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Greensboro’s ten best hometown celebs…

by Brian Clarey

Nathanael Greene

Revolutionary War general

Okay, so he’s not specifically from here, and technically he lost the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. But the British troops were never the same after Greene’s front lines ambushed them over there in the park. And while his name around town these days is synonymous with a notorious downtown brewery, we should always remember that the whole damned city is named after the guy, making him perhaps the biggest big shot of them all.

Rick Dees

DJ, talk show host and composer

Surely it’s not news to anybody in Greensboro that the hip cat from yesteryear, the former Rigdon Osmond Dees, is a homeboy. Before going on to pen the immortal words to ‘“Disco Duck’” (which featured the lyric ‘“get down, mama’” and included a cameo by Elvis), and becoming unseated from his Top 40 throne by shaved hobbit Ryan Seacrest, our boy Dees was a Whirlie, graduating with Grimsley’s Class of ’68. And though these days he’s regarded as a bit of a tool, Dees is still the only guy from Greensboro with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Fantasia Barrino

High Point songstress

Okay, she’s not technically from Greensboro and she split for Charlotte as soon as she got back from Hollywood, but it’s all good in the ‘hood. Over here at YES! Weekly we are huge Fantasia Barrino fans and some of us even cried a little when she threw down against Diana DiGarmo on live TV. Fantasia’s got the goods, and we hope to be hearing from her for a long time.

O. Henry

Writer, editor, accused embezzler

Before ‘“The Ransom of Red Chief’” and ‘“The Furnished Room,’” before the embezzlement charges in Austin and the life on the lam in South America, kickass writer O. Henry lived in Greensboro. His name was William Sydney Porter back then and around here they probably called him ‘“Billy Syd.’” Or maybe not. He left town while still in his teens and died before he could tell anybody whether or not he discovered his sense of irony in Greensboro. He was also a magazine editor, founding a publication called The Rolling Stone in Texas in 1894. Why his estate never sued Jann Wenner is beyond us.

George Preddy

World War II flying ace

Combat pilots during World War II were like rock stars’… rock stars who routinely sent their enemies to fiery deaths, but what the hell. Preddy was one of the best of his time, with 25 personal air victories in his P-51, the Cripes A’Mighty, before being gunned down by friendly ground fire in Belgium on Christmas Day 1944. With his pencil-thin mustache and heavy brow, he looks in old photographs like a brooding, macho Jon Waters, except dressed like Snoopy when he fought the Red Baron.

Dolley Madison

First Lady, art lover

Dolley Madison was a pretty tough chick ‘— at 25 she lost her first husband and one of her sons to yellow fever. By 41 she was in the White House with husband James Madison, a man 17 years her senior. In the War of 1812, she rescued a painting of George Washington from the Capitol Building before the British burned the city. Dolley, the daughter of Guilford County Quakers, was deeply enmeshed in Washington, DC’s burgeoning social scene. When she shed her strict upbringing she began to wear colorful turbans to lavish dinner parties. She dipped snuff and, if her Google images page is to be believed, favored high-waisted dresses with generous scoops in front.

Robert McAdoo

Hoop jones hero

There are lots of sports heroes from Greensboro: the Bostic brothers, Haywood Jeffires, Ricky Proehl. And isn’t Howard Cosell supposed to be from Winston-Salem? But in terms of success, Bob McAdoo is the man and thusly gets the space on our list. McAdoo graduated from Smith High School back in ’69 (where he set the state record for the high jump) and at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds was considered a center in those days. First a Tar Heel and then an NBA first-round draft pick in 1972, he became 1973’s Rookie of the Year, a five-time NBA All-Star and won numerous scoring titles and a national championships with the Lakers in ’82 and ’85. He made the NBA Hall of Fame in 2000.

Orson Scott Card

Science-fiction writer, man of opinion

Okay, so he writes a column for another local weekly, but we can’t deny the presence of Orson Scott Card in our hometown. The guy’s a legend: he’s got Hugo and Nebula awards like Mr. T’s got gold chains; the Ender’s Game series are seminal works in the genre; he’s worked with James Cameron’… he’s even scripted an Iron Man comic book. And he probably knows more about the Commodore 64 than he cares to. Though we disagree with his estimation of Macintosh computers and toilet paper, we cannot deny that he is indeed a hometown hero.

Edward R. Murrow

Journalist, crusader, smoker

Man, Edward R. Murrow is our boy, Ann Coulter be damned. Did you see the way he took down McCarthy? I mean he took the man down, right there on national TV, with a Lucky Strike burning next to him in the ashtray. Murrow was the kind of guy who made us want to be journalists: smart, fearless, outraged. He was there at the London Blitz in 1940, the liberation of Buchenwald, Hitler’s annexation of Austria. He still sets the high water mark for journalists everywhere. He grew up right near Greensboro, in Polecat Creek, in a log cabin on a corn farm. And all we gave him was one lousy boulevard that doesn’t even reach across town.

Fred Chappell

Poet, educator, barroom intellectual

Chappell has written nearly 20 books of poetry, prose and fiction and been bestowed with awards and honors since the ’60s, when he began teaching English at UNCG. He was also, for many years, the poet laureate of North Carolina. And if you get a chance to sit in a quiet barroom with him, you should jump all over it. I’d watch him sip champagne at the bar at Bert’s Seafood when I used to mix drinks there, sip champagne and read books and toss out witticisms and insights for which he surely could have gotten paid. I should have been taking notes. Where are you when I need you, Fred?

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