In the wake of the brand new remake of
The Karate Kid, twenty-six years after I first saw
the original on movie screens, I rewatched it with my
girlfriend and her son.
Though I'm sure this was not the intent of the
filmmakers at the time, the film captures the very different
feeling and atmosphere of the mid 1980's.
It also captures something else:
a teen-aged-looking Ralph Macchio, aged 22 at the
time, at the peak of his acting career.
Macchio went on to star in a few Karate Kid
sequels and a few
other pics in the mid 1980's.
His last big screen part was in 1992's My
Cousin Vinny in a supporting role.
By most conventional assessments, Macchio, now
pushing 50, is considered washed up.
We can cite countless other examples.
Think of Gary Coleman, mega-star of the late 1970's
and early 1980's in Diff'rent Strokes, whose career
languished in the toilet thereafter.
Danny Bonaduce's most popular acting gig was playing
Danny Partridge in The Partridge Family between 1970
and 1974. Nancy
Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board's daughter, had a singing
and acting career in the 1960's.
That career was over by the mid 1970's.
In 1995, she posed nude in Playboy as one
means to get attention to promote her 'comeback' album.
In some way, I think we, the average
Joes of society, get some perverted pleasure seeing people
once on the top of the world now running up to us like
lapdogs trying to get back into our good graces.
It makes us feel justified with the average heights
our own lives have probably risen to.
How else can you explain the success of a show like
The Surreal Life, which brings together celebrities
past their prime living together in a Los Angeles mansion?
It's interesting that we don't usually
apply the term "washed up" or "has been" to those in other
fields whose greatest achievements are behind them.
Sabeer Bahtia co-founded Hotmail and sold it to
Microsoft for $400m at the end of 1997.
Jared Polis made over $100m when his Blue Mountain
Arts was sold to Excite@home in 1999.
Although Bhatia has gone onto other business projects
and Polis has become the first openly gay man elected to the
House of Representatives as a freshman, neither has since
scored as lucrative a financial payout as their successes
more than a decade ago.
Yet neither would ever be described as a has been.
baseball player Ted Williams retired at age 42 and
lived another 42 years before he died.
No one ever called him washed up when he was in his
50's or 60's.
Homerun dynamo Hank Aaron retired at age 42, too, and he's
still alive as of this writing.
No one accuses him of being washed up.
Or Jack Nicklaus.
Or Michael Jordan.
They're heralded as heroes, some of the best who've
ever played their respective sports.
It appears that one only gets mocked as
a has been if s/he attempts a return to the limelight long
after the former glory days have faded, a phenomenon more
common in the field of entertainment than sports or
once-upon-a-time A-list celebrities who appear on The
Surreal Life all have something in common:
a desire to reignite their fame and fortunes to where
they were in their primes.
They will go to any lengths, foolish or tawdry, to
get today's public to embrace them.
Reality television is
the meal ticket for many of these has beens, as it's so easy
and inexpensive to get a reality show on the air.
My Fair Brady (Christopher Knight a.k.a. Peter
Brady), The Two
Coreys (Corey Haim and Corey Feldman), The Anna
Nicole Show (Anna Nicole Smith), and Re-inventing
Bonaduce (Danny Bonaduce) are all trash that once
tarnished the airwaves.
A dozen or dozen-and-a-half episodes get cheaply made
before audiences lose interest in the has beens' servile
maneuvers to relaunch their fame.
Dustin "Screech" Diamond is the most pathetic
go to any lengths whatsoever to keep his name in the
tabloids, from appearing in his own low budget porno to
writing a tell-all book that disses all his former Saved
By The Bell co-stars.
make no mistake. The
has been phenomena isn't limited to movie and pop stars.
Muhammed "The Greatest" Ali could have remained the
greatest had he kept his boxing gloves in the closet after
he retired in 1979. When
he unwisely came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes in
1980 and Trevor Burbick in 1981 and lost, people were
calling him a has been.
You can't be considered a has been until you've
already been successful.
Christopher Knight was successful
as an actor -- in the
The two Coreys were, too -- in the 1980's.
Muhammed Ali couldn't have been humiliatingly
defeated twice if he hadn't already been crowned as a king.
If you're on top of the world in whatever your field
of expertise, there's only one direction left to travel
later, and that's down.
So it's actually rather brutal when the
public condemns a former success story for either trying to
make money off his previous fame or character or for taking
another stab at reaching the peak.
