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Alec Baldwin leaves criminal court in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. Baldwin had testified that he never had a sexual or romantic relationship with Canadian actress Genevieve Sabourin, accused of stalking him. He said that after they met she began leaving dozens of voice mails for him a night and eventually started threatening to show up at his homes. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Sean P. Means: Celebrities try to quit being famous — as if they could

By Sean P. Means

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Mar 06 2014 09:17 am • Last Updated Mar 06 2014 04:57 pm

So what does it mean to be famous?

Being famous means that if you mispronounce someone’s name during a very public event, it becomes an Internet meme.

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Being famous means that if you pose for the cover of Vogue, a website will offer $10,000 to see the unretouched photos from your shoot — and someone will snap up the bounty.

Being famous means that if you attend a friend’s memorial service, some publicist will send out photos of you — pointing out what brand of handbag you are carrying.

Being famous means photographers follow you to yoga class, or on an outing with your kids, or getting into your car the next morning in the same dress you wore to a premiere the night before.

Being famous means millions of people — from Twitter posters to Joan Rivers — can comment freely about your clothing, hairstyle and whether you tripped getting out of the limo.

And being famous means that if you react negatively when any of the above happens, you are perceived as a poor sport and a spoiled celebrity — and you feed the insatiable publicity machine for another news cycle.

It’s a wonder anyone would want to become famous, given all the annoyance — not to mention the stalkers, freaks and weirdos who want a piece of a celebrity.

In recent weeks, two well-known celebrities — actors who have appeared in movies and television, but have become equally known for their off-screen antics — have made declarations that they want off the merry-go-round of fame. In so doing, they show that they either can’t or won’t leave the spotlight so easily.

Shia LaBeouf was known as a child actor, starring in the Disney Channel series "Even Stevens" and the Disney movie "Holes." He then found grown-up fame, notably in the "Transformers" franchise and as presumptive heir to Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

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In the past decade, LaBeouf has gotten into occasional legal troubles and was in a 2008 car crash that severely injured his left hand. Last December, he was accused of plagiarizing "Ghost World" author Daniel Clowes’ work — an accusation that sparked a flurry of odd behavior that some have characterized as an art project.

Last month, LaBeouf appeared at the Berlin Film Festival to promote his work in Lars von Trier’s sexually explicit drama "Nymphomaniac." It’s not easy to upstage the notoriously controversial von Trier, but LaBeouf did it.

First, at the press conference, LaBeouf made a cryptic statement about seagulls (which, it turned out, was plagiarized from a Ken Loach movie) and walked out after one question. Then, on the red carpet, a tuxedoed LaBeouf wore a paper bag over his head with the words, "I am not famous anymore" scrawled with a black marker.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the Atlantic, Alec Baldwin made a public declaration that he was done with public life.

Baldwin has been a great actor, with dynamic roles in "Glengarry Glen Ross," "State and Main," "The Departed" and "Blue Jasmine," among others. Also, on TV, he was spectacularly funny — and won two Emmys — as Jack Donaghy, boss and foil to Liz Lemon on "30 Rock."

Over the years, Baldwin has had run-ins with paparazzi and reporters. The worst of these, when he was accused of uttering an anti-gay epithet at a TMZ videographer, led to Baldwin leaving his short-lived gig hosting a talk show on MSNBC late last year.

His response was to appear on the cover of the Feb. 24 issue of New York magazine — in a first-person essay headlined "Good-Bye, Public Life."

The article includes a defense that he didn’t say the things he was accused of saying to that TMZ guy. "Do you honestly believe I would give someone like TMZ’s Harvey Levin, of all people, another club to beat me with?" he asked.

But he also delivers an impressively bitter rant against TMZ, tabloid culture, MSNBC, The Huffington Post (for which he also wrote occasional essays), the media in general, and even, in a cosmic circle, Shia LaBeouf (with whom Baldwin tangled in rehearsal for a Broadway play, which LaBeouf quickly departed).

Baldwin then declares, "This is the last time I’m going to talk about my personal life in an American publication ever again."

Here’s the cruel irony of fame, though: You may choose to acquire it, but once you do, you don’t get to choose whether to keep it. That decision belongs to the public.

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