Remembering Johnny Clegg

In my life I’ve only met three famous people.

I met Ron Paul once in passing when I was nineteen or twenty years old. I don’t think we had an actual conversation and I don’t remember getting a personal impression of him one way or the other. I include him here mainly for completeness.

I met Douglas Adams at a book signing when I was ten years old, maybe as old as eleven. He was very abrupt and kind of a jerk to me even though he wasn’t that busy, which was kind of a shame because I was a huge Hitchhiker’s Guide fan in grade school and had gone in there expecting that meeting him was going to be the greatest thing ever. I suppose this is why they say not to meet your heroes.

But the third story is a very nice one, so when I saw today that Reddit has a question asking people, “Which celebrity did you meet and found they were much kinder/ruder than you expected?” it’s the one I shared there. It occurs to me that it will probably be lost in a sea of responses and no one will read it, so I thought since I’d typed it out anyway I’d add it here as well.

Over twenty-five years ago, my girlfriend at the time was a huge Johnny Clegg fan. Even though he would fill stadiums in his native South Africa, and in Europe, he was totally unknown in the U.S.

He did a North America tour and of course we had to go. So we get to this mid-sized venue and the place is just empty, like maybe one hundred of us were in the audience total. But he and his band did a fantastic show, with as much energy as if they were playing for a full house at Wembley Stadium rather than for a few rows at a theater in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

After the show a few of us went up to the stage and waited, to see whether he’d come out. He did, and when he saw there only like ten of us he said, “You know what? Just come to the hotel bar where I’m staying and I’ll meet you there.”

So we went over and a short while later he came down, and spent two hours regaling us with stories of the fight against Apartheid and what it was like to be a father (referred to his kid as the “Clegglet”, which cracked us up). And then at the end he picked up our whole bar tab. (I know that sounds like an “and then everyone in the store applauded” ending, but that’s what happened.)

Anyway, best celebrity ever: kind, gentle, and yet such strength. I was genuinely sad last year when I heard he passed on, especially since I’m sure he still had so much more to give.