Fame Maintenance

You’ve lied, backstabbed, and slept your way to stardom. What’s next?


It’s hard to stay famous. You have to pretend you don’t want to be. If you’re in the public eye, every time you step out of the house, you’re at work—but your media coverage must look accidental, unplanned. Be glad strangers on the street ask you to pose with them for cell phone pictures. When they do, you have only two options. Say yes, and for eternity they will tell their friends that they “know” you and will buy everything you put out. Say no, even politely, and you will forever be branded an asshole, and these onetime fans would now rather die than spend a penny on your next CD, movie, or book. “Okay,” some celebrities argue, “but I draw the line at posing when I’m eating in a restaurant.” True, autograph hounds are not “sorry to interrupt,” because they’re obviously doing so. But why should they be? Didn’t they indirectly buy your food in the first place?

If you want hassle-free fame, don’t live in Los Angeles or New York City. It’s hard to feel sorry for stars who bitch about tabloid coverage while lunching at Fred Segal or Nobu. They know perfectly well that paparazzi will be buzzing around these hot spots. Live in a city where the main local paper is struggling and laying off reporters. Believe me, they don’t have the budget to cover anyone you’re sleeping with. Instead of saying “no pictures” to fans on the street who recognize you, switch tactics and start saying hi to the ones who don’t. Ask them for their autograph. Aggressively unfamous behavior will make them think it’s not you, and finally you can have a little privacy.

Being featured in hard news is always more important to your career than those silly little show business gossip columns. If you’re really lucky, you might survive a disaster, and that’s a sure way to get your Wikipedia page updated if it’s been dormant for too long. My friend Pauline jokes that if she were in an airplane crash with me and she was the only one to die, the headline would read: air disaster! john waters lives. one dead. I guess she means that as a compliment.

Every so often, your image needs a reboot. Surprise the public by having chums outside the usual celebrity circle. I was impressed when a guest at a friend’s party told me she had hidden Julian Assange before he went to the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. Horrify your fan base by going public with the fact that you offered Casey Anthony your home as a hideout from the hostile public just so you can see Nancy Grace’s head explode live on TV and take credit.

If you want your fame to be durable, you can’t hate the rich. They own newspapers and finance independent movies. Realize early in your career that there are corrupt poor people out there too. And if you are lucky enough to become affluent, never flaunt it. I love rap music but have problems with some of the self-proclaimed onetime-poor gangster poets today boasting to the still-poor fans that they are now rich. Upgrade your thug self. Rap about a better level of wealth: “No more bling and guns, bitch / I gotta new kind of rich / I’m tired of your hating / I bought you a Cy Twombly painting.”

Whoever said all publicity is good publicity was wrong. Just ask Michael Douglas. Cunnilingus and cancer were not exactly Dorothy Parker–esque bons mots. Or the stars whose names are hanging on the wall of the coronary care unit of the hospital in Maryland where I have visited my mom when she was a patient. PROMINENT PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD STROKES, reads a sign conspicuously displayed in the corridor. Somehow I don’t think the press agents for Sharon Stone or Della Reese planted this information.

Never say anything bad about a fellow celebrity in public if you want your glory to last. As soon as you make the mistake of dishing in public, you will go to a dinner party, look at the place cards at your table, and discover that the person you just bad-mouthed will be sitting next to you. Never answer your critics either. Your letter to the editor protesting your bad review will only remind readers of it or, worse yet, alert others who never saw the pan in the first place. The reviewer always gets to answer your complaints, so now he or she has yet another chance to say how untalented you are.

I was once seated for dinner right next to a major critic from an A-list newspaper who had just trashed my film. We both felt a little initial discomfort, but we acted like we were friends—just like the whores we were. Roger Ebert, well…I guess, bless his soul (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is still the best thing he ever wrote), would give my later films terrible reviews that really did hurt the box office in the Midwest and then, right after, greet me warmly at film festivals and ask me to be on his panels. Of course, I accepted. It’s a thin line between being a pro and a masochist.

Talk show hosts like it when you go on their TV program with nothing to hawk as long as you’re prepared with new material. But never attend the Oscars, unless you’re a presenter or a nominee. Same thing with film festivals—if your movie isn’t being screened officially and you’re not on the jury, don’t go. Otherwise, you’ll look like a groupie, the exact opposite of permanently famous.

If you want to appear humble for the public yet still stand out on the red carpet without being ostentatious, throw out your conventional stylist and begin dressing faux-poor in a new way. You might want to give Greg Lauren’s shredded and destroyed one-of-a-kind fashions a peek. He goes way beyond deconstructing his uncle Ralph’s preppy designs—especially with his fashion-unfriendly shoes that are shrunken and seemingly rescued from flood waters, completely uncomfortable and, better yet, more expensive than Comme des Garçons.

