Today’s post comes to us from Minnesota Steve
In 1960 when I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, I knew it was a great film that would become a classic. I also knew—or thought I knew—that Gregory Peck must be a thoroughly decent man, not just an actor who played the role of a decent man. And yet, that second notion is actually not as obvious as it often seems. Not all great actors are ethical, friendly or likable in real life. Happily enough, Peck turned out to be as nice as the part he played. His costars have praised him endlessly for his generosity and kindness. Time has been as kind to Peck’s reputation as it has to his most iconic film.
But being a great performance artist is difficult, and not every performer who reaches the high levels of artistry is as likable as Gregory Peck. While it is understandable that fans want to believe their favorite performers are also good people, not all performers are as likable as they are talented.
Some accomplished performers have complicated reputations. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Pablo Picasso are often mentioned as people you might admire but would not enjoy being close to. In the world of business, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Elon Musk and Henry Ford are usually considered difficult human beings, if not worse. I used to dislike Bill Gates, but either he changed or I was badly informed. He seems admirable now.
Steve Goodman is an interesting person in this context. Goodman was funny, smart and easy to like as a performer. And yet I’ve read that his close friends knew he could occasionally be one of most annoying persons on earth. One person saying that was Goodman’s wife, Nancy, who loved him deeply.
Similarly interesting is the singer Loudon Wainwright III. Several people close to him have accused him of being a shoddy human being. One person expressing that opinion is the singer himself. While he has admitted to philandering and other mistakes, Wainwright’s open way of discussing them makes him more interesting or even likable.
My daughter has met several authors, and it wasn’t always good. Bill Holm and Michael Ondaatje behaved like jerks at book signings. Louise Penny, by contrast, could not have been more friendly and fun.
Garrison Keillor has been an important personality in my life for 56 years. I am a fan of much of his work, but not of the man himself, for I know he can be discourteous or even cruel. It is a cliché that humorists are often gloomy, unpleasant people, but remember, sometimes clichés are true. The charges of sexual harassment complicate the reputation of a man who was already highly complicated in my mind.
While it is difficult to know what celebrities are like in real life, with some performers you just know in your heart that they are someone you would enjoy as a friend. Bonnie Raitt has so much compassion and respect for other performers that I can’t imagine not liking her. Similarly, Emmylou Harris is unfailingly generous with other performers. Who could possibly dislike her?
Who among famous people would you like to know as a friend? Why?