Tupak Shakur to Minnie Pearl: Celebrity Degrees of Separation

Tupac Shakur  to Snoop Dogg 

to Pee Wee Herman  to Minnie Pearl

You might not know who Lesane Parish Crook, Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. , Paul Rubenfeld, and Sarah Colley Cannon are, but you’d know their faces, voices, jokes and giggle if you saw and heard them.

Tupac hologram performing with Snoop Dog at Coachella.

Last weekend’s live performance at Coachella music festival featured hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg (that’s Calvin) with a hologram version of his old friend rap artist Tupac Shakur or 2Pac as some called him (he was born as Lesane), even though he’s been gone since 1996, killed in a gang-related shooting.

Both signed to the Death Row Records label and  working with rap’s leading producer Dr. Dre, 2Pac and Snoop were friends before hitting it big and collaborating on  2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted (1996).

Tupac in thought.

Tupac Shakur was born in New York in 1971, son of Black Panther members, a dancer, actor and voracious reader of Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Kurt Vonnegut, and Alice Walker, among others. In high school, he studied ballet and appeared in The Nutcracker Suite. A decade after his death, his albums still sell, now well over 75 million, and considered one of Rolling Stone Magazine‘s Greatest Artists of All Time. A poet and published author, his book was titled The Rose That Grew From Concrete,

He’s immortalized by the Library of Congress, his hit single Dear Mama being named one of the National Recording Registry’s 2010 entries as “a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper’s own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference.”

Snoop and Tupac.

Shakur had one other legacy – the permanent marriage of Snoop Dogg. Snoop tells the story of how Tupac called him on going out with other women urging him to marry the mother of his child, because she genuinely loved him. Shocked it hear this from the rapper, Snoop took it seriously and married her. They went on to have two more children, their family life the subject of a popular reality TV series from E! called Father Hood. Here’s a quick promo for it:

Born in Long Beach, California in 1971, his parents gave him the private, family nickname Snoopy, because they said he looked like a dog as a little kid. Former gang member and briefly incarcerated after high school for cocaine possession, Snoop hit the big-time  with his 1993 debut album, Doggystyle selling a million copies during its first week of release and being certified as 4x platinum. His 1994 classic What’s My Name  is memorable too for all the dogs in it.

Snoop and Pee Wee, wrestling fans.

Wired into the mainstream pop culture, Snoop has done everything from promote a soft porn music video to bake brownies with Martha Stewart. A wrestling fan, he was backstage after a World Wrestling Federation match between CM Punk and Randy Orton on April 3, 2011, when he ran into another unlikely WWF fan, whose Saturday morning show in the late 80s he used to watch and wished he could have appeared on – Pee Wee Herman.

At a time when Snoop was growing up, the man who created and played the Pee Wee Herman character, born as Paul Rubenfeld in 1952, was also in Los Angeles, studying comedy and joining the famous improv comedy group, The Groundlings. Among the regular characters he developed was the one and only Pee Wee Herman. Staged as a regular show in 1981, it sold out for five solid months, its popularity spreading by word-of-mouth.

Appearing on evening talks shows, like The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman Show, in 1984 Patti Davis, the daughter of President Reagan, even admitted that she cast her vote for Pee-wee for President.  It led to an HBO Special, his TV classic, The Pee-wee Herman Show (1986-1990), and two feature films,  Big Top Pee-wee, (1988) and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), an excerpt from which is here:

A media storm of publicity following his 1991 booking for indecent exposure. It set off a chain of rallies and “Save Pee Wee” parties, but the actor only worked as Paul Reubens in other roles from then on. Returning in 2010, with a theatrical stage version of The Pee-wee Herman Show, after which he sometimes met with fans in the audience, Pee-wee proved that time hadn’t dulled his rapid wit. “Waiting for you to return is just like what it felt like waiting for Napoleon to return from Elba!” one fan declared. “Wow…,” Pee-wee quipped in the character’s signature smart-ass style, “You must be really, really old.”

Pee-wee kisses Minnie.

Before the  recent stage show, following the 1991 controversy, however, Paul Reubens allowed Pee-wee Herman to return only one time – for a 1992 Grand Old Opry tribute show to another friend of his – Minnie Pearl. “I met practically every act in country music, and people were so incredibly nice to me,” he recalled of his trip to Opryland, where Minnie led him by the hand and introduced him to folks. “I remember thinking,  ‘This is a way better act than non-Nashville scene —Hollywood or New York.’  Everyone seemed so real and sincere.”

Minnie kisses Pee-wee.

Capturing a national audience well beyond the borders of the South, Minnie Pearl became an icon of mid-20th century American pop culture’s “Country” genre. Born as Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon in 1912, “Minnie” was instantly recognizable by her flowered straw hat with the price-tag still dangling from the side of it. It was considered so classic, that one of her original hats was donated to the Smithsonian and put on public display. The moment she stepped on stage or before the cameras, she belted out “How-dee!” to the audience.

Minnie Pearl in a print ad for a fried chicken chain-restaurant.

Although she began on radio, and singing gospel, Minnie Pearl was best known as a comedienne. With an appealing, kind-hearted if sometimes corny wit, she made herself the most butt of her own jokes, always “flirtin’,” “stealin’ jokes,” and trying but failing to land herself a man.

She began appearing at Nashville’s Grand Old  Opry in 1940, beginning a half-century career there and became a regular on the TV show Ozark Jubilee, starting in 1957. For twenty-two years she was seen on the national television show Hee Haw, starting in 1969, and continued on TV on the country-music talk show Nashville Now.

Along the way, she joined with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as promoters of a fried-chicken restaurant chain and bought a mansion next to the one owned by the Governor of Tennessee. After fighting breast cancer, she helped bring regional attention to the issue, and after her 1996 death a foundation, research institute and cancer treatment center was named for her.

From Hip-Hop to Country, Tupak to Minnie, not even the most definitive public persona can be trusted in terms of presenting the real human beings behind it.


Categories: Celebrity Degrees of Separation, Facebook of the Famous, History, Pop Culture

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