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When fame collides with real life, many times life trumps celebrity

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon

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“Do you know my name? You’re about to find out who I am.” — Reese Witherspoon, verbally jousting with an Atlanta police officer who was testing her husband’s sobriety.

Fame does funny things to people.

Not just the famous people — also the people who come into contact with the famous people.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Aisha Tyler in a coffee shop on Michigan Avenue, in advance of appearing on her “Girl on Guy” podcast.

Aisha is very tall and effortlessly beautiful. She has appeared in a number of movies, she was in a two-season story arc on “Friends,” she hosted “Talk Soup,” she was on “The Ghost Whisperer,” she’s a co-host on “The Talk.” (Why, she even did four guest co-host stints on “Ebert & Roeper” back in the day.)

Even in sweats and sunglasses, Aisha was recognizable to some folks in the bustling coffee shop — including one woman who approached and said, “What do I know you from? Who are you?”

Tyler identified herself and tried to gracefully wriggle out of that awkward moment when you have to list your credits. It wasn’t clear if the woman had heard of anything Aisha had done, but that didn’t stop her from insisting on a photo (which of course turned into multiple photos) with the woman and her daughter and her daughter’s friends, because of course if you spot a famous person you have the right to turn that moment into a photo op.

Even if you’re not sure who the famous person is.

Last year I was in a hospital waiting room when a woman said: “What do I know you from? You’re on the news or something, right? Who are you?”

That’s a fun moment when you’re in a hospital waiting room.

When I told the woman it wasn’t important and I didn’t really want to get into it, she said, “Well, you’re very rude.

Yes. I’ll work on that.

Don’t you know who I am?

I know: Waaaaaaah. Life is so hard for the famous and the semi-famous and the almost famous. If you don’t want people to bother you, find another profession.

Yes, we’ve all rolled our eyes when some actor or pop star complains about the trappings of fame. But it’s still strange that so many people believe they have the inherent right to change their behavior when they encounter someone who makes his living in front of a camera or on a field of play.

And yes, of course the very celebrity who rolls his eyes when someone approaches his dinner table or bothers him when he’s just trying to pick up his dry cleaning will often play that fame card when the situation arises. How often have we heard stories about some celeb who’s told there’s a wait for a table at a restaurant and responds, “Don’t you know who I am?”

You never want to ask that question, because the answer is almost always one of two things:

A. “No.”

B. “Yes, and I don’t care.”

Academy Award-winning actress and longtime America’s Sweetheart Reese Witherspoon sang that tune last Friday in Atlanta after her husband, agent Jim Toth, was accused of DUI. According to the police report, Witherspoon began to hang out the window of their 2013 Ford Fusion (!), questioned whether the cop was really a cop, got out of the car, stated she was “a U.S. citizen … allowed to stand on American ground,” and said:

“Do you know who I am? You’re about to find out who I am. You are going to be on the national news.”

Well. Not exactly. It’s Witherspoon who was on the news, not the police officer. Nobody knows the name of the police officer Mel Gibson called “Sugar ----” when Gibson was pinched for DUI, nobody knows the name of the flight attendant who told Alec Baldwin to stop playing “Words With Friends” because the plane was about to take off, and nobody cares about the identity of the officer who arrested the star of “Sweet Home Alabama” on a disorderly conduct charge.

Over the last couple of days, you wouldn’t have found one headline naming the arresting officer, but there were hundreds of stories naming Witherspoon, e.g., the Los Angeles Times declaring, “Reese Witherspoon has celebrity entitlement syndrome.”

In the sober light of day, Witherspoon apologized, saying, “I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed. … I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. I have nothing but respect for the police and I’m very sorry.”

Fame does funny things to people. Even someone as likable as Reese Witherspoon, who wouldn’t even make the Diva 100 in Hollywood, is ever aware of her celebrity, and couldn’t resist asking the one question celebrities should never ask of the non-famous. It never ends well.

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