Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fame killed him

I recently joined Facebook. I’ve had a couple reconnections that have been good. One was with a colleague on the staff of Berkeley Poetry Review. Patricia Johnson went on to Yale Business School, I learned. Of all of us I’d have guessed she’d be best at that. Poets, remember? She’s been working at New American Media the last few years and when I asked she shared links to some of what she’s written.

In one article she remembers Andrew Martinez, the UC Berkeley student who became (reluctantly) famous as “The Naked Guy.” They lived at the same student co-op. She remembers a sweet man, not some defiant radical but almost an innocent; he wanted to live his life peacefully, not stage a confrontation or exemplify a controversy. I could identify with that. Being a gay man I’m familiar with my boring ordinary life being a “controversial subject,” and totally without my permission.

Was I embarrassed by Andrew’s public nudity? Sure, a bit. I wasn’t going to strip in solidarity (some did), but philosophically I sympathized. I had no classes with Andrew, but I saw him around a few times. As Patricia says in her essay, “He wasn't hard to look at. He was a tall, lean man with lovely brown skin.”

What killed him? Patricia fingers fame. “He lost himself in it. By naming him The Naked Guy, we all drove him crazy. I heard he eventually wanted to take it all back. … If Andrew had been ugly, he might be alive today, because fame wouldn't have wanted him so badly -- certainly Playgirl wouldn't have wanted him.

“Being in the headlines is the worst kind of fame, because there's no paycheck, no royalties. They take your picture, interview you, get the ratings and spit you out.”

Patricia’s most vivid memory: Andrew “walking naked into the co-op dining room for breakfast with a plate of toast. He set the plate on the table, and his backpack on the floor. He pulled a small towel out of the backpack and placed it on the chair, with a dignified snap like a four-star restaurant waiter. Then he sat down to read the paper.”

Read the rest here.

May of ’06 I posted a link to an article about the death of Andrew Martinez.


David Lee said...

Stephen Fry wrote a good essay on fame and being famous. He points out that fame is a state we have no control over. You can try to become famous and fail. You can have fame thrust upon you against your will. And fame seems to be the most damaging to those who become famous suddenly.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I'd heard Fry wrote well and I read thru the long piece you linked to and enjoyed it. Lucky him he's famous and liked. He emphasizes how difficult it is to approach a stranger, yet I suspect the people who dislike you have less inhibition about making it known. Anyway, the negative interaction is more memorable. And, in Andrew's case, the police harassment.