Living in Los Angeles has a lot of advantages. We’re blessed with an incredibly diverse population, a dynamic creative community and perhaps the best weather on the planet. We also have the added bonus of celebrities in our midst! Celebs (just like regular people) sometimes go out for lunch, pick up their dry cleaning and walk their dogs which allows the rest of us to get a quick, up close glimpse of the actual person who has dazzled us on TV or film.
When I first came to the City of Angels, I was wowed by every celebrity sighting and couldn’t wait to get home and call up some friend to report that I actually stood in line at the Starbucks behind Jodie Foster or rode in an elevator with Warren Beatty. But soon, I discovered that my friends, who’d live here longer than me, weren’t all that impressed. Apparently, in order for one’s “Celebrity Story” to have weight, you had to have had a more intimate, dramatic or quirky encounter with a star. These tales then become useful ice-breakers at cocktail parties; and the odder they are, the better.
My best celebrity encounter story dates back 20 years when I first came west to try my hand at this mysterious thing called “pilot season.” Being new to L.A. I never had any idea how long it would take me to get from “point A” to “point B,” so I tended to leave very early for every appointment. One day I was scheduled to meet with an agent and found myself at his office building a full 30 minutes before my scheduled meeting. Not wanting to look too desperate, I bought a newspaper and decided to kill the time, loitering in front of the building.
It was about 5:00 pm and rush hour was in full swing. The building was on Sunset, close to the famous “Strip” where the boulevard gets a little curvy. Even at rush hour, the curves didn’t seem to deter the drivers from going as fast as they possibly could, which I found a little unnerving. For some reason, I happened to glance up and spotted a guy on a motor scooter swerving through traffic. It looked like something might be wrong. Either the guy was being a little reckless or he didn’t really know how to operate the bike. Suddenly, he lost control and the scooter slid out from under him, sending him sprawling onto the blacktop just as a huge wave of cars were barreling around the curve. Panic surged through me! Dropping my newspaper, I rushed out into the street and began waving my arms to divert traffic. Luckily, the crush of cars was able to divide on either side of us and mercifully, neither the scooter guy nor I were killed.
I whirled around and saw the guy was trying to get to his feet. Sensing we had a few seconds before the next wave of traffic would hit us, I took a step toward him. “Are you alright?” I yelled. “Yeah, I’m good,” he replied as he pulled off his helmet and turned to face me. Suddenly, I was standing in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, face-to-face with then heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. I almost swallowed my tongue.
The first thought that popped into my head was to mention that I had just worked with his ex-wife, Robin Givens not two weeks prior on an episode of “Head of the Class.” Then it occurred to me that this man could easily snap my neck like a twig, so I switched back to Good Samaritan mode. “We need to get this bike off the street,” I yelled as the next barrage of traffic swept by us. “Thanks,” he replied. As we pulled the bike upright, I took him in for the first time. When I’d seen him fight on TV, he’d looked immense and terrifying; a force of nature that could barely be contained. In person, he looked shorter and more compact. “I don’t know what happened,” he murmured, sounding a little embarrassed. “Nothing,” I replied, “It think it just slid.” Once the bike was up, the champ informed me that he was okay to ride again. Climbing on the bike, he waved to me and sped away, leaving me to make a mad dash back through traffic and onto the safety of the sidewalk. The whole encounter had lasted maybe 90 seconds.
Oddly, the sidewalk was now lined with people who had streamed out of the lobby once word had spread that Tyson was sprawled in the street. The crowd began asking me what had happened and what he’d said. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable and decided to duck into the building and go to my appointment, early or not. Once inside the agent’s office, I couldn’t help but spill the beans about my bizarre chance encounter with the champ. The agent smiled slyly and said “You should call the National Inquirer. They’d probably buy the story off you. You might get ten grand for it.”
Being a poor young actor at the time, ten grand sounded pretty good to me. But as I drove home, I kept wondering if the story was really worth that kind of cash. I began to consider the possibility of juicing it up a bit. After all, nobody had been present at the scene except Mike and me. I could say anything. I could say he smelled of alcohol (he didn’t) or that as he lay dazed in the street, he was calling Robin Given’s name (he wasn’t). Then I remembered that Mike Tyson was at the time, a powerful multi-millionaire with an infamous temper who might well be able to track me down and beat the living shit out of me. I decided to let the story go. Perhaps, I’d just chalk it up to my good deed for the day and leave it at that.
Imagine my surprise when, two weeks later, I was standing in the supermarket line, leafing through the National Inquirer and spotted a short article about Mike Tyson taking a spill on his motor scooter. Apparently, one of the onlookers who’d observed the whole incident from the safety of the sidewalk had called it in. There was no mention of the skinny, white guy who’d rushed into traffic to protect and aid the champ, but that was okay, I told myself. I hadn’t known it was Tyson when I ran into traffic. I just thought it was somebody was in trouble.
That odd little memory came back to me last week when I happened to catch Tyson appearing on, of all shows, “The View.” Quite a lot had happened in his life in the last twenty years and much of it had not been good. Barbara Walters couldn’t help bringing up her much-talked about interview with Mike and his then wife, Robin Givens and even had the balls to ask the champ if that interview had caused the collapse of his marriage. It was also clear that a few of “The View” ladies didn’t seem to be too happy to be seated so close to a convicted rapist and domestic abuser. But the strangest moment came when Tyson admitted that he was now completely broke. It was an awkward admission on a talk show that largely likes to skim over the surface of unpleasant topics. Barbara, who had very much assumed the lead up to this point, tried to segue gracefully into a commercial, but the camera was still on Tyson’s face. Never the most polished media personality, Tyson looked somber, but not sorry to have rocked the boat with a little dose of reality. His crimes, his arrogance, his regret and the consequences of his misplaced trust were all on display for the world to see.
On the rare occasions I tell the story of Mike and me, I never open with “Did I ever tell you about the time I saved Mike Tyson’s life?” Maybe the oncoming traffic would have spotted him and swerved out of the way with no help from me. Who knows? I’m just glad I did it. And I’m glad that I occasionally get to cross paths (even in the strangest of circumstances) with those people who fascinate, infuriate or seduce us with their exploits and abilities. It’s one of the coolest parts of the life and the city I chose for myself. Have a great week, Hollywood. Keep your eyes open. You never know who you might see.
Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv