So famous, only the famous know his name.
The Most Famous Man Alive
Once, by fate’s whim, I almost met the most famous man alive. Now, some people achieve fame through television, radio, homemade movies on the Internet, the usual means and methods, but fame isn’t about personality and achievement, not always. Sometimes it just being known by the right people.
I was a man about town, an “up-and-coming” behind the scenes of Wall Street and Capitol Hill; already I had backed a few million dollar mergers and brokered a few tax shelters. I even produced a CD for a now defunct pop star who went Platinum, then went to rehab. Still, there was one area where I was still gray: Hollywood. I found my break in San Francisco when I heard Tony Shaloub needed a favor.
Now, Shaloub is famous, apparently he is a demigod in the pantheon of Hollywood, but he is not the most famous man in the world. The most famous man’s name was Sid, and I will get to him momentarily, but first I must explain the Shaloub connection.
Shaloub was a virtuoso of the screen, producing and starring in his own show, plus financing a few Sundance-style films, a hotel, and a rumored illegitimate child from his “Wings” days. Still, when it came time for Willie Nelson to appear as a guest star on Shaloub’s show, their agreed upon fee was nowhere to be found. That is where I came in.
Just like in the literary world of ghost writers, TV land possesses its own haunts: “ghost producers.” They are the phantom hands holding cash, the mysterious box of props that appears when needed most, the convincing whisper in an agents ear so a star will walk back on stage, all so they (the ghost producer) can get their phantom foot in a back-lot studio door.
Do not misunderstand my part though. Shaloub was not strapped for cash; regardless of how thin he was spread, the man was still wealthy. However, he could not get his hands on Willie’s token payment, so Shaloub asked his assistant to find it, who then asked his boyfriend, who then asked his sister, who asked her beautician, who asked me if I could call in a favor for Tony Shaloub.
It so happened that I had helped out the owner of a major sports team in New York on gaining a star player in an uneven trade, so a phone call, an airline ticket, and a bribed customs agent later, I was in a Miami airport (you know the one), staring into a briefcase, while a fat Rastafarian pilot struck a match on the sign that read “No Smoking Please/ No Fumar Por Favor.”
As the fat man took a drag off a legal, thus expensive, Cuban cigar, I asked, “So, it’s been in Jamaica all this time?” Blowing smoke rings into the air, “Jah, man. Once de Romanovs fell, it made ‘is way to France, den to us. It pissed off de Pope sum‘ting awful when he couldna buy it off us.” He laughed, and a cloud of smoke rolled into the face of a World War Two veteran, who gasped into his oxygen mask.
Early the next morning, Tony Shaloub, Willie Nelson, and myself wasted the day staring into the briefcase. Shaloub just kept repeating, “Whoa...wow,” in an awestruck voice, while Willie went between stunned silence and fits of laughter. I just sat back, buzzed off whatever was floating in the air of Willie’s tour bus. Do not misunderstand my lack of enthusiasm, I was impressed, but I was also severally jet lagged, plus I’d already seen it once before. It’s hard to impress me twice.
Once Willie and Shaloub were through “oohing” and “ahhing,” Willie laid back, resting his head on the bus sofa, and said, “You know... I bet Sid would g et a kick out of this.”
Shaloub thought a moment and then busted out laughing, “Yes! He‘s going to be so upset you got it before he did.”
Willie pulled out a cell phone and squinted at the screen as he scrolled through the names, “You know he’ll probably talk more about this than how he faked Di’s death... I can hear him now: ‘Then Willie calls me up and says he’s got it over in San Francisco...”
Willie and Tony both grinned as the phone rang, until “Hello, hello, hey Jenna, it’s Willie... uh-huh, Mr. Nelson... yeah... listen, could you ask Peter to see if Sid’s got a minute to call me back. Alright. Uh-huh. Thank you, darlin, bye.”
Shaloub chuckled as Willie hung up, “He’s not gonna believe you’ve got it. Peter told me that last year while Sid had him tracking down one of the Coronation Eggs in Moscow, that Sid had him search the KGB’s records for any evidence of this thing leaving the country.”
