One Man's 14-Year Fight to Get Weird Al a Walk of Fame Star
“I literally was jumping up and down and tears came to my eyes. I was so happy. I’d been waiting for this moment for so long.”
Dave Rossi with Weird Al. Photo courtesy of Dave Rossi
Weird Al Yankovic and Lin-Manuel Miranda were having lunch together in Los Angeles when they both found out they'd been selected to get stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was a Thursday afternoon in late June and the two musicians marked the occasion by sending out a series of celebratory tweets.
Nearly 3,000 miles away in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Dave Rossi rushed home to his computer to tune in to the live webcast of the announcement by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the organization that administers the Walk of Fame. He'd gotten a text from his wife Jackie, who'd heard that Weird Al had been awarded a star, but Rossi had to see it with his own eyes to believe it. He'd spent more than a decade of his life attempting to get Weird Al's name on a five-pointed slab of terrazzo on Hollywood Boulevard, and after one rejected application after another, he'd begun to think it might never happen.
"I literally was jumping up and down and tears came to my eyes," Rossi recalls. "I was so happy. I'd been waiting for this moment for so long."
Rossi, who considers himself to be Weird Al's number one fan, had been waiting for this moment since 2003, to be exact. That was the year he was flown out to Los Angeles to appear on a VH1 reality series about celebrity fan tattoos; Rossi has portraits of Yankovic and his band members as well as each of their autographs tattooed on his body. It was his first time on the Walk of Fame and he found it thrilling. That is, until he realized the one thing it didn't have: Weird Al's name. "I'm looking at all these celebrities and having a great time," says Rossi. "I'm thinking, 'Well wait a minute, why doesn't Weird Al have a star? He's just as good as a lot of these names that I'm seeing on the ground.'"
And so the Weird Al Star Fund, a campaign aimed at raising money to nominate the parody artist for a star on the sidewalk, was born. Led by Rossi and his friend Vicki DeVries, who volunteered to be treasurer and set up a separate bank account for it, the campaign for years produced T-shirts, bumper stickers, license plate frames ("Help cement Weird Al's stardom" they read), and Christmas ornaments. It even got permission for the nomination from Yankovic and his longtime manager, Jay Levey, whom Rossi had become acquainted with over the years. Yankovic declined to comment for this story.
The launch of the campaign sent ripples of excitement throughout the massive online network of Weird Al fans and donations began to pour in. In 2005, Rossi and Devries submitted their first application after raising the $15,000 it would require if the application was succesful. Little did they know that their bid wouldn't be accepted until a dozen years later, when the price of it would nearly triple.
Over the years, they began to wonder: Was there a conspiracy against Weird Al earning a star on the Walk of Fame?
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has been tasked with deciding who gets a star since 1962, when the city of Los Angeles gave it the power to set up its own system for approving candidates and financing their stars. If Hollywood Boulevard were a nightclub, the Chamber of Commerce would be its bouncer, reserving unchecked power to turn away even the most famous A-lister without any kind of explanation. Even more infuriating to people like Rossi and other fans who believe their idols deserve a star, the selection process is largely shrouded in mystery. Unlike more conventional, merit-driven awards like the Grammys—of which Yankovic has four—the Walk of Fame has only vague criteria for its nominees: At least five years of experience in their field, a record of both professional achievement and charitable contributions, and a guarantee that they will be able to attend the ceremony if chosen.
Though it's largely a tourist attraction for the city and a publicity stunt for celebrities, the Walk of Fame is still, at least to the fans, a really big deal. It has inspired petitions by those looking to memorialize deceased entertainers like Amy Winehouse, Paul Walker, and Prince. None has earned a star yet, and in fact, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce does not respond to petitions. That hasn't stopped others from launching campaigns to retract stars from those they deem unworthy: Namely, Donald Trump, whose Hollywood Boulevard marker has been repeatedly defaced since his inauguration.
Ana Martinez, who works for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as a producer for the Walk of Fame, says the application process has become so heated that she's been threatened, called names, and harassed online by fans whose celebrity star nominations did not get accepted. "It's the worst part of my job when they don't get it," she says. "I get yelled at, people are so upset. Now with social media, oh my god, it's the worst." She says she was once accused of being a racist by a fan whose nomination for a Japanese American singer was denied six years in a row before being accepted, at which point the fan apologized and sent flowers.
