Les Stroud could hang out at Bartlett and Walnut streets in Lewiston and go largely unnoticed. People would pass him on the sidewalk and offer half-hearted nods.

“Survivorman” would just nod right back and mutter, “‘Sup?” Then he’d go into the bar that used to be Del’s and Deck’s and have himself a beer. He might throw a game of darts with some locals, play an old song on the jukebox and then go on his way.

Les Stroud is Everyman, if first impressions are to be trusted. And I think they are.

Patrick Dempsey, not so much. When Dempsey is in the room, people stir in an electrified way. They become like the leaves of trees that shudder restlessly before a storm. I don’t think it’s merely a physical attraction thing; although, ain’t he dreamy?

Dempsey has an aura that makes him larger than life; a thrumming energy, born in Hollywood, that feels like it might be dangerous. You see that energy at work as normally staid men begin to stammer and local beauty queens turn suddenly shy. Dempsey has it, whatever it is.

Celebrity is a mystical thing and it affects people in different ways. I know a guy who could take or leave your average star out of Hollyweird. George Clooney? Who gives a rat’s patootie? Jessica Simpson? Fine-looking lass, but I’ll bet she has gross personal habits just like the rest of us.

Introduce the guy to a sports star, though, and he’s digging around in his hope chest, searching for his autograph book. “Heavens! It’s Derek Jeter? Quick, how is my hair?”

Me, I’m generally not starstruck, but you can’t ignore the power of the super-famous to generate that weird vibe. Some stars have it, some don’t, and it doesn’t seem to depend on their particular level of fame. They’re either a megastar too hot to touch, or a megastar who’s perfectly approachable.

Stephen King, in my view, is a weird exception to these rules. Stephen King somehow manages to be both. When he’s in the room, you think: Why, he’s just regular folk. I could have a caramel apple with that guy.

And then you have a one-on-one conversation with the big fella and his greatness — his KINGness — just radiates. You feel the mad genius rolling off him like the heat of a house fire. You think: Holy crap! This is the guy who wrote “The Stand!” and “Pet Sematary,” and “‘Salem’s Lot,” and “The Green Mile!” And looking at him straight on is like looking directly at the noon sun, so you run away like a shy school girl, giggling, blushing and pausing three blocks away to carve his name into a tree.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I met Conan O’Brien once in Marblehead. I was having a cup of coffee out near the ocean, Conan was at work being super tall. He said hello; I said hello back. The exchange was so commonplace, I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I got home.

The same happened when I met John Travolta. “Hey,” I said. “Do that Vinnie Barbarino laugh.” He complied, we both chuckled and I went on my way. No radiating waves of energy like a live wire jumping and spitting in the grass. But I know a girl who met Travolta and she has yet to wash the hand that touched him. It’s all green and gross and it smells like an old Band-Aid.

I think even the most apathetic of us could produce a short list of stars who have the power to shatter our cool. If I’m allowed to invoke the dead-people-count rule, my list would look like this. King, Edgar Allan Poe, Jim Morrison, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Olivia Hussey, when she was Juliet. Maybe William Shakespeare, depending on whether he was wearing one of those stupid, frilly collars.

If you’re a geek (and you kind of are; look at you) maybe your celebrity kryptonite is Bill Gates, Sean Parker or the guy who invented RAM. If you’re a garage guitarist, maybe it’s Clapton or Eddie Van Halen. Hell, maybe it’s Don Knotts, Joyce DeWitt and that guy who played Screech.

We’re all adults here. There’s no judging. Hang a poster of Kurt Cameron if you want to. Me, I’m heading back to Bartlett and Walnut streets. Some dork bet Stroud a caramel apple that he won’t make it all the way to Birch Street without getting harassed by Operation Hot Spots. My money is on Survivorman. The dude just has that way about him.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Anyone but George Clooney can email him at [email protected]


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