Take a two-hour dip into the celebrity gossip sleaze pool
Drive along famous streets, including Sunset Boulevard, scouring for a real-life celebrity
See where Hugh Grant picked up a prostitute, where Halle Berry smashed up her car
Editor’s Note: This weekly series will profile those who capitalize on our obsession with celebrity, while always standing just outside of the spotlight.
The faithful walk past a Charlie Chaplin who twirls his cane, a Marilyn who shows off her cleavage while blowing kisses and a ranting, Jheri-curled Samuel Jackson (a la “Pulp Fiction”) who flashes his Bad Mother F**ker wallet.
They didn’t come here to ogle the impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard. Nor did they come to snatch up tickets to meet Madame Tussaud’s wax figures. Yawn. And they certainly didn’t arrive to hop on the Crime Scene Tour bus.
No, they take their seats on a cement wall around the corner, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where they wait in anticipation for something bigger.
“I’d like to see the toilet where George Michael got busted” for a lewd act with an undercover cop, says an Aussie.
“Anything Britney, I’ll be happy with,” says the Aussie’s partner, his camera at the ready.
“We’d like to see Lindsay drunk, facedown somewhere. That would be awesome,” a woman gushes, her friend nodding beside her.
Welcome to the TMZ Tour, where for the special reduced price of $49, an adult can board a bus and take a two-hour unashamed dip into the celebrity gossip sleaze pool. Children are welcome to dive in for $39.
“We were going to do the movie stars’ homes, but that seemed so boring,” says Mark Green, 33, of Newcastle, Australia, who flew into Los Angeles just hours earlier and rushed here, jet lag be damned. “This was the newest, hippest thing to do.”
Beckoned by the ticket taker, the assembled crowd moves toward the bus.
“You guys excited?” yells the escort, who leads the way through a maze of corridors.
First they let out a collective scream, and then the fist-pumping chants begin: “T-M-Z! T-M-Z! T-M-Z!”
There’s nowhere Karen Morin of Long Beach, California, would rather be.
“Our main source of news is TMZ,” boasts Morin, who’s come here to celebrate her 47th birthday.
On this tour in late August, a couple dozen enthusiasts file onto the open-sided TMZ-emblazoned bus. A young girl, too innocent to know about sex tapes, bounces on board, her TMZ stocking cap slightly askew.
Nabbing a spot in the front row is a Canadian sporting a made-for-the-occasion black T-shirt that reads, “I’m a Lawyer!” – the sign-off for Harvey Levin’s “TMZ on TV” gossip news show.
Keith Jordan, an actor who’d rather keep his age to himself, takes a seat facing the excited crowd.
“We don’t have culture in LA,” he announces, sliding into his tour guide role. “We have the Kardashians!”
He promises to show the group where celebrities eat, party and “buy their kids really creepy-ass dolls.”
What he delivers over the next couple of hours is so much more than dining and drinking destinations, and tips on where to buy “creepy-ass dolls” (that would be American Girl, at the Grove, for those who are wondering). We drive along famous streets, including Sunset Boulevard, all the while scouring the landscape for real-life stars. Celebrities have been known to hop on the bus for a quick visit – or so says our guide.
We pass the Roosevelt Hotel, “where JFK would allegedly sneak through the laundry room to hook up with Marilyn Monroe,” says the announcer on a mounted TV. We cruise down Hollywood Boulevard, “where celebrities pay $30,000 to have their own stars so homeless people can pee on them,” our guide says. We turn onto Sunset Boulevard and see the fast-food joint El Pollo Loco, where Brad Pitt got his Hollywood start dressed as a chicken.
The journey is a deluge of must-know smut that washes over tourists, taking with it the worries of the world. U.S. troops abroad? Libya? The struggling economy? Pshaw.
There are strip clubs to uncover, including the Seventh Veil, where Jordan says Motley Crue shot its “Girls, Girls, Girls” video. Later we find the Body Shop, where our trusted guide tells us actress Megan Fox “got down with a stripper named Nikita.”
We see where Hugh Grant picked up prostitute Divine Brown for $60 (and got busted) and are treated to their mug shots on the TV screen. Oh, and there’s the liquor store, Gil Turner’s, where Halle Berry smashed her car. We watch footage of stumbling, drunken stars and later revisit an old surveillance tape of Winona Ryder shoplifting.
We play TV-prompted games, including “The Finger or the Wave?” In today’s episode, video captures Keanu Reeves at a restaurant. He stares at the camera, and the tape pauses. Finger or wave? The tour bus contestant screams, “Wave!” Ding, ding, ding! Throw that tourist a T-shirt!
We pass Bonhams & Butterfields, where OJ’s Heisman Trophy was auctioned off for $230,000, and the Laugh Factory, where comedian Michael Richards went off on a racist rant and his career crumbled. We gawk at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where Julia Roberts gave birth, where Notorious B.I.G. and Elizabeth Taylor died, and where Britney Spears took an involuntary spin through the psych ward. We peer up at the high-rise Sierra Towers and learn from our all-knowing TMZ guide that resident Elton John shelled out $3 million for an additional condo … just for his baby!
“You want to hear something really depressing?” Jordan calls out at one point. “Snooki! (Pause) That’s all.”
There are reminders of overdoses: the Viper Room, where River Phoenix died, the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi’s life ended. It was from the storied Chateau Marmont (where the tour’s birthday girl plans to go next for lunch) that actor Josh Hartnett called 911 to – brace yourself – complain about his diarrhea. So that no one forgets this moment in history, the tour bus TV shares the call.
“What’s he doing calling the fire department?” the tour guide asks. “Eat a cracker!”
Even though we won’t make a pilgrimage to where another historical shift occurred, we are reminded of February 16, 2007 – called “one of the most shocking days” – when Britney shaved her head. Later we’ll cruise by Hustler Hollywood, where our trusted news source says she bought her hot pink wig and where Fergie and Josh Duhamel apparently like to shop. Wink, wink.
There’s Mel’s Diner, where Shaq allegedly left a $100 tip after ordering a milkshake, and Sunset Tan, where it’s said Paris Hilton maintains her hue. Further on in the tour, we pass where the world got to really know Hilton: the Four Seasons Hotel, where Jordan says she and Rick Salomon filmed “the most lucrative sex tape of all time!”
The little girl who boarded in the stocking cap is slumped in her seat, hat off, looking not only unfazed but bored.
The education on how we can be like the stars goes on.
For $400, our guide says, you can get a haircut at Chris McMillan. Shell out $1,500 for a reservation, and you can walk into Bijan on Rodeo Drive. Or, at a bargain of $30, you can enjoy a salad at the Ivy.
And if you’re a man looking to prove that you’re fine after a high-profile breakup, you can snag a window seat at the Village Idiot and surround yourself with laughing, flirtatious women – just like Jordan says Zac Efron did.
We marvel at the famous Hollywood sign up in the hills. We whip out our cameras to capture the iconic Beverly Hills sign, too. We take comfort knowing the fire hydrants in Beverly Hills are painted platinum and that the Hollywood Police Station has a five-star rating on Yelp.
And all around us, as passers-by honk and scream – “T-M-Z!” – we know we are not alone.
On this day in late August, as victims of Hurricane Irene struggle through floodwaters, world leaders wring their hands over Moammar Gadhafi and U.S. troops look back on their deadliest month in Afghanistan, the TMZ Tour offers a different reality, an unapologetic escape.
With or without a facedown Lindsay or George Michael’s toilet.