Willie laughed, slapped his knee, “Haha, this is gonna be good.”
I’m considered brilliant in business, a savant at social transactions, a genius in the art of parlance, but I fell mute and felt a fool when this talk of Sid came up. I knew Sid Caesar was dead, Syd Barrett may as well be, and Portier wasn’t likely to hang out with both Willie and Shaloub, much less send someone into the Kremlin to track an artifact few knew to exist. With the knowledge of my own ignorance, I decided to be straight with my new acquaintances, and admit defeat, “So, who’s Jenna?”
Willie nodded first, “Yeah, she’s new, only been with Sid a few months now... but she’s been around for a few years...” Willie looked to Tony Shaloub for support, which he gave with a nod, so Willie continued, “Jenna was a refugee from Kenya or Zaire or one of those war countries in Africa...”
Tony Shaloub interrupted, “It’s Kenya, I believe.”
Willie continues, “Anyways, she became an aide to one of the warlords or dictators or something. After a while, she got hired on at the U.N., then from there...”
“Bono,” Tony Shaloub added as Willie continued along the list of actors, philanthropists, and politicians Peter had acted as body guard and personal assistant for. I just nodded, trying to grasp the magnitude of this unknown individual known as Sid. While I was trying to make a mental list of people I knew to have incalculable wealth, infinite charm, and the admiration of everyone of importance, Tony Shaloub caught on.
“You don’t know Sid, do you?”
I nodded my head yes, lamely adding, “No idea.”
Willie laughed a short burst, “Dang Tony, you’ve been playing that detective character too long.”
Tony Shaloub shook his head, “No, I was just a good actor watching a poor performance. He was fishing for information, subtly, but fishing nonetheless. Not knowing Jenna is one thing, but Peter’s been with Sid for years, and we just gave him a comprehensive background on Sid’s aide, so, simply, he doesn’t know Sid.”
I looked from Willie to Shaloub, “You guys aren’t going to put some Hollywood hit on me now, like they did George Reeves, are you?”
This was met with an explosion of laughter, with Willie slapping me on the knee, “Hell boy, who’d we look like, the Rat Pack?” Before I could answer, Willie’s phone rang, the laughter subsided, and Willie answered it, “Hey Sid, guess what I got?”
There was a moment of silence, then Willie laughed, “Yeah, and it’s mine!” Silence, then more laughter, “No, I still got my soul. Nah, Tony Shaloub found a guy who got it.” Silence, laughter, “No, it wasn’t in Serbia... uh-huh... I’ll ask.” Willie looked to me, “Hey kid, where’d you get this from?”
I raised my eyebrows, relieved to not be shot, and answered, “Jamaica, via France after the People’s Revolution.”
Willie returned to the phone, “Jamaica!” Silence, Willie nodded, “Uh-huh, yeah I knew Castro was lying about it the whole time.” This conversation went on a few moments more and then Willie hung up. He sat down between Tony Shaloub and myself, the pulled a hand-rolled cigarette out of his shirt pocket, “If you boys will excuse me, I need a few minutes alone.” Since we were so politely excused, Shaloub and I left.
Later on, I would meet other stars, media moguls, politicians, and scholars who would mention Sid in familiar, reflective tones. I’d heard Marty Short mention him like Sid was the most holy man since the Pope. Alan Greenspan talked about Sid like he was a kid brother. Laura Bush, over lunch, told Dick Chaney’s mistress, Jazell, that Sid had footed the bill for all of Regan’s funeral. Once, while I sipped a concoction known as “Bull’s Balls,” Brett Favre cried into his Wheat Grass Smoothie as he told me of the time when Sid promised him that the cure for AIDS was just months away. Sid was a phenom, a hero among stars, he was so famous even the famous whispered his name.
Then, one day I get a call, “Hi, this is Jenna, just so you know Sid’s going to be in New Hampshire tomorrow for a fundraiser with Clooney and Bush, Sr., and he wishes to know if you would like to meet him for lunch at the bar in the Plaza Garden Hotel?”
