Pop culture is fun, because you can have crushes on celebrities and, unless you’re really crazy (John Hinckley, I’m looking at you!), they’re fine. You spouse can’t really get too upset about them, because she/he has them, too! So I thought I’d write about the various celebrity crushes I’ve had over the years. Then you can join in with your own!
1. Catherine Bach (1979-1980). The first celebrity crush I remember was Daisy Duke during the first season of The Dukes of Hazzard. I was eight years old when the show came on in the fall of 1979, and prior to that, I hadn’t consumed much popular culture, so I didn’t really have any crushes. I loved The Dukes of Hazzard, and I even watched during the “gas leak” season – when Coy and Vance replaced Bo and Luke – but when Tom Wopat and John Schneider came back, I had largely moved on from the show (although I still watched it) and my crush. But those first few years … damn, Catherine Bach looked good in tiny shorts and swim suits, didn’t she? My eight-year-old brain didn’t quite understand what was going on, but that didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate it!
2. Jan Smithers (c. 1980). I think every nerd in the world had a crush on Bailey Quarters on WKRP in Cincinnati. I don’t know when I started watching the show, but it was during its network run, even though I missed the first and probably part of the second seasons. It was re-run a lot in the 1980s, so everything kind of blends together. I know Loni Anderson played the sexpot in the show, and it was interesting how they made her far smarter than you’d think, but come on, Bailey was super-sexy: smart, sarcastic, funny, and gorgeous. She was perfect on the show (to be honest, the entire cast was perfect), and it’s too bad she’s not better known. Apparently she was in a pretty serious car accident a decade ago, but she’s out there living life now, so good for her! I also find it very interesting that she made the cover of Newsweek in 1966, when she was 16.
3. Sarah Purcell (early 1980s). This is an odd addition to the list, perhaps, as Sarah Purcell is not terribly well known and she was a bit older than the first two ladies on my list (Bach was 25 when The Dukes premiered, Smithers was 28 when WKRP premiered, while Purcell was 31 in early 1980 – those extra few years mean a lot to an eight/nine-year-old, people!). But in the early 1980s, she was one of the hosts of Real People, which I watched religiously. Real People was a show about, well, real people, meaning much like later concepts, we saw Americans doing weird shit. I suppose you could say I had crushes on the entire cast, as Purcell was joined by Fred Willard, Byron Allen, Mark Russell, and even Peter Billingsley. But I just dug Sarah Purcell. So sue me.
4. Phoebe Cates (1980s). I didn’t see Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the theaters (I was 11, whattagonnado?), but, come on, I mean, duh:
Honestly, my crush on Cates probably began in 1984 with Gremlins and culminated with Gremlins 2, after which she retired from acting. Those three movies, however, are enough to put her in the Nerds’ Crushes Hall of Fame.
5. Simon MacCorkindale (1983). I’m not sure if loving Manimal and everything it stands for counts as a crush on the main character, but I’ll allow it. I’m actually terrified to re-watch Manimal, now that it’s on DVD (although my daughter has now heard of it and has decided she wants to see it, so I might have to break down and get it), because I know it will be terrible and I don’t want my memories ruined. You might think I had a crush on Melody Anderson, who played the detective MacCorkindale helps solve cases, but I don’t really remember her all that much (I remember her much better as Dale Arden in Flash Gordon) because MacCorkindale was so suave and debonair, and then he would turn into a freakin’ panther! MacCorkindale worked steadily for years (he was eaten whole in Jaws 3-D, in which you see his point of view from within the shark’s mouth), but when he died in 2010, every obituary should have led with his work on Manimal. Pour one out for Simon MacCorkindale!
