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Features » Daily Feature Friday, January 10, 2003
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Oz born
Louisville native can have an Ozzy good time
The Courier-Journal

Thomas Nord

Thomas Nord

Don Wrege, who lives in Boulder, Colo., has found a bit of fame by impersonating MTV reality show host Ozzy Osbourne.

The real Ozzy Osbourne performed at a pop concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace in London in June.

Associated Press photo

This is the faux Ozzy (Wrege) with a faux President Bush and a faux Snoop Dogg.

If you can't be somebody, you can at least look like somebody.

Every time the White House discards its occupant, a whole slew of men from Maine to Mauna Loa suddenly find work impersonating the new Commander-in-Chief. Go to a drag show, meanwhile, and you can't throw a martini glass without hitting an ersatz Diana Ross or Marilyn Monroe.

In other words, if the counter-feits, you might as well wear it.

When the world keeps mistaking you for Ozzy Osbourne, there's really only one thing you can do. You must embrace your inner-Ozzy. You must seek out black eyeliner and blue-tinted glasses. You must don adidas sweatpants and a gold crucifix. You must adopt a shuffling gait and a British-tinged stammer. You must go to Ozzfest and moon 500 people.

That last part is probably overkill, but it's the kind of thing that happens when Don Wrege let's the Ozzy in him take over.

"I'VE NEVER mooned anyone in my life," said 48-year-old Wrege, a Web site designer by trade. "But there I was, sticking my bare ass out the window. And what's strange is that I didn't feel any sense of embarrassment at all."

That's because it wasn't Don Wrege sticking his assets out there for the world to see. It was Ozzy — or, at least, a reasonable facsimile.

The world, on the other hand, has no idea who Don Wrege is. For most of his life, being Don Wrege was the best gig he could muster. That was until the Louisville native returned to his hometown in May to attend the Kentucky Derby.

Wrege was at the race shooting video for his employer, an Internet firm that runs the Churchill Downs Web site, when he kept hearing the same thing over and over.

"People kept yelling at me, `Hey, Ozzy!' " Wrege said. "I hadn't dressed up like him or anything. I had my hair pulled back and I was wearing the same round glasses that I always wear. But they kept doing this all day."

It's a pure fluke of timing, for Wrege, with his long, straight hair and wide face, has always looked like the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness. But Ozzy Osbourne is hot these days — white hot — so the resemblance actually means  something now.

GULLED BY the idea that this actually could be useful to him, Wrege returned to his Boulder, Colo., home and got ahold of a friend in the photography business. It didn't take much to transform him; he simply applied some eyeliner and had his old glasses tinted blue. (It cost him only $15.)

"I went to my friend's house and had a giggle," said Wrege, who has worn his hair down past his shoulders since his hippie days at Waggener High School in the early '70s. "I put the pictures up on a Web site for my friends to see, just for a few laughs."

With any doubt that he could pass for Ozzy Osbourne now removed, Wrege began searching the Web for information on celebrity look-alikes. He found plenty, which isn't surprising. America loves celebrities, exhibiting an obsession that is well beyond healthy. We all want to be celebrities ourselves and, if that doesn't work, we want to be as close to them as possible. And if that doesn't work, we will settle for someone who looks and acts like our favorite stars.

IT WAS A WORLD Wrege scarcely knew existed, but the more he heard about it, the more he sort of liked it. For he is your classic frustrated musician, a dedicated soul who has spent years writing and playing his own songs for tiny crowds and little money. Since he was never going to taste the limelight as Don Wrege, he might as well taste it as someone else.

"I'm an attention junkie," he admitted. After the pictures were on the Web for a while, an agent who specializes in celebrity doppelgangers called Wrege and urged him to come to Las Vegas for a look-alikes convention. It sounds preposterous, but everyone needs to network, so Wrege wrangled a few days off and headed to Sin City.

"It was so much fun, I couldn't believe it," Wrege said. "When I first came out of my room with my garb on and all that black crap on my eyes, I felt like a complete idiot. But people were really convinced that I was Ozzy."

Fueled by the success of "The Osbournes," the MTV reality show starring Ozzy Osbourne and his profane but oddly lovable family, Wrege was a hit at the convention. Women demanded to be photographed with him, and his fellow impersonators quickly accepted him into the fraternity.

"At night, George Bush, Snoop Dogg, two Kenny Rogerses, Neil Diamond, Rodney Dangerfield, Austin Powers — in full velvet — and I hit the bars," Wrege said.

SINCE THEN, Wrege has taken his Ozzy schtick to "Live with Regis and Kelly" and appeared on "Jenny Jones" twice. When he gets a chance, he watches "The Osbournes" to fine-tune his Ozzy-speak, which consists mainly of swear words mixed in with a lot of mumbling.

"There is so much look-alike stuff going on that had escaped my attention," Wrege said. "To this day, I don't know why Jenny Jones had me on that first time. They were supposedly having an Eminem look-alike thing, and I guess they ran out of Eminems."

