Q: Celebrities have an ongoing issue of constantly being recognized, and then the opposite issue, of not being recognized. Which is worse?

Kathy Kerr, Arlington

A: Here's a true secondhand story: I have a writer/producer friend in L.A. who, about four years ago, was waiting in line at a Blockbuster video store behind the one and only Fabio, who didn't have his membership card with him. The clerk either did not know Fabio, or took cruel delight in appearing not to know him, and thus checked the name in the computer. "F-A-B . . . " the hirsute and once-omnipresent romance book cover stud began spelling.

"Hey, Fabio, you're holding up the line," one of the customers chortled. ("And our hearts," my friend drolly added.)

In Fabio you have a prime example of the purest form of celebrity, someone who possesses precious little in the way of talent or other merits, and is arguably famous only for his recognizability. He is happy to cultivate and exploit himself for as long as he can make it last, knowing that one drastic haircut and 15 extra pounds of flab could end it forever. There in that Blockbuster store, Fabio was simultaneously not recognized (by the clerk) and mocked(by other customers). He is at once a nobody and a very well-known object of ridicule. It's hard to know which has the greater potential for hurt.

But all evidence would suggest that the unrecognized celebrity suffers a special and dreaded Norma Desmond kind of pain. Sure, it's no fun to have your day in the park with your kids constantly interrupted or photographers chasing you around, asking about your canceled wedding plans and/or your Pucci tote bag. But anyone who has ever worked for a celebrity can tell you that the palpable fear of losing fame is an undercurrent to every thought or action in the limelight.

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