6. Jennifer Jason Leigh (c. 1982-1994). I absolutely adore Jennifer Jason Leigh, and I think it’s a goddamned shame she hasn’t won an Oscar yet (she’s been nominated once – ONCE – for an Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actress in The Hateful Eight – which I haven’t seen – which means she was in movies for 35 years – 1981-2016 – before she was even nominated). We can date my crush retroactively to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, even though, as I noted, I didn’t see it in 1982. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, she starred in a bunch of movies that I either saw in the theater or soon after on video, and she was usually the best thing in the movie, even the ones that were good (and some sucked, don’t get me wrong). She was excellent in Flesh + Blood, which apparently has a terrible reputation but which I love, she was terrific in The Hitcher, even though she didn’t get to do too much and suffered a horrific fate, and she was excellent in Miami Blues, which ought to be a better-loved movie because it’s really, really good (and is probably Alec Baldwin’s best long role – Glengarry Glenn Ross doesn’t count – although he’s incredible in Malice, as well). She was by far the best thing in Backdraft, because she was smart and incredibly sexy (and I really like Backdraft, even though it’s kind of goofy). She was great in Rush (an obvious and failed attempt at an Oscar, but she was still great), creepy as hell in Single White Female, hilarious in The Hudsucker Proxy, and amazing as Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. My ardor for her cooled after that, as I missed some of her movies (I only saw Dolores Claiborne later, and she was great in that), but she was still great in something like eXistenZ, which is super-weird. She’s still a great actor, naturally, but crushes don’t last – that’s why they’re crushes! – and now I just appreciate her work. I hope she does win an Oscar, but there are plenty of great actors who haven’t won one, so it’s not the worst thing in the world.
7. Perry King and Joe Penny (1984-1986). I watched a lot of action shows in the 1980s, the Golden Age of Stephen J. Cannell, and while Riptide certainly wasn’t my favorite, I retain a nostalgic affection for its goofiness, at the center of which were King and Penny as private investigators who lived on a yacht. It wasn’t The A-Team or Magnum, P.I., it wasn’t Scarecrow and Mrs. King or Remington Steele, but it was better than Hunter, Hardcastle and McCormick, or The Fall Guy. You know it’s true!
8. Heather Thomas (mid-1980s). Speaking of The Fall Guy, I mean, duh:
9. Amanda Peterson (1987). Can’t Buy Me Love is a superb movie, with a dorky Patrick Dempsey (who’s definitely good-looking, but he was only 20/21 during filming, and he was definitely more nerdy back then than he was later) trying to move into the “cool” circle by dating Amanda Peterson, the head cheerleader, who needs his money to replace a dress she ruined. So they work out an arrangement where she just goes on a few dates with him, because he’s convinced that the cool people are so shallow they’ll think he’s cool even if he’s just seen with her. Of course he’s right, but it goes to his head, and it turns out that Peterson’s Cindy has a lot more depth than he thought, so he ends up breaking her heart before being finding redemption. The best part of the movie doesn’t even concern them – it’s when Dempsey makes the point that all of them grew up together and were friends, but as they grew up they began to coalesce into different social strata, which is so depressing because it’s so true. Anyway, Peterson is luminous in this movie, and she never really did much more in the business, quitting in the mid-1990s. She died in 2015 of a drug overdose, and it just sounds like she was a deeply unhappy woman. But she’s gorgeous in this movie, and it’s a wonderful teen romantic comedy.
10. Winona Ryder (1988). Heathers Winona Ryder is the best Winona Ryder, followed closely by Beetlejuice Winona Ryder, but Heathers is about as perfectly cast a movie as you can get, and she’s both amazing and scorching in it. I dare you not to have a crush on her in that movie!
11. Keanu Reeves (1989-1999). Reeves is a very good actor, and it’s a shame people denigrate his skills so much, because he doesn’t deserve it, as he seems like a swell guy. I first started getting a crush on him when I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which is still a comedic classic. I eventually saw him in River’s Edge, which is a great movie and he’s great in it, and he followed Bill and Ted’s with several crush-worthy roles: Parenthood, in which he appears to be a stoner (I know, shocking) but turns out to be more mature than a lot of the adults; I Love You To Death, where he’s part of a really bad hitman team (with a hilarious William Hurt) that River Phoenix hires to kill Tracey Ullman’s cheating husband, Kevin Kline (I Love You To Death is packed with talent – Joan Plowright is in it, Victoria Jackson is in it, Heather Graham is in it, and Phoebe Cates has a cameo); Point Break, where he played Johnny Utah with the right balance of confidence, dickishness, righteousness, and naïveté; Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which isn’t quite as classic as the first one but is actually a little bit deeper (plus, William Sadler as Death will never not be funny); and My Own Private Idaho, in which he proved he could act, holding his own alongside River Phoenix and making this one of the most brilliant underseen movies I’ve ever seen (yeah, that’s right, I worded it that way). That was all, I should note, from 1988-1991. Reeves refuses to be pigeonholed, so when he was close to being typecast as the stoner dude, he made Point Break and then Speed (where, of course, he’s great). He did Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing (not well, but still). He was unintentionally hilarious in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but at least he seemed in on the joke, unlike Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder. He played a ramrod straight lawyer in The Devil’s Advocate, holding his own against a ridiculously scenery-chewing Al Pacino (The Devil’s Advocate is a great movie, y’all). And then he played a grown-up stoner Messiah in The Matrix. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes. How can you not have a crush on him? His Neo schtick wore thin by the third movie, and in the new millennium I don’t see as many movies as I used to, but he’s constantly pushing himself and reinventing himself, and I think my crush might be coming back because of John Wick and its sequel. Damn, those are fun movies. Keanu: underestimate him at your peril!
