Words by Blair Waller
It takes all kinds.
I was engaged in a family reunion this past weekend. As I reflect upon the occasion, I realized that with any group – whether it be family, friends, classmates, coworkers, teammates or citizens – there is the necessity for diversity. The greater the diversity, the stronger the unit. Each member assumes their role and brings to the table their unique assortment of talents and shortcomings, pros and cons, fortunes and misfortunes. The aggregate of each adds to the mix at various entry points, forming a constantly evolving final product. It takes all kinds.
This idea was reinforced by an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” I watched this afternoon. In order to solve the gas crisis, the gang assumes their respective roles, following the paradigm set by all successful units in history – the Ghostbusters, the A-Team and Scooby Doo for example. In their pursuit, they assume the roles as The Brains, The Looks, The Muscle, The Useless Chick and of course, The Wildcard. Needless to say, they fail miserably. But the end result is inconsequential in this particular point. It even takes all kinds to fail miserably.
Austin, like all other cities or towns in the world, has its unique identity. While most would agree it’s the common citizens that form the fabric of the respective society, it’s interesting to explore the level of the more known and recognized around the country – the rich, the famous, the celebrities. After all, most people have never been to Austin and do not know anyone from Austin. Thus, their sole insight into the people of Austin is the people they read about in the headlines. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these are our global representatives, our ambassadors, of the city of Austin.
LIVIN Austin taps the shoulders of our city’s celebrity fabric. We look to view each through an objective lens, as unbiased as possible, in an attempt to see our own as the general public view them. Remember Austinites, it takes all kinds.
The Godfather – Willie Nelson (Musician) – Born during the Great Depression, Nelson has seen a lot in his 80 years. He moved to Austin in 1972 and subsequently changed not only country music (he actually helped form its very own brand called “Outlaw Country”) but had an impact in rock, blues and pop. Sporting one of the most globally recognized voices, you’d be hard pressed to find a movement in Austin without his voice somewhere in the mix.
The Rose – Earl Campbell (Athlete) – OK, so his nickname refers to his hometown of Tyler but after leaving a trail of battered bodies in the Southwest Conference at UT, then doing the same across the nation in the NFL, Campbell returned back to Austin to make it his permanent home. He’s hung up his cleats in favor of making sausage these days but still embodies the character of Austin – soft spoken, a man of character and style. There aren’t many folks I’d rather share a Budweiser with.
The Oscar Winner – Renee Zellweger (Actress) – She was nominated for 2 Oscars (for her roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary and Chicago) before locking one down with Cold Mountain. Her career gained traction while attending UT, working as a waitress around Austin, before landing a bit part in the film My Boyfriend’s Back. Besides the aforementioned Oscar winning roles, Zellweger weaved her way into the A-list with classic roles in Empire Records, Me Myself and Irene, Dazed and Confused, 8 Seconds and my personal favorite, Jerry Maguire.
The Mogul Magnate – Michael Dell (Businessman) – With a net worth reported at roughly $16 million, Dell is the one most responsible for the business landscape we enjoy today in Austin. Setting up shop in north Austin in 1984 with a staff “consisting of three guys with screwdrivers sitting at six-foot tables,” Dell has created a juggernaut in the global marketplace. Dell Inc. is the 3rd largest employer in Austin (behind AISD and The City of Austin) and in the process, paved the way for countless other IT based firms, making Austin the next generation of IT hubs after Palo Alto. It is difficult to imagine what the city would look like without Dell.
The Headline Headliner – Walter Cronkite (Journalist and TV Anchor) – “Well I got news for you Walter Cronkite…,” you actually are one of the most respected men in your field in America’s history. Reporting on some of our nations most notable events – the bombings of World War II, Vietnam, Watergate, the Nuremburg Trials, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the Moon landing and interviews witheveryone from MLK to the Beatles – Cronkite was the voice of America. He honed his reporting chops at UT beginning in 1933, and remained an integral figure in the university until his death in 2009. “And that’s the way it is,” as he famously said in closing.
The Reluctant Superstar – Owen Wilson (Actor) – Given the reference in the previous entry, it seemed natural to transition to Hansel, as he is known in Zoolander. As he says in the film, “that’s how I live my life – I grip it and I rip it.” Now that I think about it, that entire segment at the Male Model Awards was an eerie foreshadow to the years that followed. In the majority of his roles, he seems to almost play himself, living by his own rules (apologies for the cliché). He attended UT where he met filmmaker Wes Anderson and subsequently starred in both their first films, Bottle Rocket. From there, the two went on to produce classics The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Although I don’t know personally, he appears to be a likeable guy in an unlikeable place, thus representing Austin well.
