The Luckiest Man in Showbiz

"Who," I hear you asking, "is the luckiest man in showbiz?"

Granted, you're probably asking this only because I typed it into the header, but now that you're asking, it would be rude of me not to answer.  THIS is the luckiest man in showbiz:

Shearer.jpgYou may not recognize him immediately.  That's part of why he's lucky.  His name is Harry Shearer, and if that name is familiar to you, you'll understand why you didn't recognize him at first.  Though he has had some appearances where he's shown his own face to the world, he's most famous for playing roles that involve appearing in heavy makeup and wigs, or not appearing at all.

Born in 1943, Shearer was a child actor who performed on everything from Leave It to Beaver to Death Valley Days, then took most of his teens and twenties off.  Once he got back into acting, though, he picked up an impressive variety of credits, including a small role in The Right Stuff. (Here, check his IMDB page if you don't believe me.)  In 1979, he got a gig writing for Saturday Night Live--definitely one I'd enjoy getting--before getting involved in a couple of musical projects that would lead to two SNL performances in 1984, as well as a pair of feature films.  Along with Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, Shearer created the fictional heavy-metal band Spinal Tap, playing the role of bassist Derek Smalls, and the Folksmen, a Kingston Trio-inspired folk band, where he portrayed bassist/vocalist Mark Shubb.  After the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap became a big hit, Shearer wrapped up his work on SNL and took guest roles on everything from Miami Vice to Murphy Brown, but he was in a highly unusual position for a successful actor: largely unrecognized. 

Because his most famous character sported a black fu manchu and shoulder-length hair, the clean-shaven, short-haired Shearer could walk down most streets without his face being noticed.  Perhaps this is what led him to take a gig where his face couldn't be noticed at all: as one of the six regular cast members of The Simpsons.

Doing voices for animated characters is a great way to work in Hollywood without being accosted at the grocery store.  Some of the best-known voices in film and TV belong to people whose faces are almost never seen--or are certainly not familiar to most viewers; Billy West, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Frank Welker, Daran Norris, Debby Deriberi can all pick up their dry cleaning without much hassle from their adoring fans--and Shearer and his castmates have joined that group.  Shearer has worked for nearly twenty years doing the voices of Mr. Burns, Smithers, Dr. Hibbert, Kent Brockman, and Ned Flanders, among others, and has made a tidy sum in the process of making television history with the longest-running prime time TV show ever.

He's also had the ability to take time away from the series to do movies ranging from Godzilla to The Truman Show to For Your Consideration, as well as producing his own satirical radio series, Le Show, for NPR.

Oh, and he's been married since 1993 to Judith Owen, the striking and talented singer/keyboardist who backed up Richard Thompson on his 1000 Years of Popular Music tour, album, and video.

So.  Harry Shearer is well-off.  His name gets him entree into many places.  He gets to play music of whatever genre he wants whenever and wherever he wants.  He's done live TV, recorded TV, and film, as well as radio, for five decades.  He's worked with many of Hollywood's most talented directors and performers.  He's worked with some of the planet's best musicians.  He's helped bring the phrase "This goes to eleven" into the lexicon.  He's had a steady job for twenty years.  He's the good friend of some of the funniest people on earth.  And he's got a hot wife who can sing and who knows a guitar god personally.

All while maintaining some degree of privacy.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the luckiest man in showbiz.  If he weren't so damned talented, I might feel a certain degree of envy. 

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 22, 2009 1:28 PM.

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