The contributors to the Weird Al Star Fund never became resentful of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, despite their repeated rejections. If anything, their devotion to Weird Al, whom 26-year-old fan Johnny O'Hern describes as "this empathetic, courteous, tactful, humble, warm, and honestly delightful role model" may have contributed to their good sportsmanship. A Yankovic fan since he was a bullied ten-year-old, O'Hern credits the ringlet-sporting accordion player for showing him that it was okay to be his unabashedly geeky self. Even as an adult, O'Hern says, he continues to take plenty of life lessons from Yankovic, whom he recently cited as a professional influence during a job interview. "I've heard that him and his wife have this expression 'be the climate, not the weather' and I've used that as a mantra to a lot of my friends," he says. "I can't really put words in Al and his wife's mouth, but to me it seems like, things are going to change around you and take you by surprise, but in the end, just be consistent in your values and things will turn out okay."
Like O'Hern, nearly every Yankovic fan has a story about how his music helped them get through a hard time or learn to become more confident despite being "White and Nerdy," the name of a Weird Al parody song that Rossi says he particularly identifies with. Rossi, a 42-year-old computer programmer, first discovered Yankovic when he heard his song "Eat It," a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," on the radio in 1984. He'd never connected with popular music before, so to hear a song that so blatantly made fun of it, to him, felt like a revelation. "This is a person who was kind of one of us that was saying, 'Hey, it's okay to be different, it's okay to be weird, it's okay to embrace yourself for who you are and go out and have fun with it,'" Rossi says. He estimates that he's been to 159 Weird Al concerts; has the second-largest collection of Weird Al memorabilia (including the singer's eyeglasses before he got Lasik surgery) only next to Yankovic's own drummer; and has met Yankovic in person upwards of 100 times. He even met his wife Jackie through Weird Al fandom when the two started carpooling to concerts together in 2000.
A star on the Walk of Fame might be just a fancy paving slab, sure, but to the Rossis, it was also a small token of gratitude; it was a way to say thank you to the un-sung hero that had united so many white and nerdy outcasts all over the world. Which is why the constant rejections from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began to wear on some fans. "There's definitely a disrespect. He doesn't get the credit that other musicians do and I think that's part of why it took so long to get this star," says Ethan Ullman, a 27-year-old campaign supporter who has been a fan for more than two decades. "People kind of dismiss him like, 'Oh yeah, he's the guy who does these funny songs,'" he says. "It takes a lot of talent, and he was doing that before people had Mac computers and GarageBand. He figured this stuff out and really pioneered it and continues to put out the best comedy songs and comedy music."
Other fans, like DeVries, felt that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce surely must have given preference to high-powered studios. "It was hard because it was also pretty obvious that the studios who had a movie coming out would end up nominating the star of that movie and that star would get a star right when the movie was coming out," she says. "It was discouraging… We didn't know who to slip extra money to."
But Martinez insists the Chamber of Commerce doesn't work that way and there was no such conspiracy against Yankovic. They use, she says, an anonymous committee to vote on nearly 300 applicants annually, from which they select about two dozen. As the producer, Martinez doesn't vote on applicants, but says she sympathized with Rossi's plight. "I felt so bad every time I saw this man's application," she says. "They've been trying for so long! He does deserve it."
Unlike in previous years, the application this time around was submitted through Yankovic's management company. Which, Jay Levey, Yankovic's manager, wrote via email, was "Just a logistics thing." Adding, "Al is thrilled about the star and I'm sure fans are as well."
Though the Weird Al Star Fund has finally achieved its mission, the campaign still isn't over. Over the years, Devries and Rossi discouraged fans from continuing to donate money since they feared Yankovic might never get the nomination. During that time, the price of a star skyrocketed to $40,000, which means the campaign is currently about $10,000 short of its goal. Luckily, they've still got some time: The money isn't actually due until the date of the Walk of Fame ceremony is announced, and the recipient has two years in which to schedule it. But for Rossi and his team, the hard part is finally over with. To them, the star is a kind of vindication for their own fandom—and a permanent reminder of Yankovic's legacy.
"His career's not over. He's continuing to do a lot of stuff up to this point, and [the star] is certainly a testament to what he's done so far," says Rossi. "It will continue to live on forever on Hollywood Boulevard."
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