Of course, flashy jewelry on a man is cringe-worthy unless it’s the designer Walter Van Beirendonck’s hilarious cloth watch that, from a distance, looks exactly like a jeweled timepiece you’d never be caught dead wearing in real life. Some outfits (Yohji Yamamoto’s “stab” jacket, with slashes cut in the back, or Martin Margiela’s fake-rain-splattered suit that makes you look as if you just got splashed by a passing bus) are so stylish that you can wear them only onstage or to a premiere. You never want to look famously ridiculous on the street.

Grooming is also important in fame conservation. Silly, trendy hairdos (split-levels, mullets, faux-hawks) always end up making you look fashion-dated when your career retrospective is finally broadcast. Yet remember, Andy Warhol started wearing a wig way before he ever needed one, and you’d be surprised how many people were shocked to learn after he died that it wasn’t his real hair.

Everybody loves a man who tries to look bad but can’t. Be daring. If you’re really handsome, work hard to make yourself ugly. Why not try the long, scruffy, I-just-kidnapped-Elizabeth-Smart beard so popular with Brooklyn hipsters today? Facelifts? Forget it. Scars look sexy anywhere on your body except behind your ears. And one fashion rule I swear by: Never wear the outfit in the same city where you bought it. Lasting fame is part mystery, isn’t it?

Nudity is another matter. Be careful where you take off your clothes. Consistency through the years in body hair will bring you respect, especially in the confusing pubic-hair-generation-gap times we live in today. “Hairy-chested” used to be a positive term to comment on a guy’s virility—maybe we need to go back to this a little. Men, shaving your chest and legs is kind of creepy—and your crotch? A lack of pubic hair in your “private” celebrity sex tape won’t make your unit look bigger, it just suggests you are an adult baby and makes the viewer and your partner feel like suddenly confused pedophiles. Baby boomers went to court in the ’60s so you could see bush in magazines, and now there isn’t any (hear that, Playboy?). We’re not asking for full ’70s pelt on our stars. No. Just trimming, not shaving. Is that too much to offer our long-term celebrity voyeurs?

Sex is a tricky thing if you hope to end up a legend. Why is the press being so mean to poor Justin Bieber now that he’s of legal age? Is it because he’s now “black” yet still gives off Shirley Temple vibes? No, it’s because he’s having sex. Star magazine reported (and I was amazed at how graphic the writing was) that Justin performed oral sex on a female fan for over an hour without demanding any reciprocation or taking off any of his clothes except his hat. So? What woman would complain? I would think women would appreciate his unselfish giving. He’s obviously a feminist!

Sexual preference alone is not newsworthy in itself anymore. Coming out may inspire a yawn with the public these days, but “coming in” is still a good hook. Suppose someone realizes they made a mistake and just got caught up in the politically correct fervor of gay acceptance. Is it brave of them to admit, when the time comes, that they just can’t deliver down there? And is it wrong of me to say we have enough gay people already? It’s not a numbers game. Maybe it’s time to audition gay coming-out candidates before a panel of sexually free thinkers for permission to enter. Women who pretend to be gay in order to turn on their hetero boyfriends are not accepted. Gay ID will be issued and then demanded in certain social situations. The gay struggle continues.

Gay marriage takes us to a new level of confusion in the fame game. There used to be a word in the press for elderly women who hadn’t married: “spinster.” There was a private word for older gentlemen, too: “queer.” But these terms are now meaningless. What will be the politically correct word for men, like myself, in the public eye who now can marry but choose not to? Will we be discriminated against within our own minority? Just because we are allowed to tie the knot doesn’t mean we have to. I want to warn all these gay couples rushing to the altar. There’s also gay divorce! Gay alimony! Some states, like California, have 50/50-split no-fault divorce laws! It must be a gold-digging hustler free-for-all in West Hollywood right now. Remaining single is the path to fame longevity, no matter what your sexual preference is. Just ask Bill Maher. He’ll tell you.

If you really want your name to last in history, invent a new sex act. I’m jealous of the Marquis de Sade. His name is now an entire lifestyle, and that’s beyond famous. Didn’t Linda Lovelace actually originate that deep-throat technique? I never heard of anybody going that far down until the movie became a sensation, and now there are whole sections of sword-swallowing porn displayed on separate shelves in sex shops. I rack my brain trying to think of a new way to be dirty. I had a little success by introducing “tea bagging” to the public in my film Pecker, but I need to go further. How about a holiday sex act—one that you do only at Christmas? A “snow man.” At the office party you get a “facial” (and I don’t mean La Mer), go outside in a cold climate and let it freeze, come back in and happily murmur out of the side of your mouth: “Merry Christmas.” Please mention my name when you do so.