There is a great deal of wisdom in that old saying: “Fame is written in ice and the sun is always shining.” Celebrity is fleeting. Sure, special treatment is nice and there’s no reason not to enjoy it. The trouble begins when one begins to believe that he, rather than the treatment, is special.
But preferential treatment is very seductive; it gets comfortable, like your favorite pair of pants. And like those favorite pair of pants, one even begins believing he looks good in celebrity. “Look how sexy I look with all this attention and special treatment.” If I were speaking to a young Joseph C. Phillips, I would whisper in my ear, “Don’t take all the special treatment too seriously; enjoy it, but don’t ever begin to believe that it has anything to do with you.”
I had my moments — ugly moments, moments of unbelievable hubris. Like the time I pouted when I was not seated at the head table during a special dinner at the St. James Club in Antigua. I was visiting a girlfriend, Lee, who worked at the club. I had been treated quite well by the staff, and was having a good time. During my stay, there was a tennis tournament that brought many pro and celebrity players to the resort. Among the guests were the great Martina Navratilova and her doubles partner, Pam Shriver. Lee and I had been invited to the dinner, but when we arrived, we discovered that I had not been seated at the head table along with some of the other celebrities. I pouted. Lee (God bless her for putting up with me) took one of the organizers aside and inquired if there wasn’t some way to seat me at the head table. There really wasn’t any room, but the resort staff crammed me in. I spent the evening speaking with Rachel Hunter, wife of rock star Rod Stewart. The kick is that Pam Shriver wasn’t seated at the head table either. Certainly, if between the two of us someone had to be squeezed into the head table, it should have been Pam Shriver.
I later discovered that Lee’s table, which included Pam, had had a blast, laughing and telling stories. Not that Rachel was boring, but there wasn’t a great deal of fun at the head table. I should have kept my original seat. I look back on those episodes and pray that that was as bad as it got. But it wasn’t. As the saying goes, I had begun to believe the hype.
Before long, I stopped looking at special treatment as a blessing and began to see it as my right. Rather than be thankful for a limo to pick me up, I wanted to know where was my limo. Or like the time I landed in Birmingham, Alabama for a speaking engagement and called my publicist because I didn’t like the type of limo that had been hired for me. Now THAT was ego tripping! It was also rather presumptuous given that very little, if any, of these blessings had to do with me, or how special I was. The truth was that many times, fans didn’t even know my name. My face (and often my voice) was recognized, but I was just, “Olivia’s daddy.” No. The good feeling I was enjoying had to do with a love of Bill Cosby and the Show he created and nothing to do with me.
Being able to distinguish the difference between the treatment and the person helps to keep you humble, it means that you appreciate the treatment and don’t take it for granted. Such differentiation also influences the way you treat people, and the way people treat you. The way you engage with fans takes on a different feeling when you view their attention as a blessing as opposed to a right.
I began to feel differently about my engagement with fans after an encounter I had while walking down the street in Costa Mesa, California. As I crossed the street, a woman rolled down her window (which will tell you how old her car was), and yelled out, “We love you!” I smiled and waved. When I got to the sidewalk, I stopped in my steps because something suddenly hit me. “Wow! That lady said that she loved me.” The attention I was receiving was love. Without knowing me, viewers were taking the time to let me know that I had an impact on their lives, that the work I was doing affected them in a very positive and often personal way. Shaking my hand, or wanting a hug, or just wanting a bit of conversation was a way of saying thank you. The depth of that made me reconsider how I interacted with people. There were times I was simply not in the mood to say hello or sign a scrap of paper. I don’t believe I was ever nasty to anyone, but certainly, there were times that I gave a bit of a sigh of annoyance before taking up my pen, or smiling for the camera. After my Costa Mesa revelation, I changed my attitude. No more sighs! My new attitude was: I stop for everyone. I sign when I am asked. I smile and ask folks how they are doing. It feels good to be friendly with people. It feels good to be loved.
Next…The Sharks begin to circle