12. Sherilyn Fenn (1990-1993). Man, Sherilyn Fenn should have been a classic movie star. She’s not the best actor, but she’s not the worst, either, but she had such classic movie star looks, and if she had been active 50 years earlier, she would have been huge because those directors back then knew how to make women look glamorous. I have never watched Twin Peaks, but when that became a big thing, she became a star for a time. I always liked her a lot more than Mädchen Amick and Lara Flynn Boyle, but they became a bit more famous. I’m not really a fan of Fenn’s movies from that time – I haven’t seen Two Moon Junction, but I’ve heard it sucks; I’ve seen Meridian, which is terrible but she does, you know, get naked; and Boxing Helena is okay, but nothing special. It’s fun now seeing her in Just One of the Guys (which is a terrific movie, by the way), and I still feel a twinge of nostalgia whenever I see her today. But for those few years in the early 1990s, she was the hottest woman on the planet. It would have been nice to see her in some noir movies, because she would have killed as a femme fatale who lures John Garfield or Fred MacMurray into murky ethical waters.
13. Emma Thompson (1991-1994). Thompson remains a marvelous actor, but she’s not really crush-worthy anymore, not because of her age (she looks great), but because I don’t see as many movies and honestly, she doesn’t make as many, and she doesn’t really need to be in big movies anymore, so she’s been doing weird stuff more often than not. I’m honestly not sure when I first saw Thompson – I’ve seen Henry V, which was her break-out (unless you count her role in The Tall Guy!), but I don’t think I saw it in the theater and she’s really not that crush-worthy anyway, as she plays Princess Katherine as kind of stuffy. It must have been Dead Again, the wildly underrated noir movie she did with new beau Kenneth Branagh in 1991. She’s great in the movie and she looks wonderful, and I probably went full-on crush after that. It’s a keen murder mystery, and Branagh miscasts himself as a tough-guy private detective, but I have a soft spot for Branagh, so I’ll allow it (he’s much better as Roman Strauss, the haughty 1940s dude – the movie’s about reincarnation, okay?). I did see Howards End, but I’m not sure when (I don’t think I saw it in the theater), but she’s great in that, too. She is excellent in In the Name of the Father, in a smaller role than Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite (who are both great), but her speech to the judge when she discovers that the prosecution withheld evidence is terrific. And she’s gorgeous in Much Ado About Nothing, Branagh’s wonderful adaptation, where pretty much the entire cast hangs out being gorgeous (including Keanu, even though he’s the villain – he’s a stylish villain!). After that she was in some movies I just didn’t care about or actively dislike (she’s wonderful in Love, Actually, but the movie is a shitshow), and she’s the only reason to spend any more than 30 seconds watching Nanny McPhee, but she’s still a great actor. But I had other crushes to get to!
14. Michelle Yeoh (1993-2000). I first saw Yeoh in Supercop with Jackie Chan, which is a ridiculously fun movie (my wife and I still occasionally look at each other and say “We’re going to need some kind of supercop!” because we’re weird), and Yeoh is terrific in it. She keeps up with Chan, performs some of her own stunts, and basically kicks ass. Apparently she was retired before this, but she got divorced and presumably needed some money, and the world is better for it. She was the best thing about the best Brosnan Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, kicking even more ass (although she did end up having sex with Brosnan, which is annoying but, I suppose, necessary in a Bond movie, and at least she waited until all the asses had been kicked) and of course, she was magnificent in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She’s kind of graduated out of ass-kicking movies, which is why my crush on her has cooled a bit, but she’s still a great actor.
15. Maggie Cheung (1993-2002). Speaking of Supercop, Chan’s girlfriend in that movie is played by Maggie Cheung, and although she’s a bit annoying in it, she’s also adorable, so I crushed on her a bit. I next saw her in Irma Vep, in which she plays herself, and considering that she spends a good deal of time in the movie in a catsuit, you could say she was totally crush-worthy. She’s very good in Chinese Box, even though she takes a back seat to Jeremy Irons and Gong Li, and she’s terrific in Hero, a marvelous movie about ancient China. She doesn’t seem to work very much anymore, which is too bad, but if you’re keen to check her out, seriously, see Irma Vep. It’s … something, all right.
