My Favorite 5 – Celebrity Travel Encounters

There was never a race that I didn’t give it everything I had, so I don’t have any regrets – Gail Devers, Olympic gold medalist

I’m not usually a name dropper. But after moving, I recently came across a treasured old autograph from a childhood vacation.

This got me remembering several fun celebrity encounters I’ve had while traveling. These were before the days of smart phones, so I can’t share a selfie of them.

However, here’s my short list:

  • Dixie Carter, actress – En route to Australia in 1995, I happened to be seated behind the classy star of the TV series Designing Women. Though I wasn’t sure at first it was her, the chauffer meeting our flight holding a “Ms. Carter” sign confirmed it!
  • Steffi Graf, grand-slam tennis champion – On a flight from Kazakhstan to Germany in 2011, I noticed a familiar face smiling to greet people as she passed down the aisle. Having played competitive team tennis in the 1990s, I had followed Steffi’s career closely. What a thrill to actually meet her!
  • Gail Devers, Olympic track star – After running the 1999 Norway Midnight Sun Marathon, my wife and I landed in Atlanta and noticed a beautiful and extremely fit woman walking just ahead of us. We caught up to say hello, recognizing her as the sprinter with the long fingernails from the 1996 Olympics. Rather than talk about herself, though, she instead noticed our marathon medals and congratulated us on finishing the race!

    Norway 1999
    Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromso, Norway, 1999
  • Lou Rawls, singer – On a train excursion through South Africa’s Garden Route in 1996, I met a woman from Hollywood (should have been a clue!) That night at dinner, she introduced me to her husband Lou, who greeted me in his signature baritone voice. Recognizing him, I said rather stupidly, “You sing!” He was very kind, signed our travel journal, and remarked that without fans he wouldn’t have a job. I appreciated that.
  • Muhammad Ali, boxer – Meeting “The Greatest” himself was my greatest celebrity experience. In 1979 we toured NBC Studios in Hollywood, a place where you might expect to spot someone famous. Fortunately for us The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson was being taped. Guest stars that evening included Diana Ross, Alex Haley (Roots) and the great boxing champion. While listening to Ross rehearse a song, we spotted a group of guests chatting at the end of a long hallway. Recognizing Muhammad Ali (who wouldn’t?!) our little group began waving. Wearing a white suit, Ali puffed out his chest, straightened his tie, and began strutting and swaying towards us! Although autographs were forbidden, my sister and I got one anyway.  Our guide humorously chuckled afterward, “I’m not going to tell Muhammad Ali he can’t do something!”
Muhammad Ali autograph 1979 LA
Muhammad Ali’s autograph from July, 1979 (NBC Studios, California)

Have you met someone famous during your travels? If so, whom and where?

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