Living in Los Angeles, there are probably very few people who haven’t at some point in their lives dreamed of being famous. You know… face plastered on billboards all over town or your contagious song on the radio. I’ve been fortunate to experience many extraordinary things over the years… two albums (do NOT ask me the names, I will NOT tell you), movies (VH1, but hey it still counts), and TV commercials (Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonalds… FYI jingles make a TON of money), among others. For the most part, I’ve always been two steps shy of the spotlight. At any moment I could easily have stepped into the hot glaring lights of Who’s Whoville. Ran through the Hollywood scene with reckless abandon. Schmooze at houses with bathrooms bigger than my backyard. But with all of the things that I’ve seen, read or personally experienced, I’ve come to the conclusion that fame was the last thing I ever wanted.
I told this story a couple years ago about a very well-known, highly respected (and still active) industry exec who told me, “Riis! I will make you a star! We’ll make your album and feature it in all of the movies I work on and you’ll guest spot on every single TV show I supervise. Just sign on the dotted line…”
I never did.
I knew everything he said was probably true. But the cost was far more than I was willing to pay. I’ve seen what fame & celebrity has done to people. People I know personally. There’s absolutely no privacy. Increased instability for my kids who already have enough to contend with just trying to be kids. The constant traveling and being pulled in several directions at once. I realized back then that in all of my pursuing, I wasn’t chasing a desire to be famous, but simply… a desire to be liked. I wanted to feel special. I wanted people to look at me with the awe that comes with seeing a child prodigy, getting a book signed by their favorite author or scoring backstage passes to a sold out show. I wanted to feel wanted.
But you know what you get with fame? You get criticized… you get judged… you get picked apart for everything you do… you become the subject of asinine headlines like “Riis Addicted to Starbucks” or “Riis’ Marriage On The Brink Of Failure! Drinks Red Bull To Calm Frayed Nerves!” And then you realize that the affirmation is fleeting. This industry is fickle. Jealousy overshadows your accomplishments. People have unrealistic expectations of how you should act and who you should be. Close relationships begin to fall apart because you just don’t have the time to invest in them like you should. Then one day you find yourself sitting alone reflecting on your records and awards… contemplating how you’d willingly trade them all to get back those things you’ve lost.
I’m not saying this is what fame looks like for everyone, but when he placed that contract in front of me and I looked at my future… this is what I saw. And I was thankful that in a sense, at that moment I was at the pivot point… a chance to rewind. I could choose now to trade that successful but empty future for a different one. The one I have now.
When I take stock of all that I have, I recognize that it’s everything I ever truly wanted. I’m not just liked, I am loved… by my wife, my kids, my family and close friends. Sometimes my children look at me with awe and think that I know the answer to everything. I’m recognized for my skills and talents at work, with colleagues and fellow artists. My wife wants and affirms me everyday. And you know… if I never win a Grammy or an Oscar, I’ve acquired something far more valuable… fulfillment.