16. Brad Pitt (1995-2001). How can you not have a crush on Brad Pitt, especially late-1990s Brad Pitt? I first saw him, I think, in Thelma and Louise, but he didn’t make too much of an impression on me. I did NOT see him in Cool World until years later, which was probably for the best as that movie is … well, not good. I also didn’t see Legends of the Fall until years later and I’ve never seen A River Runs Through It and he was kind of ineffectual in Interview With The Vampire, so really, my first Brad Pitt experience is Se7en, which is an absolutely brilliant movie and he’s great in it. That same year (1995), he was wonderfully unhinged in 12 Monkeys, but I think my crush reached its peak in 1999, when Fight Club came out. Fight Club is one of my favorite movies, and Pitt is superb in it (plus I would love to have his wardrobe, because it’s awesome). He was fantastic in Snatch, he was the best thing in The Mexican (okay, James Gandolfini was okay, too), and I really dug Spy Game, in which he was quite good. Then he did Ocean’s Eleven, and everyone is good in that movie, plus his wardrobe is once again spectacular. All crushes must fade, I guess, and while Pitt is still one of my favorite actors and he’s done some amazing work, he’s no longer on my crush list. Such is life.
17. A.J. Langer (1999-2001). Langer was 20 when she starred in My So-Called Life, so I could have had a crush on her then, because that’s one of my favorite television shows, but she wasn’t really that crush-worthy back then, although Rayanne Graff, like everyone else on the show, was excellent. I really didn’t get a crush on her until she starred in It’s Like, You Know … in 1999, because she was absolutely adorable in that show. Like far too many shows I like, It’s Like, You Know … didn’t last very long, but it was very funny and had a great cast (including Jennifer Grey in her greatest role, playing herself). Langer then married the son of the Earl of Devon and later became the Countess of Devon, so she basically retired, but she does show up in things occasionally. But she was very crush-worthy around the turn of the millennium!
18. Elisha Cuthbert (2001-2013). As dumb as Kim Bauer’s character was on 24, Elisha Cuthbert was scorchingly hot in it, so I could forgive the plots the writers placed her in. I actually watched The Girl Next Door because Cuthbert was in it (and, honestly, despite some blatant ripping off of Risky Business, it’s a fairly underrated movie), but I refuse to watch House of Wax, so I have limits! Then, in 2011, Cuthbert starred in Happy Endings, yet another show I love that didn’t last long (it made it to 57 episodes, which is longer than some great shows, but it was always struggling in the ratings), and she showed what a comedic genius she is playing Alex, the lovable dimwit. The entire cast is great, but Cuthbert shines, as she’s probably the second-best character on the show behind Eliza Coupe, playing her Type-A sister. Cuthbert is still working, but she’s not as high-profile as she once was, and I haven’t seen her in much recently. But you should all watch Happy Endings, because it’s hilarious.
19. Timothy Olyphant (2004-2016). Timothy Olyphant has managed to be the absolute coolest character on three very different television shows, ones absolutely stacked with great actors. He’s the coolest character in Deadwood despite the presence of Ian McShane, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Robin Weigert, Jim Beaver, Kim Dickens, Powers Boothe, Titus Welliver, Garret Dillahunt … dang, Deadwood had awesome actors in it. He’s terrifically menacing in The Girl Next Door as Elisha Cuthbert’s “producer” and he’s also, I would argue, the best Die Hard villain besides Alan Rickman. Then he’s the coolest character in Justified despite the presence of Walton Goggins, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Natalie Zea, Jere Burns, Erica Tazel, Jeremy Davies, Mykelti Williamson, Margo Martindale, Kaitlyn Dever, Neal McDonough, Garret Dillahunt (again), and Jacob Pitts (who, let’s be honest, is cooler than Raylan, but isn’t in the show enough to overcome Raylan’s coolness). (There are a lot of other cool actors in Justified, too, because it’s one of the coolest shows of the past 20 years or so.) Then, unbelievably, he was the coolest character on The Grinder, yet another gone-too-soon comedy, even though he began as kind of a gag character replacing Rob Lowe on Lowe’s lawyer show, and despite the presence of Lowe, Fred Savage, William Devane, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Natalie Morales, and Odette Annabelle, and despite the fact that he was only in four episodes. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes and seems like a fun guy in real life. What’s not to crush on?
