Time out for this column’s annual glance at our town’s biggest celebrities. These are Austin citizens who are known and recognized far beyond the city limits.
Willie Nelson. Uniting Old and New Austin, the No. 1 celebrity easily held onto the top spot. Nelson toured incessantly and charmed effortlessly. Our chief musical ambassador took time out to push worthy causes and speak out for trending campaigns, such as the reform of pot laws. Oh, and he celebrated his 80th birthday in April. Who better to ring in the New Year at the city’s prime music venue (ACL Live, Dec. 30-31) than Nelson?
Lance Armstrong. Our disgraced athletic superstar dropped more than a few esteem notches this year. He remained in the news almost daily as he dealt with the backwash from his confession of doping during Tour de France triumphs. Armstrong wisely lowered his local profile and thereby created some needed breathing room for his effective anti-cancer foundation, Livestrong. It’s hard to know how to feel about this complicated figure, but he’s not going away.
Sandra Bullock. Formerly an alluring lightweight, Bullock established lasting credibility when she won a best actress Oscar for “The Blind Side” four years ago. She went quiet, career-wise, for a while and followed up this year with a buddy comedy, “The Heat,” and a hugely popular space drama, “Gravity.” Bullock is up for an armful of awards. Meanwhile, in the city that she often calls home — where she owns property and businesses — she’s hardly ever seen in public. That’s perfectly OK.
Matthew McConaughey. A turnaround artist with much more local exposure, this actor has enjoyed an incredible run of late: “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” “Killer Joe,” “Mud,” “Dallas Buyers Club.” He should be rewarded with nods and prizes during awards season. More to the Austin social point, McConaughey and his gorgeous wife, Camila Alves, turn up everywhere. This year, they crucially helped launch “Mack, Jack and McConaughey,” a charity mega-event that raised more than $1 million for targeted children’s groups.
Mack Brown. The Longhorns football coach has not been as lucky as his “Mack, Jack and McConaughey” chums. (The Jack in the trio is country star Jack Ingram.) His job status has recently changed — handled graciously and with much class by him — but his relentless media exposure, during seasons good and bad, has done a lot to build up this community. One could argue that Brown is not well known outside college football circles. Yet that’s America’s second most popular spectator sport, after professional football, so in or out as Longhorns coach, he’s followed by millions.
Andy Roddick. At least one of Austin’s celebrated sportsmen made a graceful transition during the past few months. Roddick retired from professional tennis at age 30 but quickly picked up the ball as a sports talk show host, pro tennis promoter and, of course, main energy behind the Andy Roddick Foundation, which aims to teach character through sports. He and his stunning wife, actress-model Brooklyn Decker, spend time on the other coasts, but they own a home here and are manifestly invested in our future.
Michael Dell. During the past 30 years, the founder of Dell Inc. carefully restricted his media exposure to the business and sometimes the philanthropic press. Never a pop star like some other high-tech founders, Dell focused instead on his ever-evolving company and his family’s incredibly generous foundation. The drive to take his company private, however, exposed Dell to a lot more media scrutiny this year and, I have to say, he came off pretty well to outsiders.
John Paul DeJoria. Austin’s other certified billionaire — Forbes should dig just a little deeper to find other obvious local candidates — DeJoria is a born showman. And salesman. The hair product and spirits pitchman and his bewitching wife, Eloise DeJoria, hosted some amazing events and gave bags of money to local charities. We love having this entertaining couple in our city.
Rick Perry. Austinites have lived with Perry longer than with any other Texas governor in history. But the rest of the country discovered him during the previous year’s brief presidential bid. The latecomer to the Republican primaries skyrocketed to frontrunner status before fizzling out. Perry appears to be reinventing himself while taunting other states about comparative economies. Not sure that’s a wise strategy if he hopes — as seems to be the case —to win them over during another shot at the country’s very top spot.
Dennis Quaid and Elijah Wood. This is a case of “one in, one out” from the movie world. For years, hardworking Hollywood heartthrob Quaid insisted he was moving back to Texas — Austin specifically. He bought a home, fronted a band, headlined charity events and married a stunningly beautiful local real estate agent. Yet when his marriage to Kimberly Buffington wobbled publicly, we saw less and less of Quaid.
That made more fame room for a quieter and more casual Wood, whose main fame rests on the “Lord of the Ring” series. He bought a Victorian home in South Austin and slipped into the SoCo lifestyle, where, on any given day, he could be mistaken for just another local hipster. We welcome Wood and his effortless Austin cool.
Our town is home to countless other celebrities, but the above names popped up in global news the most often. One could make a strong case for gubernatorial candidate and filibuster star Wendy Davis, but she represents a Fort Worth-area state senatorial district, so technically resides there.
Remember, don’t interrupt the celebrated of Austin while they are talking, eating or trying to disappear into the woodwork. Otherwise, they often welcome a sweet nod and a word or two of praise. Don’t we all?