I wanted it so badly. Fame. The riches of television stardom. This had been my dream since childhood and now it was at my doorstep. The Cosby Show — the number one rated program on television — was the break I had been praying for and I wanted to give myself every opportunity for success. And it was close. I could sense it hovering just out of reach, so close I could smell it. After all, I had been on the cover of Jet magazine. All I needed was a little push and real stardom and all that came with it would be in my hands. My name would be in the society columns of the newspaper. I would be a regular on Regis and Kathy Lee, on the cover of magazines – another cover of Jet: Personal appearances; limousines; models. I wanted it all. If giving Suzanne a few thousand dollars more would give it to me, I would gladly pay. “How much do I have to pay? How much do you want to make it happen?” Does that sound just a bit desperate? I was desperate. I was so desperate that I endured a full interview with Stuttering John from The Howard Stern Show.
Stuttering John was one of the gang of wacky characters on Howard’s morning show. John got his name because he stuttered horribly. Howard had the brilliant idea of sending John out to events to torment celebrities with stupid and inappropriate questions. John asked questions about farting and how much sex people were having and who they were having it with. As the interview proceeded, the questions would become more bizarre. At some point, most people would end the interview. On a few occasions, John was even punched. But not me. Nope. I stood in for the entire treatment.
I was at some charity event, I believe it was for Aids research. (Aids is always a good charity to be associated with — earns lots of brownie points.) The celebrities were supposed to have had a baker make a beautiful cake that was to be auctioned off, with the funds going to research. Of course, I was set up with a baker whom I had never met. My cake was small and as I recall, no one bid on it. Alas, that night, I didn’t do much for the cause. At any rate, at some point during the evening, someone hustled me over to John, who began to interview me. At the time, I hadn’t yet become a Stern Show fan and didn’t know Stuttering John. He didn’t seem to know who I was either. However, none of it mattered. Even if I had known what I was in for, I would have endured it just for the publicity. John’s breath was awful! He was breathing vile, hot breath into my face, asking me ridiculous questions about if I had slept with Phylicia Rashad, had I seen Lisa naked, and on and on, and I stood there blinking at his halitosis, with a smile on my face and answered every – single – question. That, my friends, is desperation.
The idea of stardom was so alluring, the life I was living – parties, beautiful women, rubbing elbows with wealth – was so intoxicating that I didn’t want it to end. In fact, I wanted more. The only way to keep it going was to work more, to become a real celebrity, not some guy who was at the bottom of the totem pole of a popular show. For people like me, publicity is like crack.
It’s supposed to work something like this: Publicity gets your name out in front of people – raises your profile. A high public profile puts you on the radar of people who are writing, producing, and directing films and television. The more your name or face is in front of the public, the more likely those executives who are hiring will think of you for their next project. The more publicity you get, the more you work, which leads to more publicity – and around and around it goes. But it doesn’t always work like that and there’s the rub. Actors must always ask, “Will I blow this opportunity if I don’t hire a publicist?” And actors will always have plenty of friends and relatives, who have never been on television, telling them what they ought to be doing to get on television more. And there will always be someone willing to take your money with promises of putting your name on the tongue of America. The gamble is in the “what if? Can I have the dream if I don’t get publicity?” Ultimately, it was a gamble I was unwilling to take, so I paid through the nose. And had I not reached the limits of my finances, would have paid more.
It was a tough lesson, and one I have not forgotten. It was, in fact, a lesson Kashif had tried to impart to me. During one of our talks, Kashif told me in earnest that I should look for someone I had known prior to my landing the job. That particular conversation was about women, but his advice was good across the board. Kashif wasn’t talking about sex, he was talking about trust and loyalty. Money, or the illusion of money, brings out sharks, who begin to circle as if there is blood in the water. Not everyone you meet will be a phony, but one must be extremely careful about who you let into your life and more importantly into your bank account. Loyalty can’t be bought, and chances are that you are not as special as everyone will certainly want you to believe.
Still, while working with Suzanne I was meeting people and a lot of those people I met were women – beautiful women. I don’t know whether I was actually meeting a higher caliber of womanly beauty, or if, like the barfly at a quarter to midnight, my being intoxicated with my new celebrity made the women look better. Odd as it sounds, these were questions I really asked myself.
Next…Like a bee gathering honey