20. Brit Morgan (2008-). Most people who watched The Middleman (all eight of us!) would probably say they were crushing on Natalie Morales, and she totally deserves it. But something about her art-warrior roommate, Brit Morgan, made me crush on her. Lacey was just so confrontational about art and so bad at relationships and so into Matt Keeslar and so cute that I just fell in love with her. She hasn’t done much that I’ve seen since that late, lamented show went off the air (the hype is real!), but a few years ago she showed up as Livewire on Supergirl, and she’s as awesome as ever. I missed the second season of Riverdale (I loved the first season but never got around to watching the second), but apparently she was guest-starring for a while, so now I have to watch them!
21. Andrea Anders (2009-2010). As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t had as many crushes as I used to – I still think a lot of women are hot, naturally, but there’s a difference between thinking Evangeline Lilly is really hot in Lost and actually having a crush on her. In fact, someone like Andrea Anders isn’t the hottest woman on Better Off Ted, a wonderful comedy that lasted only 26 episodes in 2009-2010 – that would be Portia de Rossi. But Anders is totally crush-worthy as Jay Harrington’s sort-of love interest – she’s gorgeous, of course, but she’s also very, very funny, mainly because she’s kind of dorky, which makes her even more adorable. Anders has been in other stuff since Better Off Ted, but she’s never been cuter.
22. Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, and Madelaine Petsch (2016-). If you haven’t watched the first season of Riverdale, you’re missing one of the most bonkers soap opera in history, and you’re missing these three ladies, who play Betty, Veronica, and Cheryl Blossom, respectively. All three of them are gorgeous, of course, but what makes them awesome is that they all play amazingly complex and powerful women in completely different ways. The men are quite good in the show, too, but these three dominate in such interesting ways that you just can’t take your eyes off of them when they’re on screen. As I noted above, I haven’t watched Season Two yet, but I’m hoping to catch up, because this is a weird, wacky show, anchored by stellar performances by these three young actors.
23. Mina Kimes (2017-). I first became aware of Mina Kimes last year sometime (possibly in 2016?), and I was almost instantly smitten. Kimes, for those of you who don’t know, is a reporter for ESPN, and she writes some very impressive pieces for the conglomerate. As I don’t work, I watch some of the afternoon shows on ESPN (they’re on in the late afternoon on the East Coast, but the middle of the afternoon in Arizona), and she’s often on Highly Questionable (which is hilarious), Around the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption. She’s absolutely adorable. She’s cute as all heck, she snorts when she laughs too hard (and Dan Le Batard always calls her on it), and she stans hard for her Seahawks, which is why it’s hilarious when Le Batard’s dad always shows the ending of Super Bowl XLIX, in which Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, threw an interception on the goal line when the Seahawks were about to score the game-winning touchdown, and Kimes always gets upset about it. Kimes is smart, attractive, funny, and she knows a lot about sports. What’s not to love about her?
So those are the celebrity crushes I’ve had over the years. Of course, there are also retroactive crushes, of people that were famous before I was born and whom I didn’t know about until years later. One is Marcia Strassman, who played Julie Kotter in Welcome Back, Kotter. I never watched Welcome Back, Kotter when it first ran and have only seen some episodes over the years, but I always dug Strassman’s Kotter, who seemed like she tolerated her husband’s antics as if he were a toddler, but she always loved him despite all that. She perfectly deflated him over the years and provided a necessary tempering of his goofiness. Strassman died in 2014, but Julie Kotter will live on. I’ve always had a crush on Suzanne Pleshette, but I was too young to watch The Bob Newhart Show when it first aired, and she was wonderful on it. I, like everyone else, love the finale of Newhart, where she shows up in bed with Bob, making the entire show a dream. Of course, years after the fact, I had a huge crush on 1960s Diana Rigg, because she was just gorgeous, and Rigg is still killing it these days on both Game of Thrones and Victoria. I also had a huge crush on Julie Newmar, the best Catwoman, because she’s freaking Julie Newmar! I was always a Ginger man, so while both Tina Louise and Dawn Wells were crush-worthy, I gravitated toward Ginger. And of all the Bond girls (except Rigg, who’s in a class by her own), my favorite is Daniela Bianchi, who was terrific in From Russia With Love, a movie I didn’t see until the 1990s. There are others, but those ladies are the main ones.
Let’s hear about yours! Don’t be shy!