By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Neal Preston/Corbis|
I could NOT get this man off my mind. I was simply entranced. That smile . . . that charisma . . . those eyes . . . I was hooked! One day at work . . . I had never really been online before . . . I was bored and thought . . . hmmmmm . . . typed . . . L-E-I-F G-A-R-R-E-T-T . . . The rest is history.
--A message-board post, January 2000
YOU'RE THINKING, LEIF GARRETT? YOU'RE thinking, late '70s?For one brief moment, Leif Garrett was the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and 98 Degrees all rolled into one pretty little toy boy with a blond shag and skintight pants. An adorably androgynous gold mine, he was the quintessential teen idol. But by 1980, his bubble-gum bubble had burst, and he disappeared.
That is, until January 1999, when VH1 first aired his life story in a phenomenally popular Behind the Music. It was a tale that had it all -- idoldom at the way too tender age of 14, a career-ending car crash that left a best friend in a wheelchair, an excess of drugs of all sorts, culminating in an addiction to heroin, and, most notoriously, a bizarre on-camera reunion with the man he'd left paralyzed 20 years ago. The show became a ratings juggernaut, airing in heavy rotation for over a year.
It also set off a whole new wave of Leifmania. Old fans re-emerged, as devoted as ever. New fans found themselves inexplicably drawn to this sexy yet troubled man. And this time the fever took hold on the Internet, as besotted women popped their computer cherries in search of the God of the Once Glorious Locks. The fever spread to fans across the country and every conceivable economic circumstance -- from an exPlayboy Bunny to a hardcore riot grrrl, from a Park Avenue princess to an ultra-feminist dockworker. Their idol worship might have made for an innocent story of feminine fawning, but it escalated into a tragicomic odyssey, an interactive soap opera of warring Web sites, giddy cross-country road trips and existential epiphanies.
Today, no one can explain how it all happened. It just did. Most have no answer when you ask, "Why Leif?" They laugh along with you, "I don't know! There are so many people more famous than him!" The one thing everyone agrees on is that it changed their lives forever. In the words of one still-amazed follower, "All of us, every single one of us, have found healing through this except Leif."
FOR SOME, THE VIEWING OF LEIF GARRETT'S BEHIND the Musicwas a well-planned event. "I put notes all over the house -- 'The TV is mine on Sunday night. DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT WATCHING ANYTHING ELSE,'" remembers "Diva," screen alias of the dockworker. For others, it was something on in the background that caught their eye. But by the end of that hour, their hearts were moved.
For the old fans, it was rekindled first love. "I got this feeling that I had when I was 15, when nothing compared to the gravitational pull I felt for Leif. And it was back!" says Mary Anne, Webmistress of a current fan site. Alternatively, the "newbies" could point to the exact moment he'd reached them. "It was not the first, not the second, but the last 'I'm sorry' Leif says to Roland [his paralyzed friend]. He really, really meant it. That got me," remembers an unusually sincere "Sue M," a single civil servant ã prone to sarcasm. "Lorilee," another new fan, describes the pull as a "weird crossover thing. We want to take care of him. And he's got the sex-appeal thing going . . . We all just want to mother and molest him!"
These previously computer-illiterate women went online -- in search of information, in search of others like themselves, in search of him. In the beginning, there wasn't much out there. One or two small sites run by fans who had kept the torch burning for 20 years. And the sites were hard to find. "My boss was out of town, and I spent -- and I kid you not -- three full days at work searching for Leif stuff," admits Mary Anne. But soon his name was everywhere. Then, one night, the women logged on to find posts inviting them to the one and only Official Leif Garrett Fan Club Web site. It sounded professional. It sounded authorized by Leif Garrett himself. It sounded too good to be true.
"I WAS NOT A LEIF GARRETT FAN WHEN HE WAS HOT," chirps Kathy, the 44-year-old originator and president of the Leif Garrett Fan Club. "But I was having a bout of insomnia. I was watching his Behind the Music -- it was like 1 or 2 in the morning -- and I was also working on my song, 'Taking the Hard Road Back.' And the words that were coming out of his mouth were like the words to my song. It got kind of spooky. It was like we were connected."
Her perceived spiritual connection, combined with "a thing for the long shot and a desire to flip off corporate America" (which she believed had used and discarded Leif in his youth), was enough to motivate this Midwestern businesswoman to seek out Leif Garrett. "It took me four weeks to find him. But I found his ass!" she states proudly. And it wasn't easy. She worked her way through dead-end agents, his unexpected friendship with Marilyn Manson and other such sundry nonleads until she finally got her quarry on the phone. She proposed her plans for a fan club: "It's going to be so big!" Leif supposedly giggled. She took that as his consent. And up went her Web site.