Mitchell: ‘Gary from Chicago’ is keeping it moving
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Gary Alan Coe is a textbook example of what ex-offenders face.
There is no such thing as a clean slate.
Coe, better known as “Gary from Chicago,” was one of the unwitting participants in an elaborate ruse concocted by Jimmy Kimmel at Sunday night’s Academy Awards.
The late-night talk show host had a sightseeing bus with random tourists detoured to the site of the Academy Awards.
“I feel like it was a great adventure. A great piece of history,” Coe told me on Wednesday.
“You can’t change public opinion, but I enjoyed it — the good, bad and the ugly,” he said.
Coe and his fiancée Vickie Vines were the first people through the door at the Dolby Theatre.
Unbeknownst to Kimmel and his producers, Coe had just been released from prison a couple of days before the awards show.
Coe must have been stunned to find himself in front of a row of Hollywood celebrities. At Kimmel’s urging, he fawned over the glittering A-listers, snapped photos, and even kissed the hands of Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep.
When Denzel Washington posed for a selfie with Gary and his fiancée, and pronounced them husband and wife, the internet lit up.
It didn’t take long, however, for Coe’s 15 minutes of fame to blow up in his face.
Turns out, Coe, 59, wasn’t an ordinary dupe.
He was convicted in 1994 for grand theft exceeding $400, and he spent 20 years in prison. He had two prior convictions, including robbery and an attempted rape when he was 18.
Under California’s “Three Strikes” law, the prior convictions earned him a sentence of 25 years to life. But after petitioning the court for leniency, Coe’s sentence was reduced to six years. However, his name remains on California’s registered sex-offender website.
“There are a lot of discrepancies in what has been said about me. I was 18 years old when those charges happened,” Coe said, referring to the attempted rape charge.
“I am going to be 60 this year. I’m a changed man,” he said.
Needless to say, Coe’s popularity took a nosedive when his past came to light.
The producers of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” scuttled plans to have him and his fiancée appear on the show.
A similar fiasco occurred during the presidential debates when Ken Bone became an internet sensation after asking a question about energy policy.
The Twitterverse went into a frenzy over Bone’s red sweater and folksy demeanor, and Bone went on Kimmel’s show via internet to bask in his 15 minutes of fame.
But when people got wind of some comments Bone made under an anonymous account, including jokes about stolen nude images of Jennifer Lawrence and about the Trayvon Martin shooting, he quickly went from hero to villain.
“Ken Bone is actually kind of an awful guy,” a New York Post headline proclaimed.
Coe said he didn’t “take it personally” that Kimmel backed away, and he boasted that he and his fiancée are appearing on “Entertainment Tonight.”
“It’s a business. The bottom line is when they were talking about me, the ratings were real high. I upstaged [the Academy Awards] and I had no formal training. I’m a natural,” he said.
Still, I’m disappointed that Kimmel threw Coe under the bus. After all, it’s not like Coe crashed the party. He was literally plucked off the streets and put in a situation where he is now being publicly reviled.
Despite the scrutiny, Coe said he has no regrets.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience. My children, my grandchildren saw their dad and granddad walk across the stage with 40 million people watching and not drop the ball,” he said.
As for his past, that’s behind him, Coe told me.
“You make your own opportunities. I don’t believe in limitations. Obviously, everybody knows everybody makes mistakes. But you can’t keep making the same mistake,” he said.Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST