There are celebrity causes for seemingly everything. But one cause has gone pretty much ignored. It’s a problem you don’t hear much about, but it plagues both the famous and common folk alike. The problem? Lookalikeism.
It’s sad for everyone involved, but it just so happens that celebrities look like ordinary people. Or, more precisely, ordinary people look like celebrities.
This shouldn’t be the case, the famous being famous and all. They should be entitled to look solely like themselves and float forever on their celebrity clouds above the rest of us. But in some cruel joke of life, facsimiles walk the Earth. And they get asked questions and even hounded for autographs just like the real articles.
What happens next is a torment for everybody involved.
I met a guy the other day, for instance, who told me that he is stopped constantly by people thinking he’s Richard Dreyfuss.
I did what everyone does when someone says they look like someone famous. I screwed up my face, squinted a lot, turned my head, and finally went, “Ohhh, yeah. Yeah. I can see that. Definitely.”
Their likeness, he confessed, caused him to feel bad for the actor. “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Are you … .’ And I say, ‘No.’ And they say, ‘You are, aren’t you? You’re just saying you’re not.’ ‘No,’ I tell them. ‘I’m not. I’m really not Richard Dreyfuss.’ ‘Sure you’re not,’ they say, and walk away. And they think Richard Dreyfuss is a jerk because he won’t give them an autograph.”
I asked the guy if, to protect Richard Dreyfuss’ reputation, he ever signed an autograph in the performer’s name.
“No!” the guy said. He said the word with such vehemence and conviction that, calling to mind the actor’s passionate, earnest performances in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Mr. Holland’s Opus, I almost thought he was Richard Dreyfuss. “That,” the guy pronounced, “wouldn’t be right.”
Here, I thought, was a man of high ethical stand-ards, a man who is true to himself, a man who knows what is right and what is wrong. A man much like the characters portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss himself. A man, in other words, unlike myself.
“I have,” I said.
The guy looked at me quizzically.
“I’ve signed someone else’s autograph,” I admitted.
The expression on his face turned almost pained with shock.
“Not Richard Dreyfuss’,” I said.
As I don’t look remotely like the actor, I was hoping to add a little levity to the situation. It didn’t work. The guy just gazed at me in ill-concealed disgust.
“You signed Jerry Garcia’s autograph?”
The guy was incredulous. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the act of signing someone else’s name or because he thought I didn’t really look much like the late Grateful Dead guitarist or because he wondered why anyone would ask for the autograph of a man who everybody knows is dead.
“It was back in the ’70s,” I said, as if that somehow explained it.
And somehow, to me, it did. Partly, it was the times. Everybody looked like somebody else back then, as everybody always does when they’re young. And partly it was me: I stood there with an expression that said, “If you look hard into my bearded, curly-headed face and think back a quarter-century, and put me and Jerry Garcia beside each other in your head, you can see we were separated at birth, right?”
He still looked a little stunned, so I continued. I felt I owed him an explanation, given his views on the matter and my blatant disregard for them. My view, borne out in countless philosophical tracts, I might add, was, “What’s the big deal?”
“I was at an outdoor rock concert in New Jersey,” I began. “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young played. So, if I recall correctly, and I probably don’t, did a bunch of other bands. It was, incidentally, the day Nixon resigned. They announced it over the PA system to a giant roar. Anyway, back then, my hair was big and bushy and I had the beard and everything.
“I’m standing in the crowd when out of the corner of my eye I see this skinny teenager, must have been, like, 15 or something, with his girlfriend. He’s eyeing me, pointing and nodding, but trying not to be too obvious. After a while, he gets up the nerve and comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, Jer, would you sign my ticket?’
“Well, I didn’t know what to do. People had told me I looked like Jerry Garcia before. They even asked if I was Jerry Garcia. But I had never signed his autograph. Now I’m looking at this guy with his girlfriend, here at this momentous rock concert. She’s hanging on him, standing back a little, shy, like she’s taking in the reflective glow of my Jerry Garcianess that’s shining off her boyfriend. I feel like if I say no, it’s going to embarrass the guy and deflate her. So I go, ‘Yeah.’ And I sign the kid’s ticket.”
“You signed it?” the man said. “What did you write?”
“Peace and love, Jerry Garcia.”
The guy didn’t say anything.
“I mean, I just thought, what’s the harm? I wasn’t trying to get anything out of it. And it made the kid’s day.”
The man just nodded his head.
In his face, I no longer saw the absolutism I saw before. His look seemed sympathetic now, a traveling companion in the uncertain world of lookalikeism. It said, “Whattaya gonna do?”
As I said, it’s a problem.
Maybe we should start a fund.