Have you ever wanted to be famous? Most of us, at one time or another, daydreamed about what it must be like. World-famous celebrities are the lucky few whose lives seem unnaturally awesome.
It’s why we’re so curious about what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, what books they’re reading, what clothes they’re wearing, where they’re vacationing, who they’re sleeping with, and why they think being a vegan is an important life choice. Their days and nights seem far better than our humdrum lives. They’re like modern-day kings and queens, somehow separate and above.
But I can tell you being a celebrity has its downsides. I know a little bit about what it’s like to be famous because I used to resemble the world’s most loved and respected reggae star. And looking like Bob Marley turned my day-to-day life into some sort of cheap, discount, ground-level celebrity.
I never wanted to look like Bob Marley. It wasn’t an image I cultivated. As a writer, I dream of invisibility. I love to people-watch. I prefer to disappear into crowds and be ignored like a porcupine in a petting zoo. But when you resemble one of the most famous faces in the world being socially invisible is impossible.
I learned firsthand how celebrities must endure strange social moments and spend their life as a spectacle. It’s almost as bad for the celebrity look-alike. The thing is, when you resemble someone famous, you see a side of people most folks never experience, only with none of the perks of celebrity. But I guess looking like Bob Marley is better than being told you look like Bob Dylan.
Before I cut my dreads, this is what I looked like:
Personally, I didn’t see the resemblance. Maybe you do. And you wouldn’t be alone.
From looking like Bob Marley, I learned some funny little lessons about people.
1. EVERYONE says some dumb shit sometimes
It usually started with the same question:
“Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look like…?”
This is such a silly question. The stranger doesn’t really think they’re the first person to notice that you resemble a world-famous person.
What they really mean is — “I don’t mean to be lame, I’m sure you hear this all the time, so I hope I’m not a giant douchebag for saying this, but you really strongly resemble someone who means a great deal to me and I think that’s cool and I wanted to tell you that because I’m so overcome by my love of the famous person you resemble I’m experiencing some of the feelings I would have if you really were the person I so greatly admire.” That’s a hell of a mouthful so they shorten it.
Fame is a wicked drug both for the famous and for their fans. Buzzing on that fame-high, people can’t help but act star-struck or kinda dumb. And we’re all fans of someone. Originally, the word was fanatic. Which is more accurate. It suggests how a fan can momentarily lose their mind.
We all lose our cool from time to time. Even the pros. I’ve done some acting. I once did a short stint on “Days of Our Lives.” It was funny to me when some of the stars from the show took me aside and told me just how much they loved Bob Marley. Here they were, actual-factual stars and they were acting like the fans. They wanted to take pics with me so they could show their friends… that they met a guy who resembled Bob Marley. I guess.
Which brings us to…
2. Everyone Loves Bob Marley! (…Even Your Mom)
All around the world people love the same things… Star Wars, Apple products, animated Disney films… and Bob Marley. The man is a global icon of positivity. Wandering in the shadowy back-alleys of a Cartagena neighborhood late at night, I was stunned when a gaggle of street kids saw me and yelled, “Bob Marley!!” The oldest one couldn’t have been more than ten. But they all knew who Bob Marley was.
The same thing happened in a public restroom in a train station in Berlin. Only this time it wasn’t street kids, it was middle-aged men who wanted to tell me how much they loved Bob Marley. There we were, all of us at the urinals, doing our business, and they wanted to share their love for Bob. It’s always strange having a conversation with a stranger when both of you have your dick in your hand.
3. It’s Difficult To Always Be Positive
Bob Marley’s message of love is deeply admired and universally understood. The psychic weight of representing that level of positivity was daunting. I felt like an ambassador of Bob Marley’s “One Love” vibe. It felt like if I was an asshole to anyone who approached me it was like Bob himself was cussing them out. I learned to grin when I wanted to walk away, and to share a moment with a stranger when all I wanted to do was dwell on my own problems. I found ways to make others important. This shift in perspective was one of the best lessons I learned. And it’s linked to the inverse lesson…
4. Being a disappointment because of what you look like… sucks!
I could usually sense it happening. A person would often do a double take. Some would stop dead in their tracks. Then they’d turn around and walk up to me. It could be a pair of stoner guys in a grocery store parking lot or a group of Japanese teen-girl tourists exploring San Francisco. To them I was just another sight-to-see in the urban freak show. Since I’m a person and not an object like say, the Golden Gate bridge, I would watch them as they nervously rib-poked each other as they drew closer, each tittering with laughter, until finally the boldest one would inevitably ask, “Excuse me… are you one of the sons of Mr. Bob Marley?”
