A few dsys ago I was sifting through some questions submitted by members of my fan club for the question and answer column I do each month in our newsletters. As I read them, I came to a question that really caught my attention:
Someone had asked, “How does it feel to be famous?”
Wow, I thought to myself, what a question! How can I possibly answer that in the tiny space we have allotted to our Ask Bill segment? I have since given it a lot of thought, and my answer is that, truthfully, I don’t know how it feels.
I am not trying to be modest. I am trying to be honest.
You may disagree, but to me, the word “famous” means somebody that virtually everybody in this country…and maybe even the world…would recognize instantly in a photograph, on a movie or television screen, by way of a sound recording, or were they to meet this person face to face in a restaurant, on an airplane, or simply walking down the street. I’m not sure that very many people are truly “famous” today.
John Wayne was famous. Winston Churchill was famous. Elvis Presley was famous. Mickey Mouse is famous. Dolly Parton, when she is dressed to the nines in her high heels, short dresses, make up and hair pieces, is famous. But who would you recognize wearing a ball cap or a hoodie, dark glasses, a beard if they were normally clean-shaven, or clean-shaven if you were used to seeing them with facial hair? Jason Aldean? Garth Brooks? Paul McCartney? Little Jimmy Dickens?
You’d think so with Little Jim, wouldn’t you? But I once saw a lady in the Nashville airport take a picture of Little Jim standing beside her young son. After Jim walked away, the lady said to her son, “Someday you’ll be proud that I took your picture with Ralph Stanley!”
In my dressing room at the Opry, the room dedicated to songwriters, there hangs on the wall an old black and white picture of Willie Nelson taken back in his short-hair, clean-shaven, silk-suit-and-tie days. You’d be amazed at how many people stop by the room and ask who that is. And when I tell them it’s Willie, they think I’m lying.
Those of us who have sought a place in the sun and received a bit of notoriety or recognition in our lives should not be confused with those who are truly famous. I am a devoted sports fan, and I have a friend who is equally as dedicated to movies and television shows. I’ve never heard of most of the people she considers famous, and she wouldn’t know LeBron James from Sonny James. So, who is famous? By my measurements, neither her stars nor mine.
My former manager used to tell me of times when the agency he worked for would hire him to take Marilyn Monroe to the movies or on shopping trips around New York City. He said she would wear a dark wig, sunglasses, baggy clothes, and not once in all the years he escorted her was she ever recognized. Jennifer Lawrence just won an Academy Award, but would you know her standing behind you in the checkout line at WalMart? Justin Bieber? Taylor Swift? Sure, they are famous within their gigantic circle of loyal fans, but would your grandmother recognize either one of them in a crowded elevator?
A young girl came up to me not long ago as I was filling my car with gasoline and said, “My mother says you are a country singer. is that true?” I admitted that I was. She then asked, “What’s your name?” In a moment of foolishness I answered, “Charley Pride.”
The girl ran back to her car and told her mother that I was Charley Pride. Her mom leaned out the window as she drove away and yelled, “Thank you, Mr. Pride. I knew you were somebody famous. I just couldn’t think of your name.”
I’ll let you be the judge of that.