I’ll confess up front that this post is one big humblebrag. I may not be as much of a social butterfly on the A, B or even C-Lists as Stalker Sarah, but I’ve happened to meet a few celebrities whom you may or may not have heard of. I think nearly everybody keeps some kind of a list in their minds of all the “famous” people they’ve met or seen, right? Don’t you? Even if it’s as something as common as getting signatures from your favorite team before the game, we all remember our encounters with people more famous than ourselves. How you define “famous” is up to you: I might be quite thrilled to meet entomological rock-star E. O. Wilson, or demi-god of early Irish law, Fergus Kelly, while others might not recognize these names at all. Each of us may have a different standard of what actually qualifies as “meeting” someone famous: one person may get a wave from a celebrity as they walk past; another may only list people they’ve actually known through work, charity or friendship. My standard for “meeting” someone entails interacting with them in both a verbal or physical way. This is fairly basic: look ’em in the eye, talk, shake hands, crack a joke, you get the idea. With plenty of shameless self-promotion and only a tiny bit of context, here’s my personal list of people more famous than myself I’ve met over the years, in no particular order:
Actually Shook Hands and Spoke With:
- Ang Lee – As an extra on the set of the box office-bomb Taking Woodstock, I once sat in Mr. Lee’s seat right after he vacated it from having lunch on set with his family. So fresh was his departure that his seat was still warm. I tried to soak up as much of his residual body heat as I could. He gave me a disturbed look when he returned to fetch a water bottle he left behind. A week later, he gave me personal direction for a mud-sliding scene I was in with Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch.
- Conan O’Brien – I spent a day playing old-time, 1864-rules baseball with Conan as he filmed a comedy segment for his show Late Night. He later recalled it was his all-time “favorite thing [he] ever did”.
- Tony Jaa – I once faked being a newspaper reporter to interview martial arts movie star Tony Jaa. It worked, and I even wrote an article about the interview which was published in the Queens Tribune under a friend’s name. He didn’t speak English, so we conversed through a translator. He said he had two pet elephants.
- Dean Winters – Remember that guy from Allstate’s “Mayhem” commercials? Yeah, that’s Dean Winters and no matter who he’s with, he’s always the coolest guy in the room. I drove him around the set of Winter of Frozen Dreams one day. We didn’t have any accidents. He’s very personable.
- Demetri Martin & Emile Hirsch – Along with their director Ang Lee, I met both of these two crazy kooks on the set of Taking Woodstock. I had to slide down a hill into a pit of mud with them and then have a mud fight with some other stunt actors.
- Flavor Flav – I once literally rubbed elbows with Flavor Flav at a festival in front of the New York State Museum. I was holding a kid on my shoulders, and he was holding fried turkey leg and a corn dog. Instead of shaking hands, we just rubbed elbows as a greeting.
- George Pataki – I shook this New York gubernatorial hand as a young teenager when then Gov. Pataki visited the golf course I worked at on Long Island. Because of my youth, he pulled me in front of the camera as a prop for a photo.
- Ed Koch – As a very young child, my family and I met and shook hands with New York City’s former mayor in the lobby of the American Museum of Natural History.
- Leo Fitzpatrick – I met this actor-turned-gallery director on the set of indie-film Winter of Frozen Dreams. I got a chance to have a pint with him and chat about miscellaneous Fitzpatrica.
- Thora Birch – Best-known for her starring role in American Beauty, I met her on the set of Winter of Frozen Dreams, along with her father and brother, Bolt. We briefly flirted.
- Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz and The Tantrums – The band once played through Albany for the city’s “Alive at 5” concerts, and I snuck backstage to meet Michael, whence I handed his manager some materials relating to Fitzpatrica.
- They Might Be Giants – I met the band backstage when they played SUNY Albany‘s “Parkfest” in the early 2000’s.
- Thomas Souzzi – I had dinner with this charismatic Long Island politician and his family at Old Bethpage Village Restoration.
- Eliot Spitzer – I once gave this now disgraced New York governor a small tour of an exhibit at the New York State Museum shortly before he was elected.
- David Norris – As it turns out, Ireland’s first openly homosexual politician has Fitzpatrick ancestry on his mother’s side. We met at an international Fitzpatrick gathering in Kilkenny, Ireland in 2007.
- Phantogram – Knew these guys from Red Square, back when they were Charlie Everywhere and playing with other Upstate acts like The Mathematicians. Still love their output. I once caught a girl dancing naked at night in the woods at the base of Mt. Marcy to this song.
- Tony Richardson – Shook hands with this former NY Jets fullback and three-time pro-bowler during a milk endorsement.
- Ashton Holmes – Had the opportunity to be cast with Holmes in college for a stage production, and knew him from around campus. His most prominent role has probably been A History of Violence.
- Yolanda Vega – I grew up watching the famous Yolanda Vega pick the winning numbers for the New York State lottery. We never played but we always tried to guess the numbers. I got to meet her in Albany on the Empire State Plaza. Childhood dream come true. Unfortunately, she didn’t hand me a check.
- Michio Kaku – I once met this modern Einstein when he delivered a prophecy on the world of the future. I happened to pull up a chair for this speech in the front row, just before he walked in and sat next to me, waiting to be introduced on stage. I introduced myself, shook hands, and he looked quite bemused by my extroversion.
- Metropolitan Hilarion & ROCOR Heirarchy – No, this is not a rock band. Orthodox high clergy are very close to their people, whether the amongst the poor masses, or at the lonelier heights of power. I’m blessed to count one bishop as close friend, and we usually exchange a bit of Gaeilge in the altar when serving together.
- Russian Nobility – I attended the opening of the Foundation for Russian History museum at Holy Trinity Monastery where I got chatting with a few scions from several Russian noble families. Had caviar.
Close Encounters (glimpsed, but didn’t meet):
- The Dutch Royal Family – Most of the Dutch royal family walked past me when they visited the New York State Museum where I worked. They arrived to see an exhibit on Albany’s quadricentennial, in which I had a small role.
- Christopher and Dana Reeve – On a high school field trip to the Met, I once encountered a paralyzed Christopher Reeve taking in the art with his wife Dana. A crowd had silently assembled to gawk at Superman in a wheelchair. His wife was giving everyone the death stare, as it was obvious she wanted to be left alone. I almost asked him for his autograph. That wouldn’t have ended well.
- David Souter – This retired Supreme Court Justice arrived at my workplace to deliver a speech on the importance of the humanities in education. His Secret Service detail was rad.
- David McCullough – Sauntered past my office door once.
- Captain Phillips – The Real Captain Phillips showed up at my workplace. “I’m the Captain now.“