Of course I said, “Of course.” Then realizing how totally unready I was for such an encounter, I threw up, then shaved, gargled, and paid too much for a manicure. By the next day, I was an emotional wreck, but I looked good.
I arrived at the bar thirty five minutes early, studied the menu and the wine list, investigated our reserved table, learned the name of all the present staff, and ten minutes before I was due to arrive, I walked out. I was confident I was still totally unprepared for this meeting. Imagine my shock when I returned at the appointed time to find an attractive, but rather weepy woman at my table. “Can I help you, Miss?”
Tucking away a rather moist handkerchief, she stood, and held out her hand, “I’m Jenna.”
Sid had died about two hours before and had expressed that Jenna and Peter were to hand deliver all of his apologies for his failed engagements that day, due to him being permanently engaged elsewhere. I comforted Jenna the best I could, got her a limo, and we rode to Our Lady of Sufferance Hospital where Sid’s body was being held. Peter was on a plane down to North Carolina to deliver apologies to Sid’s family for his now delayed arrival, so I had to help Jenna with the signing of the paperwork, release of the personal effects, all the things you did for people you knew and loved, but rarely did for people you never officially met, and only heard of in legend.
In my mind, it was like trying to paint a picture of someone you knew to be full of great qualities and outstanding virtues, but the only physical description you knew was “tall” and “wore glasses.”
Two days later at Sid’s wake, I met Peter as I mingled with the stars and celebrities of Hollywood, Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and the Shadow Lands. He caught me from behind, gripping gently on my shoulder, and with an accent described best as Slavic he said, “I don’t believe we have met. I am Peter. Sid requested that you would say something for him tomorrow at the gravesite.” When I went to question Peter about it, he put a note in my hand, with a signature on the bottom that said, “Sid.” Before I could ask him anything, Mel Gibson walked up consoling Melanie Griffith, and it began to rain indoors.
I turned to question Peter, but he was hugging Prime Minister Tony Blair and the youngest member of the Romainov dynasty, a teenager girl named Elisa. She was the great-granddaughter of Anastasia, who had fled to Jamaica, via France, those many years ago, with only two mementos to remember her family. One of those was the “actual” Coronation Egg by Faberge, thought to have been lost, but which was later given to the Queen of England in exchange for a Parliamentary seat for Anastasia's grandson, Harold. The other, an item of value that Hitler, Rasputin, Castro, Nixon, and at least three Popes tried to acquire, now rested in the tour bus of Willie Nelson.
So, I read the note, folded it up, placed it in my pocket, and the next morning, Tim Robbins, Micheal Moore, Al Gore, and Rush Limbaugh shared a row of folding chairs in the back of the mourning crowd, while I gave the eulogy. I said all the things I wanted to hear at my own graveside after I died, just like Sid instructed. I spoke of his energy, his vitality, his eagerness to please, his ability to be in the right place at the right time, and all the wonderful things I’d hope someone will say about me when I play my last hand.
Later, Shaloub and Willie Nelson came up to me, saying they were glad I got to know Sid before he died, Jack Nicholson gave me a hug, and Steve Martin invited me over to his place to look at some of his Picasso’s after all the graveside business was through. Peter shook hands with me, said I did Sid proud, and he stayed by me for three years as my bodyguard/aide, until he trained an ex-SEAL (with an IQ of 158) to replace him. Jenna left directly after the funeral; I’d gotten her a job as a liaison to the U.N. on some Committee of Human Rights, and it was time for her to move on.
Now, I receive a letter from Peter every month as he manages a wildlife reserve in South Africa, and I hang out with Danny Ackroyd about once a week, just so we can talk music. Elisa sends me emails sporadically, telling me of her life in Gwent, and how she loves riding her bicycle and listening to her Ipod, all the things young royalty likes to do. I’m going to plan my funeral tomorrow, just so I can have it all set out (not that I’m planning to go anytime soon), then I’m going to play some pool with Tiger Woods, take the Olsen twins out to dinner, go talk with Akroyd for a few hours, and call it day, because now, I’m the most famous man alive. If you don’t believe, just ask the right people, they’ll know my name.