ANGEL IN AMERICA

From V70 Spring 2011

TWENTY SOME ODD YEARS AGO IN L.A., AN UNKNOWN NAMED ANGELYNE LAUNCHED THE PERSONAL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN THAT WOULD TRANSFORM HER INTO A CELEBRITY ICON, CULT HEROINE, AND HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND (DEPENDING ON WHOM YOU ASK). READ THIS, THEN JOIN HER FAN CLUB

Fame chasers have long zeroed in on Los Angeles almost instinctively, hoping, against all odds, to rise above the fray of freeway-bound Hollywood hopefuls and emerge as bona fide stars. But long before America tried to keep up with the Kardashians, or Paris Hilton became a household name despite lacking any demonstrable talent, a blonde bombshell by the name of Angelyne was taking the pursuit of celebrity to its literal extreme: in the early 1980s, she plastered the Sunset Strip with posters and flyers bearing her image. Seeking even greater exposure, she then partnered with investors and began putting up billboards throughout the city (including one on the side of a skyscraper). Featuring a photo of her in a seductive pose, along with her name and phone number, Angelyne’s giant personal advertisements invited millions of Angelenos to call her up, send her a message, join her fan club, or pay for a ride around town in her trademark pink Corvette (which she lovingly refers to as her “spaceship”).

It worked. These days, the sight of Angelyne and her hot-pink hot rod has been known to reduce admirers to tears. She often finds dozens of love notes plastered across her windshield, or a few dedicated fans waiting around for a photo and one of the “Angelyne” T-shirts she keeps in her trunk. Still others spend years simply hoping to catch a glimpse of her, the West Coast version of Herman Melville’s white whale.

Calling from her car phone while cruising through Beverly Hills, Angelyne spoke about what it’s like to be an elusive avatar of celebrity in the hometown of fame. Patrik Sandberg

PATRIK SANDBERG Where are you right now?
ANGELYNE I’m driving to the Chevy dealer to have my car detailed. I’m right by where the O.J. Simpson murders took place. It’s a beautiful neighborhood.

PS When did you first realize you wanted to become a star?
A As a little girl, I wanted to be so adorable that I could sit on the laps of the leaders of the world and ask them to make peace and not blow up the Earth. But now that I’m a big girl, I can get more done! Woo-hoo!

PS Was it hard to get noticed when you first came to L.A.?
A It was terribly difficult. I tried everything. I was a singer in a punk-rock band that wasn’t getting any attention. But then the band put a photo of me on the flyers, and the minute they did we started to get noticed. I ended up doing some interviews around L.A. as a result, but I kept wanting more. So I found an investor and put my first billboard up on Sunset, and it was like, boom! The media jumped on it—and then I jumped on them! I began to appear on television and then I became addicted! I wanted more and more billboards. I guess I’m addicted to attention. Then people became addicted to me! I’d drive around in my pink Corvette and everyone would stare at me.

PS Where was your first billboard?
A It was on Sunset Blvd., I call the area the “filet mignon of Sunset”… I coined that myself, because that is where the prime locations for billboards are. They range from $20,000 to a quarter of a million dollars for a wall painting!

PS Do you have any billboards up now?
A I don’t, and I’m actually getting more attention by not having them up, because people miss me. When they see me in my car, they go crazy! But I just feel like I don’t want them up right now. I am an artist, and I just can’t paint when I’m not inspired.

PS Which billboard has been your favorite?
A Oh, gosh! Well, the first one I did made me famous. Another one I did was in the most movies, so that was good. I also did one that looked like a pink kitten, which is currently part of the set of the Broadway show Rock of Ages. If it wasn’t for that first one, though, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so I have to go with that one. But I like them all—it really just depends on what mood I’m in. Like, “Which boyfriend do I choose tonight?” or, “Do I want chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla?”

PS Describe the interior of your car right now.
A Basically my car feels like riding in a spaceship. Have you been inside of a Corvette? You might just have to try it!

PS Do you ever feel like you’re from another planet?
A Of course I do. I’m spacing out right now. A lot of people will tell me, “I’m not from here. I’m from somewhere else.” When I think about getting hurt, I think, “Oh God, that doesn’t happen where I come from.”

PS What is it like being recognized on the street?
A I love it because I take complete command of the energy and keep it spiraling upward. People will scream, “Oh my gosh, it’s Angelyne!” A lot of gay people do that. Or little girls will say, “Oh, mommy, there’s a Barbie doll!” People get tearful. I also think part of it is because I dress pragmatically, on a spiritual level. Something happens to people physiologically, as if a spark gets triggered within them, because there’s suddenly A BUNCH OF PINK THROWN AT THEM! A lot of celebrities also ask for my autograph or tell me I inspire them. Once I was driving in Malibu Canyon and some guy behind me kept honking. I thought, He is so rude! But then he pulled up alongside me and rolled down his window: it was Warren Beatty! He said, “Hi, Angelyne, I’m a big fan!” I’ve also had Ellen DeGeneres ask if she can be my stand-in.

PS Have you encountered any dark sides to celebrity?

A Oh yes, everything has its price tag, don’t you know? People spread lies about you and rumors that are terrible. People claim to be my brother, my mother, my father, my uncle, or my husband—that’s a good one! When you’re a star, people want part of the action. Not every rumor is bad, though. Some of them are good rumors! You know what my favorite dirty rumor is? That I’m a porn star. That is how sexually intense I am. People think I am a Barbie for children and a porn star and everything in between.

PS The way you’ve sought fame for fame’s sake is very conceptual. To attempt something like that in Hollywood was very courageous, but today there seems to be a glut of people who are famous for no reason. How do you feel about these types of celebrities?
A I think a lot of famous people hide behind their talent. But I am extremely talented—and I have nothing to hide behind. My artwork has been in USA Today, and the Getty Museum said I started a new type of painting. I’m also a great singer with a five-octave range, and I am a wonderful actress. But who cares about any of that? It’s my persona that comes through! I feel that everybody should do their own thing and God bless them. I believe that everybody is a star on the inside, and the star they want to be will come out in time.

PS What would you like your legacy to be?
A I’m spreading a pink message. I believe everybody has an Angelyne within them—meaning their highest self. My legacy is about inspiring people to be who they truly are, at their very best. Ask yourself, “What am I good at? What can I offer the world?” It’s all about loving what you’re doing. You have to be true to yourself and do what you want to do. You’re going to make it!

Angelyne in Los Angeles, 1998
Photography Larry Lombardi

Call Angelyne at 310.285.9399. To join Angelyne’s fan club, call 310.289.4469.