The crowd — described to Wrege as a mob of "angry, unemployed people" by the producers — fell in love with the faux Ozzy, leading to the encore appearance several weeks later. But the most surreal turn came when MTV enlisted Wrege to pose with a Britney Spears look-alike for a bunch of gag shots used in the program for the 2002 Video Music Awards.

"There I was, frolicking in the honeymoon suite with `Britney,' " said Wrege, for whom "frolick" means "having Britney Spears ride you around like a horse."

"It was the most bizarre day of my life," he said.

The infamous mooning incident occurred this past summer, when a Denver radio station hired Wrege to ride around town in an obscenely large white limo impersonating Ozzy. The gig coincided with the Denver tour stop of Ozzfest, the Osbourne family's traveling heavy-metal bacchanalia, which meant more than a few people were taken in by Wrege.

"The gag we came up with was `Ozzy needs to take a leak.' I'd go into a restaurant bathroom, and after about 30 seconds, I'd shout, `There's no —— toilet paper,' '' said Wrege, affecting Ozzy's trademark slur. "We got thrown out of a lot of restaurants that day."

THEY ENDED UP in the parking lot at Ozzfest, where a crowd of fans gathered around the limo and started demanding some appropriately Ozzy-like gesture. Wrege did not disappoint.

"I mooned them," he said. "I can pretty much do anything as Ozzy and get away with it."

That, in the end (pardon the pun), could be what's driving all this. For Wrege, it's Halloween any time he wants. You can do a lot of crazy things as long as no one knows that's you behind the eyeliner and dark glasses.

The reaction from friends and loved ones has been mixed. Wrege said his 77-year-old mother, Patricia, watched one episode of "The Osbournes" and was "horribly embarrassed."

"She said to me, `Don, why can't you look like somebody else?' " Wrege said. "I said, `Isn't that your fault?' "

Still others have taken it in stride. Wrege recalled how he tried to fool his friend, musician Jackson Browne, with the Ozzy getup when Browne came to Colorado for a concert recently. The backstage exchange went something like this:

Don: (mumbling) 'Allo, Jackson! Snumble snarf —— blast it!

Jackson: Don?

Don: How'd you know it was me?

Jackson: You've always looked like this.

WREGE IS QUICK to point out that he has yet to make any money from any of this. Although he gets offers to appear at conventions, trade shows and parties, he doesn't want to take time off from his job to do them. Which is too bad, because he figures the clock is ticking on Ozzy's current hot streak.

"He's probably reached his peak, and is on his way down," Wrege said. "This was just an accidental thing. For the cost of some makeup and some fake gold chains, it was a lot of fun. I'd love to do more national television appearances while this lasts, but I honestly don't believe this current mania will last another year."

Wrege is entertaining any and all offers — his Web site, www.Ozzy Lookalike.com has all the details — because you just never know what can happen.

"I'm really all about building Web sites. That's what I do, and I love doing it," he said. "But there is something about having hundreds of people screaming for you."

Even if it's not really you they're screaming for.

Thomas Nord can be contacted at tnord@courier-journal.com or at (502) 582-4628.

Previous columns
Dec. 20 · 2 Much 2 believe: 2002, the year in review
Dec. 13 · Recycled celebs: How can we miss them if they won't go away?
Nov. 29 · Itty-bitty digital 'jukeboxes' catch on big
Nov. 22 · Is it really a lecture? A calamity? Or is it a party?
Nov. 8 · Cinderblφck encourages art through drive-in
Nov. 1 · We spy: Consumers now can afford personal versions of miniature spy gear
Oct. 25 · Video-game prices high? Teen says, 'Boycott!'
Oct. 18 · New services edit sex and violence out of movie videos
Oct. 11 · All the news that's not: Satirical news Web site offers outlet for Louisvillian's scathing creativity
Oct. 4 · Totally un-fair: Several artists set up rebel show in the shadow of the famous St. James
Sept. 27 · The next big thing in extreme: FMX is riding high
Sept. 20 · The Emmys: who will win? We think we know
Sept. 13 · Fall's big battles: It's the networks vs. cable! It's the networks vs. each other! It's the new TV season!
Sept. 6 · Subtle impact: Those who expected massive changes in entertainment after 9/11 were wrong
Aug. 30 · Mind games: Contestants gather weekly to pursue a not-so-trivial spot in trivia contest
Aug. 16 · CD prices are slashed as industry tries to cope
Aug. 9 · 'Footy' gets a toe in the door: Louisvillians hooked on Australian Rules Football form their own team
Aug. 2 · 'Sex and this city': It's a hot series on HBO. Is it true in Louisville?
July 26 · Strung out? Maybe Dorney Thompson has the answer. . . . He's Louisville's singing therapist
July 19 · Emmys get wired: TV academy pushes the envelope with cable-show nominations

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