By RICH FOLEY
It’s surprising to me how we’re continually bombarded with news of “celebrities” who are well-known for no good reason, but people who were famous in the past can pass away with little notice. It’s happened several times already this year. Take, for example, Michele Ferrero.
Ferrero, who died in February, ranked last year as the 22nd richest person on the planet with a net worth of $26.5 billion. Recognize that last name? Yes, you’ve seen it on Tic Tac mints, those fancy Ferrero Rocher candies so popular at holiday time, and on jars of Nutella hazelnut spread.
In fact, Ferrero’s company controls about 15 percent of the world’s hazelnut supply with sales last year of $10 billion. His father had the idea of mixing cocoa and hazelnuts when cocoa was still subject to post-World War II rationing in Italy, originally selling it in a solid loaf wrapped in foil.
Michele turned it into a creamy spread in 1964 and named it Nutella. Last year, the Italian postal service marked Nutella’s 50th anniversary with a commemorative stamp.
Burt Shavitz may never be on a stamp, nor would he probably have cared before his death earlier this month. Shavitz, whose image appeared on packages of Burt’s Bees lip balms, soaps and lotions, had a spectacular rise and fall in the business world.
Shavitz lived in a converted turkey coop in Maine, surviving on about $3,000 a year earned as a beekeeper. In 1984, he picked up a hitchhiker who became both his girlfriend and business partner.
At first, Roxanne Quimby started small, making leftover beeswax into candles. Eventually, after branching out into other lines, sales exploded for the company owned two-thirds by Quimby and one-third by Burt.
According to his obit, Shavitz claimed he was forced out after having an affair with an employee. Quimby bought his share of the company for $130,000. He moved back to the turkey coop which still had no running hot water or television, but did have a radio and a refrigerator.
In 2007, Quimby sold the company for $925 million and paid Shavitz another $4 million. In a 2013 documentary, Shavitz said, “I’d like to never see her again.” Now he might get his wish.
Sports trivia fans may recognize the name Clarence “Bevo” Francis, who set an NCAA record in 1953 when, as a freshman, he scored 116 points in a basketball game, playing for Ohio’s Rio Grande College. The record was later disallowed as Rio Grande’s opponent didn’t grant four-year degrees.
In 1954, he scored 113 points against Hillsdale College. This time, it counted, and Francis, who died last month, held the record for 58 years. He quit college after his sophomore year to play professionally for the team tasked with serving as opponents for the Harlem Globetrotters.
He was drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors in 1956, but turned down their offer, which was less than he made losing to the Globetrotters. He later played in the Eastern and American Basketball Leagues before going to work in a steel mill.
Francis remembered what had happened after his 116 point performance when word came in 2012 that Jack Taylor of Grinnell College had scored 138 points in a game. When told that Taylor’s opponent was Faith Baptist College and Theological Seminary, Francis immediately asked “Is that a four-year school?’ It was, and his record was gone.
Then there was Gary Dahl, who passed away in March, 40 years after the phenomenon that made him wealthy and famous, at least for awhile. His claim to fame? Dahl was the “inventor” of the Pet Rock.
Too young to remember it? It was simply a rock in a cardboard box with air holes, nestled on a pile of wood shavings. Dahl, an unemployed advertising copywriter, included a manual on the care and feeding of the rock.
Almost overnight, the Pet Rock fad made Dahl a millionaire. Newsweek magazine called it “one of the most ridiculously successful marketing schemes ever.” But the bubble burst quickly. Dahl’s creation fell victim to imitators and subsequent Dahl products never matched the rock’s success.
In later years, Dahl said he was harassed by “a bizarre lunatic fringe who feel I owe them a living.” That’s the difference between the olden days and now. At least Dahl came up with a product. Today, to be a celebrity, you just have to post a bizarre video on YouTube.