ALMOST FAMOUS: Meet La Jolla’s celebrity name-alikes

Keith Richards, La Jolla High School Class of 1971, poses with a photo of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards at his Windansea home.
(Corey Levitan)

The evening phone calls during high school were the first sign that life was getting different.“My name was in the phone book, so on a couple of occasions, girls would call and ask if I was really me,” said Keith Richards, 64, who has lived in La Jolla since 1967.

“OK, more than a couple,” said Richards, who has long since paid to have his number unlisted, adding that the giggling female voices would then usually ask if Mick Jagger was there, too.

Richards situation is not unique — not even in La Jolla. Home to many celebrities over the decades — Gregory Peck, Raquel Welch, Mitt Romney — The Jewel has been home to an equivalent number of celebrity name-alikes.

In 1969, the year guitar god Jimi Hendrix came to national prominence, little Jimmy Hendrix was 13. Having grown up in an Ohio family with a U.S. Marine patriarch, childhood for Hendrix was a blur of hometowns eventually ending in Camp Pendleton. Being the perpetual new kid was bad enough without being the perpetual new kid named Jimmy Hendrix.

La Jolla’s Jimmy Hendrix is experienced — at having his name raise eyebrows.
La Jolla’s Jimmy Hendrix is experienced — at having his name raise eyebrows. COREY LEVITAN

“Other kids would ask, ‘Are you named after Jimi Hendrix?’ or ‘Are you related to Jimi Hendrix?’” said Hendrix, who retired to La Jolla after 35 years as a San Bernardino, Calif. sheriff.

Hendrix told the kids the same thing he tells people now: “I wish I was, but I have absolutely no talent playing the guitar.”

Jimi Hendrix entered rock n’ roll heaven before Jimmy Hendrix was 16. But Richards reports he’s still able to reap some benefits out of the occasional confusion. For instance, he says he can get a reservation for pretty much any restaurant or hotel in the world. He’ll just probably need to produce his driver’s license once he gets there to prove it.

“And then I’ll have to witness the disappointment in their eyes because they thought they were going to get to meet the Rolling Stone,” Richards said.

Believe it or not, in the 40 years he worked for San Diego Gas & Electric before retiring, Richards once had to phone Keith Richards’ actual mother-in-law — who lived in San Diego County at the time — about an easement running next to her house. She refused to talk, thinking he was a prankster doing a poor impression.

“She kept asking who I was over and over,” Richards recalled. “I kept telling her and she would say, ‘No, you’re not.’”

La Jolla’s Tom Brady can throw a football, too.
La Jolla’s Tom Brady can throw a football, too. COREY LEVITAN

Tom Brady of La Jolla, an 81-year-old retired certified public accountant who currently sits on the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation board and the La Jolla Community Planning Association, says he experiences a “certain degree of fun” sharing a name with the New England Patriots quarterback who made a household name out of it in 2000.

“That’s probably because nobody has ever confused us,” Brady said, noting however that he did play guard at Sheldon Public High School in Sheldon, Iowa and his stats were “pretty good.”

Like Jimmy Hendrix’s name, Don Henely’s isn’t spelled the same but it’s pronounced the same. Henely spoke briefly on the phone to the Light but declined to pose for or provide a photo. (He promised, though, that he looks “nothing like the Eagles guy.”)

“I’m a retired real-estate guy, a very private person,” Henely said. “There’s nothing interesting about my story at all. People are always commenting, ‘Oh you have the same name’ and that’s it.” (La Jollans John Carson and John Hughes, and La Jolla optometrist Dr. David Geffen, did not respond to multiple interview requests.)

Although the good and bad of life with a celebrity name usually cancel each other out, Richards said, the bad can get pretty frustrating.

“Sometimes, I want to change my name to John Smith,” Richards said — especially after being forced to wait in a crowd for something until his name is called.

“You have to stand up and there’s always a bunch of people glaring at you, like ‘You’re not him!’” said Richards. “It can be kind of a pain in the (butt), to be honest with you.”

Richards said he’d like to meet the other Keith Richards one day — not so much because he loves the Rolling Stones, which he does. (His favorite song is “Waiting on a Friend” from their 1981 album, “Tattoo You.”) No, he’d like to give the guitarist a message.

Richards explained: “I’d like to shake his hand and tell him, ‘You know, I’ve been getting your phone calls for a long time.’”