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Never Meet Your Heroes - The Tale of My Encounter with Harrison Ford That Never Was.

Updated: Jun 28

When I was a young man, my brother and I had some pretty hair-raising times with our father. Living on a 30-foot sailboat for days, sometimes weeks, I was confined with a man consumed with sailing and the thrill of taking on nature's worst.

His obsession with the experience could sometimes result in a chaotic environment, one from which I couldn't just jump overboard and swim away. It was always a lot to handle, especially for a shy, sensitive kid like me who didn't share the passion for adventure where sometimes the storm was as much in the cabin, as it might have been outside.

My father’s unquenchable thirst for a fast-paced thrill ride on the water literally made me sick, but I could never say no to him, never not go on the trips, and only enthusiasm was encouraged.

In high school I discovered a movie that would change my life; “The Mosquito Coast”, a film based on the Paul Theroux novel, directed by Peter Weir and starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix and a young newbie named Jadrien Steele.

Phoenix and Steele played the sons of Ford’s character Allie Fox (characters eerily similar to my brother and me). Ford’s character was an inventor who takes his family to Central America to build a utopian society.

Obsessed with living off the land, he tore his family away from their modest but safe home in Massachusetts and forced them to start over with nothing in the jungles of Central America.

Constantly putting his family in many different types of danger, Ford's character was oblivious to his family's pain and suffering. He was a man consumed with his vision.

Ford's performance was compelling, making Allie Fox a character I both admired and feared. It was also coincidental that Ford and my father resembled each other, so watching Allie Fox drag his unwilling sons through the jungle struck a nerve that was more than just a curiosity for me.

Watching "The Mosquito Coast" after experiencing a similar reality, (minus the jungle), I was mesmerized by Ford's ability to bring such a complex character to life. I felt like I was watching my family’s story unfold on the screen. His mastery of the character's monolithic presence, his pin point perspective on the world and the drive that ultimately got him killed was stirring.

For the rest of my life, one of my bucket list goals was to look Harrison Ford in the eye and thank him for telling my story, for helping me to understand the aspects of my father that I didn't understand as a kid, and for delivering what I know for sure to be the best performance of his career.

When I turned 25, I moved to Hollywood with the goal of becoming a TV Host. I was fortunate to find success at not only being the star of my own shows, but along the way I got to work as an entertainment reporter. Each night I was on red carpets, at openings, galas, awards shows and more, all the while hoping to meet Harrison Ford and tell him how amazing I thought he was in that movie.

In the nearly 15 years of entertainment reporting, I met hundreds upon hundreds of celebrities: actors, directors, musicians, politicians, I even met the Dalai Lama! But alas, I never – for whatever reason – met the man who brought my dad to life on the silver screen.

Fast forward to November, 2023. I was now 58 years old, twelve years removed from show business, I found myself as a guest of a dear friend at the American Cinematheque Awards in Beverly Hills.

Of all people being feted that year was Helen Mirren, Harrison Ford’s wife from “Mosquito Coast.” I wondered if Harrison would be showing up to support his friend. To my astonishment and great delight, he was there, seated with Dame Helen. The excitement of seeing them together in real life was overwhelming. Here were two of my idols, stars of a film that had reflected and informed my childhood, right before my eyes!

But despite my professional background and the countless celebrities I had encountered, I was overcome by fear. What if meeting Harrison Ford shattered the illusion I had cherished for so long? What if he turned out to be just another celebrity, indifferent and unimpressive? Or worse... annoyed by my intrusion of his time? The fear of losing the idealized version of him held me back and I couldn't bring myself to approach him or Ms. Mirren.

I was no more than twenty feet away from them the entire evening and I never took the opportunity.

This experience made me reflect on how we elevate celebrities to almost mythical status, often through the lens of groupthink. We share stories, interviews, and fan experiences, building a collective image that may not align with reality.

This is the conundrum that fans and celebrities often experience; a fan will approach a star, feeling as though they are a friend. The star has no idea who they are, and can often be overwhelmed by the sudden adulation. At best, there can be a polite exchange, at worst, we enter stalker territory and the whole thing blows up.

This is the dilemma so many celebrities encounter. Neil Peart, lyricist and drummer for RUSH, puts it perfectly in their song “Limelight” when he mourns...

Trapped in this unlikely role,

ill-equipped to act -

with insufficient tact -

I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.

For those who understand this situation – as I do so well - The fear of meeting our heroes and being disappointed is rooted in the potential loss of the collective illusion we have bought into as we all circle around our heroes and laud their super-human status.

Makeup genius RIck Baker and Health guru Shawn T

There were only two times I truly lost my shit as an entertainment reporter: The first time was when I met the phenomenal make-up artist Rick Baker. I did a paper on him in high school and when I met him on the red carpet, I was so giddy. He didn't seem to care. The other time was meeting workout guru Shawn T. I was doing his 60-day Insanity program at that time, and – I don’t know – I guess I got a little insane. In all fairness, he did tell us all to get nuts every morning!

For those who’ve had the opportunity to be in the periphery of their idols, it makes sense when they get near to their favorite star they lose their shit. But there's a catch to this collective adoration: the concept of "never meet your heroes." This phrase suggests that meeting your idols can often lead to disappointment, as the reality rarely matches the idealized image we've created in our minds.

In my tenure as an entertainment reporter, meeting all the stars I had come to love was often just a crap shoot. Some were delightful, exceeding my expectations, while others were, frankly, disappointing. This dichotomy always made me wary of meeting my ultimate hero, Harrison Ford. Which I’m sure played a huge part in not approaching him that night at the Beverly Hilton.

Want to know who was the nicest? Want to know who was the most despicable? I'll bet you do!

My encounter, or rather the lack thereof, with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, underscores the complexities of our relationships with celebrities. These people become symbols of our aspirations, dreams, and memories. Meeting them in person can be a double-edged sword, offering the potential for both joy or disappointment.

Sitting at a table next to Helen and Harrison's table, I had time reflect on my interaction with celebrities in the past. Other than interviewing them, if I see a music or screen star out and about, I always look twice, and then leave them alone. Yes, in some ways their celebrity connotes an unwritten obligation to one's fans, but no one wants to be constantly bothered especially when out with family.

So I came to the calculation that letting Ford and Mirren know that a movie they did 40 years earlier changed the life of someone they likely would forget 20 seconds after the encounter was simply not enough to risk a bad outcome.

It was their night. Not mine.

I also see my decision was a way of preserving the comfort and certainty their work had provided me over the years. It allowed me to hold onto the cherished memories of watching "The Mosquito Coast" as a child, without risking the disillusionment that could come from meeting my hero in person.

I’m glad for that, actually, even though I’m quite sure I’ll never have another chance to meet Mr. Ford, a life-long hero. And so as my one and only opportunity was not so much a lost opportunity but potentially an avoided disappointment. I can live with that.

The intertwining of personal experiences, groupthink, and the notion of "never meet your heroes" highlights the intricate ways our minds attach to ideas, music, and people. It's a reminder of the power of nostalgia and the comfort we find in the familiar, even if it means those we derive so much inspiration from remain permanently at a distance.

So, was my fanboy enthusiasm of Ford because of his acting chops, or the mirror "The Mosquito Coast" held up to my early life with my brother and father? I may never know. More importantly... would meeting a guy who acted like my dad four decades ago actually settle my sea-sick stomach?

I'll save that one for therapy next week.

If you had the chance to walk up to your favorite celebrity... would you?

  • Hell no, I'm too intimidated

  • Hell yes! Once in a lifetime!

  • It really depends on the situation

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