Soon as I told them, “No, I’m just me,” the light in their eyes would darken. Day in and day out, I got to see how me-being-me was a disappointment. Nearly every day, I watched some stranger’s smile fall as they figured out I wasn’t a son of Bob Marley, or that I wasn’t much like the reggae star I resembled. Measured against one of the most famous men of the last century, apparently, I was something of a letdown.
I learned how to be okay with just being me, even though just being me often bummed someone out. As Abraham Lincoln said: you gotta do you and fuck it if people don’t like it– of course, I’m paraphrasing.
5. LOTS of people you wouldn’t expect smoke pot… like your new boss
Another weird thing about looking like Bob Marley was how often strangers wanted to get high with me. Didn’t matter if it was a concert, a friend’s funeral, or my first day at work and it was my new boss wanting to know if I wanted to go get high with him on company time. And it seemed like if a person got high enough, or if they squinted their eyes just enough, they could pretend they were puffing tough with Tuff Gong himself.
People love to project their fantasies onto you. And when you look like their fantasy… it’s even easier to notice how little reality matters to most folks.
6. For LOTS of women reggae and dreadlocks are guaranteed panty-droppers
By far, the best benefit of resembling someone so universally desired were all the times when women wanted to live out their sexual fantasies. If you’re lucky enough to look like some famous dude lots of women dream of fucking sometimes you get to be the convenient stand-in. I was a Bob Marley stunt-cock on so many occasions it was actually kinda embarrassing.
Eventually though, I had to admit to myself, it wasn’t me they were fucking, it was some fantasy they were enjoying. I was basically just a dreadlocked blow-up doll with a dildo. And that’s no fun. But I learned to value the deeper aspects of intimacy from having so many empty flings, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t a terrible way to learn the value of a real connection.
7. Sometimes strangers will say some fucked-up things… try to laugh it off
I tend to float through life like a drunken butterfly. But when you look like a famous person strangers approach you so often they make it impossible to flit and float about like said inebriated butterfly. The worst times had to be in airports. Since everyone flies, especially famous folks, the chances someone would mistake me for Ziggy Marley or one of the other sons of Bob Marley, dramatically increased.
No matter how annoying they may be, it never helps to tell a TSA agent to fuck off. I was in the Atlanta airport when a large group of TSA agents gathered to discuss whether or not I was Ziggy Marley. I had to play along. Despite the fact, I had no Jamaican accent, and despite the fact I told them I wasn’t Ziggy or any other son of Bob Marley, and despite the fact they had my driver’s license and could see for themselves, one or two of the TSA agents refused to give up the dream.
What can I say? We like to believe what we like to believe. And appearances can easily deceive us.
As two TSA agents shouted across the security pavilion about whether or not I was a son of Bob Marley, I kept insisting I wasn’t. Not convinced, the one who was farther away shouted back that maybe my mother was a groupie.
I guess, to his way of thinking, it would be an honor to be a son of Bob Marley and it didn’t matter if I started life as a quickie in some hotel bathroom. You haven’t had fun in an airport until strangers are yelling about your mother’s sexual habits.
8. When a stranger wants to share a positive experience, only your negativity will get in the way…
The most common occurrence I had to endure were the times when someone wanted to share with me how much Bob Marley meant to them and how much he changed their life. I often felt like a priest in a confessional. But really, it felt more like the person saw a Marilyn Monroe drag queen and wanted to drunkenly whisper in his/her ear how much Marilyn Monroe’s movies meant to them growing up, in the hopes that somehow dead Marilyn might hear them. It was strange.
But I learned how when a person is affected by something, when they’re touched or moved by someone, those aren’t the sorts of emotions anyone is good at expressing in well-formed sentences. It’s best to let them say their piece, have their moment and if you’re lucky perhaps some of their good feeling rubs off on you. Or at least it makes you feel better about strangers. Any moment is what you make of it.
I guess, as weird as it often was, it was actually very helpful to look like Bob Marley. I learned patience, tolerance, understanding, and a lot about the emotional vulnerabilities of others. I got to see the soft, smiling, tender sides of many strangers. And now I can easily imagine the innocent, optimistic inner child of just about any person I meet.
Plus, I got so much free smoke and surprise sex I shouldn’t ever complain. Despite those perks, I’m glad I cut my dreads and dyed my hair aquamarine. When I leave my house these days, I get to be myself without interruption. Being Bob Marley for so many people was fun… but it’s way cooler to be myself.