Most of us have had a celebrity encounter at some point in our lives. I’m not talking a concert or performance sighting, because in that case I’ve “seen” some pretty impressive people, like when I was an audience member at the Regis & Kelly show and saw Julia Stiles, Rosario Dawson and then…wait for it…George Clooney! Nope, I’m talking about a chance meeting that makes you call your closest friend and squeal, “I was walking down the street and guess who walked right past me!” Since small town Wisconsin is not exactly a celebrity haven (unless you count Screech from Saved by the Bell, who is bankrupt in the Milwaukee area) it is pretty momentous when something like this happens.
One friend of mine who used to live in New York City can easily spot the beautiful people, like Edward Burns and his stunning model wife Christy Turlington. A former neighbor of mine was thrilled (and I literally do mean thrilled) to have met Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley while on vacation in Hawaii. I doubt he knows who Ed and Christy are.
From what I can remember, I’ve had seven such meetings, either where I saw a celebrity on the street or I had the good fortune to actually meet one, which usually ends up with me looking like an idiot. Let’s count them down, shall we? We’ll count down on a scale from “You saw who?” to “No way, you’re kidding me, right?”
Number Seven: Uh…I saw Pauly D. from Jersey Shore at O’Hare’s United baggage terminal in September.
Number Six: While having dinner before a Broadway showing of Avenue Q, I saw Kathy Najimy a few tables over. You know her, right? The really perky nun from Sister Act? Kudos to my second cousin Meghan for recognizing her.
Number Five: Kevin Cronin, lead singer for REO Speedwagon. (If you are under thirty, this probably does not register with you). It so happens that the woman (then teenager) who used to babysit me married Kevin Cronin’s brother. I attended the wedding and got to see him perform “I Can’t Fight this Feeling” in church; he later joined the band for a few numbers at the reception. I also got his autograph: an elegantly scribed “Hi Anne” and a smiley face. This connection later came in handy as I got to watch one of REO’s concerts from backstage. Ridin’ the storm out, baby!
Number Four: I was shopping (okay more like browsing because it’s so freaking expensive) at Fred Segal in L.A. I turned to my left and there was Axl Rose, shopping with a leggy brunette and sporting multi-colored dreadlocks. This was the cleaned-up and healthy Axl who was also apparently desperately seeking publicity in order to jumpstart his stalling career. Case in point: he made quite the show of oohing and ahhing and cooing over a baby in front of the check-out. And the baby wasn’t even that cute. Don’t tell me that he didn’t want one of those salesgirls to speed dial Us Weekly for their “Seen and Heard” column.
Number Three: Here is one of those awkward celebrity encounters. During college I once skipped class so I could go watch Woody Harrelson play basketball on campus. This was shortly after White Men Can’t Jump, and Woody started touring with his band. Show of hands: how many people out there know that Woody Harrelson had a band? Anyway, one of his celebrity “demands” was to play pick-up basketball games on the road. So I got wind of this, stalked him and took pictures. While I was snapping away, one of his strange band mates accosted me, asked me to take his picture, and then proceeded to dip me and stick his tongue in my ear. I think I was so stunned that all I could do upon meeting Woody was stand next to him and smile for a picture. Nothing else.
Number Two: If this list counted down the celebrities I most respect, Tim Gunn would not be number two; he would be number one. I had the pleasure of hearing Tim speak at a women’s shopping event in Madison, Wisconsin. Now normally this would not count since it was technically a speaking performance, but since I actually got to ask Tim a question and speak to him directly, it counts as an actual meet and greet. Alas this was another slightly awkward moment for me, as you would have thought I was about to meet the Pope. My hands could not stop shaking and it was a wonder I held onto the microphone. But Tim was so completely gracious and wonderful, and I really respected his views on personal accountability.
Number One: Again, this was part of a performance…but alas I was part of the performance and it resulted in several close encounters, so I am just going to go ahead and count it because it’s BIG. Yes, every once in a while something bigger than Extreme Home Makeover visits Wisconsin, and this time it was the filming of the movie Public Enemies. I was lucky enough to be cast as an extra, which meant getting within a few feet of Mr. Johnny Depp himself. Again, devastatingly handsome in person. And a word of advice: If the snotty girl production assistants scold you for staring too much, just say screw ‘em. Mr. Depp is making a cool 20 million or so for the movie; I think he can handle some adoring female fans staring at him. Squiggy would kill for that kind of notoriety. Am I right?
 Yes, he is just as good looking in person. And I KNOW he looked right at me and smiled. The girl sitting next to said so, so it must be true.