Another way of looking at it is to say that these
people are being penalized for having once been successful.
I have no doubt that if Hollywood agreed to make a
reality show about me, the show would be as terrible as
Christopher Knight's, the two Coreys', and Anna Nicole
difference is that I am not previously a household name. I couldn't be mocked as a has been.
Is that any real
you were given the choice to have been ultra successful in
some endeavor in the past, at a level you probably could not
surpass today, or to have never achieved any major level of
success up to this point, which would you take?
It may seem like a question with only one right
wouldn't opt to have been at the top of the heap at least at
some point in their life rather than have not achieved any notable success?
Think hard before you answer.
For many, achieving the peak of one's success in the
past distorts the rest of their life for the worse.
Gary Coleman comes to mind. He was
perpetually unhappy after Diff'rent
Strokes was canned and his career ended.
He died a bitter man at age 42.
Some could argue that Gary was bitter because his
parents filched most of his millions.
In answer to that, I'd say that it's quite possible
to be a rich has been.
If someone is so closely identified with a prior
success, it's because he's not reaped bigger honors later.
He will be seen as a has been regardless of how many
millions he may have tucked away in the bank account from
the early score.
Bob Dylan is one such example.
He's got plenty of money, but he'll never again
achieve the heights he climbed to in the 1960's and early
Culkin of Home Alone fame is another.
His movie career is unlikely to regain the luster it
possessed in the early 1990's.
Of course, the penniless candidate stands
the better chance of being called washed up. Those who get
rich from their earlier successes appear less desperate
during attempts to relight their torch's flame than those
who never amass lots of cash, and desperation is part and
parcel of the has been. But it's still possible to be
desperate -- desperate for fame usually -- if you're rich.
To honestly answer the has been vs
never been question for our debate, we must remove money from consideration
and assume that past mega-success has not left behind an
enormous bank balance in its stead.
Without that assumption, most anyone would choose to
have achieved past mega-success, the younger the better,
simply to set them up financially for life and remove life's
desperation, and that ignores
the real issue we're discussing.
It can be an enormous burden knowing, while still relatively
young, that your best years are behind you.
Without that thought hanging over your head, maybe
you could empower yourself enough to realize that your best
successes may be ahead of you.
Dreams of success for the future provide more fuel
for further goal achievement than obsessions about
unsurpassable successes achieved long ago.
Personally, I'd rather know (or delude myself) my
peaks are ahead.
There's nothing wrong with reaching the
pinnacle at a young age as long as you don't spend the rest
of your life obsessed with getting back there and valuing
your very identity on how close you get.
Plenty a past success in one field prudently
moves on to pursue a different sort of success in another.
The financial payouts in the new career field may
never match what they were earning before, but since a
different yardstick is being used, it doesn't matter so
Potter, who played the matriarch on the original Beverly
Hills 90210, set up a counseling practice.
Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H
fame, became a
successful investor, actually earning more from his
investments than he ever did on the TV show.
So did Gabe Kaplan from Welcome Back Kotter.
difficult to call any of these people has beens because, for
one, they all achieved success in their new fields and,
two, none of them are appearing in the public eye juvenilely
trying to get back something they once had.
To be fair, the masses condemn anyone
publicly trying to be something they're not.
If I were to suit up as a twenty year old, visit a
college fraternity party, and try to pick up young co-eds, I
would be viewed by the co-ed peer group as a washed up has been -- a has been of
youth in this case.
When Michael Jordan quit basketball in 1993 and tried to
make a go of it in baseball, he was hooted a has been
was not really accurate.
Jordan was still an accomplished basketball player
when he went back to play for the Chicago Bulls in 1995.
He just wasn't up to the same standard in baseball,
and the public saw him as trying to be someone he wasn't.
When I was a child and acting
inappropriately, my mother, probably like millions of
mothers worldwide, barked at me to act my age.
What she meant, more specifically, was that I should
act like someone of my age, background, culture, station,
and so on.
And, at heart, this is how and why we label people as has
They're trying to act like the people they were, not the
people they currently are.
Were the actors in The Surreal Life to instead
appear in minor supporting roles in a network drama, no one
would remark they were washed up.
By this measure, Ralph Macchio of
Karate Kid fame may very well be past his prime as an
actor, but he's not a has been.
Macchio realizes he's been typecast but at the same
time he embraces the role that typecast him and, in a recent
video, makes fun of it.
The true has been would've been begging studios to
produce The Karate Kid In Middle Age.