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'Gary From Chicago,' And The Flip Side Of 5 Minutes

And the winner is, La La Land!

Oh, sorry. Someone handed me the wrong script.

Gary Alan Coe — Gary from Chicago, as he introduced himself — enjoyed four minutes and 40 seconds of fame this week when he was first in a line of Hollywood tourists ushered into the Dolby Theater during the Oscars ceremonies.

Most of the tourists seemed flabbergasted to be paraded, in their shorts and fanny-packs, in front of cinema stars in silk and glitter.

But Gary from Chicago was gregarious and engaging. He kissed Nicole Kidman's extended hand, as if he were an Italian count. He introduced his fiancee, and Denzel Washington posed between them to pronounce them man and wife, by the star power invested in him by the state of California.

Social media platforms began to buzz with guesses about what commercials and paid appearances Gary would make while his Oscar limelight was still hot.

But Gary Coe's fame fizzled by midnight. It took just a few clicks to establish that he had been released from the California State Prison in Corcoran just three days before. He was convicted of petty theft in 1997, and sentenced to 20 years, because had also been previously convicted of grand theft and shoplifting in California, robbery and burglary in Illinois, and most alarmingly, attempted rape in 1978.

The story of Gary Coe may remind you a little of Ken Bone. He's the man in the red sweater who became a brief sensation after asking a calm question at a presidential debate last fall. Then people read some of Ken Bone's old postings on Reddit, and found many that were coarse, profane and appalling.

Fame, even brief and fleeting, has a flip-side these days: absolute exposure. It is not possible to be just a little well-known today without the risk of having your whole life peeled open.

Ken Bone asked a balanced question about energy policy. Gary Coe thought he was just a guy along with his fiancee and other sightseers on a Hollywood tour group. Neither man ran for office, got appointed to the cabinet, or otherwise invited a deep dive into their lives. You don't have to overlook the wrongs they did to feel for the way celebrity machinery made them household names, and then infamous, in just a few minutes.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.