The Groundbreaking Auteur – Wes Anderson (Director, Writer, Producer) – We basically ran down his resume in the previous entry, but Anderson undoubtedly deserves his own nod. He has received critical acclaim from The Academy, Bafta, and countless critics circles to become one of the preeminent filmmakers in the world. His style is unmistakable, combining deliberate cinematography with folky classic rock with “poignant portrayals of flawed characters.” His impact will surely yield many more brilliant filmmakers in this city.
The Fallen Icon – Lance Armstrong (Cyclist, Philanthropist) – Like we said at the start, it takes all kinds. It’s hard to know how to summarize this legend at this date and time. I suppose we could start with him being the most dominant athlete in history and leading one of the most successful fundraisers of all time. But then we have to mention the asterisks – the doping, the lying and the cheating. For now, let’s just say it’s been a wild ride, Lance. We’ll stay tuned for further rebounding because the spot on Oprah wasn’t impressive.
The Political Power Couple – Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson (President and First Lady) – LBJ is one of four politicians in history to serve in all 4 federal offices – Representative, Senator, Vice President and President. Inheriting the presidency at a tumultuous time in American history, LBJ is remembered favorably due to his leadership in areas that include civil rights, Medicare, public broadcasting, aid to education and his “War on Poverty.” His style is one to be admired in Texas, with his domineering cowboy-like personality (his “bathroom meetings” come to mind most profoundly). His legacy began with the help of his wife, Lady Bird, who helped bankroll his congressional campaign, running his office while he served in the Navy. Then she bootstrapped a radio and TV station that would eventually yield millions. She was also an integral part of the Lady Bird Bill, an effort to beautify the nation’s highways. Her name can be found all over Austin, most notably at Lady Bird / Town Lake.
Austin’s Sweetheart – Sandra Bullock (Actress) – Another Oscar-winning actress is America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock. She’ll always have a special place in my heart after appearing in thrillers during my formative years. These include Demolition Man, Speed, The Net and A Time To Kill. Ever since those days, Bullock has sewn roots here in Austin with multiple houses, a restaurant (Bess Bistro) and a regular at Barton Springs. Like Owen Wilson, she’s a classy representative of the town.
The Hill Country Ace – Ben Crenshaw (Golfer) – Born and bred in Austin, a student at Austin High, Crenshaw won twice on golf’s greatest stage – The Masters. The incredible aspect of this is that he did it 11 years apart (1984 and 1995). These days, he designs courses which is pretty much every male’s fantasy. One of his masterpieces – The Crenshaw at Barton Creek – is one of Texas’ finest.
The Burgeoning Starlet – Amber Heard (Actress) – This entry is not so much based on body of work to date but more on thecareer ahead. She was great in Pineapple Express, Zombieland, Drive Angry (certainly easier on the eyes than her costar Nic Cage) and The Rum Diary. One can readily see Heard standing among the A-list as she continues to rise. She was born and raised in Austin, attending St. Michael’s Academy. Stay tuned, ya heard?
The Unassuming Genius – Richard Linklater (Director and Screenwriter) – Yes, he created Austin’s greatest film Dazed and Confused, but that was just the start. Since then, he’s written and directed more than a few genre staples Before Sunrise, School of Rock, Before Sunset, A Scanner Darkly and Bernie. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole his style but one clearly defining aspect is the expression of the human condition. He is an unassuming master of his craft.
Other greats that deserve more than notation but I’m running late on my deadline…
The Virgin Voice of Psychadelia – Janis Joplin (Singer) – A member of the infamous Forever 27, Joplin died before her time. But like her peers in that crew (Hendrix, Cobain and Morrison), she achieved legendary status. She attended UT and later began making a name for herself playing solo around town.
The Natural – Drew Brees (Athlete) – Standing at only 6’, after leading Westlake to its only State title, Brees engineered another unlikely championship for the previously abysmal New Orleans Saints. He is a leader of men and as humble as they come.
Austin’s Angel – Farrah Fawcett (Actress / Artist) – A pop culture icon, Fawcett was ranked #26 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.” She began her string of accolades at UT where she was the first freshman to be voted one of the “ten most beautiful Coeds.”
The Ill-Timed Superstar – Andy Roddick (Athlete) – Roddick had the rotten luck of being born around the same time as aces Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He did manage to capture the US Open championship in 2003 and that alone deserves a spot here. He attended St. Stephen’s high school in west Austin.
The Jack of All Trades – Kinky Friedman (Singer / Songwriter / Novelist / Humorist / Politician) – He makes the list simply due the diversity and sheer length of resume. He attended Austin High and UT thereafter. He ran for Governor in 2006 and placed 4th and we commend the effort.
Scanning through the above list tells us one thing – if Austin’s notable people were a family, they’d make one hell of a TV show.