroin when later recounting the story, so honestly, no one is at fault here.