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Arthur Louis

Arthur Louis
February 28
I was a writer and editor for more than forty years with four newspaper and magazine publishers. I am the author of two non-fiction books: "The Tycoons" and "Journalism and Other Atrocities," and one novel, "The Little Champ," all available on


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MAY 17, 2012 2:08PM

Who is the Best-known Human Being?

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The most widely known person in the world is Keith Richards. Everybody recognizes his name and knows exactly who he is.

I now find myself at a difficult juncture. As a journalist,  I was taught that when you introduce a person’s name in an article, you must provide adequate identification of that person, as a service to your readers. But I have already stated that Keith Richards is well-known to everyone, so why should I mention that he is a co-founder and guitar player with the Rolling Stones rock group? I don’t want to patronize my readers.

(Aren’t journalists sneaky?)

Anyway, how do I know that Keith Richards is universally recognized among the inhabitants of the world?  Answer: Because I have taken an informal poll, among a substantial cross-section of the world’s population. Actually, a substantial cross-section of the American population, or at least that portion of it that lives near me.

I didn’t set out to take such a poll. It just happened. It happened because I wear a silver skull ring, which I bought after attending a Rolling Stones concert in 1999 at the Oakland Arena.  I bought it because the concert reawakened my interest in the Stones, and Keith Richards in particular, and Keith  wears a silver skull ring.

I began taking guitar lessons in Keith’s honor, and kept it up for more than five years before finally conceding that I was not a natural. To tell the truth, that fact became obvious during the first year, but I felt that I had to justify my investment in guitars, amps and other gear.

Although I gave up playing the guitar, I still wear the skull ring. Wearing a ring is easier than trying to stretch the fingers of a normal-sized hand to play the outermost chords.

Wherever I go, people notice the skull ring, which is rather large, and they ask “What is the significance of your ring?” or words to that effect. Sometimes they look a trifle apprehensive, as though they fear that I might be a retired gang member. Naturally, I reply: “This is a Keith Richards ring. He wears one just like it.”

Nobody, but nobody, ever asks “Who is Keith Richards?” Invariably, they nod knowingly, no matter whether they are middle-school teenyboppers or doddering old folks approximately my age, or something in between. Some of them might go on to discuss their favorite Rolling Stones songs or anecdotes, while others will just go about their business.

So Keith is the most widely known person in the world, or at the very least tied for first. I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who is even tied with him. O.J. Simpson? Possibly. Barack Obama? I doubt it, not if you go deep into the Ozarks and start flashing your skull ring. I  have never done that, but I can just tell that up there, on a Saturday night, everyone is grooving to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Honky-Tonk Woman.” Nobody  so much as mentions Obama. 

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Did you quit heroin along with guitar in honor of Keith?
Never took it up, actually, perhaps because Keith dropped it.
Jesus, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles. R
pretty cool man, I woulda never guessed that about you. yeah I dove into the guitar last summer & had fun dinking around with equipment... half the fun....
however dont think you really needed to slip in those digs on obama. ok, he's not the worlds greatest president, but he sure aint the worst either.
Thoth, I was framing it as living people, but perhaps didn't make that clear. Anyway, the piece is somewhat tongue in cheek.
vzn, every time you comment on my stuff you can't believe how cool i am! as for obama, he got off lightly this time. and out of curiosity, if he isn't the worst, who is?
to me its a tie between edison and einstein....edison for his ability to modify...albert,for his tolerance of us hairless apes...
Steel, I was thinking of living people, but obviously didn't make that clear enough. Einstein is a good choice, certainly.
My son (the doctor) picked up a guitar, taught himself the chords and has been playing, sans lessons, ever since. I picked up a guitar and started playing and my dear husband started singing "Smelly Cat" - the song Phoebe wrote on Friends. Yes, I was that bad.
As far as Keith Richards, he is indeed well recognized by people of all ages. For internationally recognized living people, I would say Donald Trump, the Dalai Lama, Oprah, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky would be readily recognized by name and face.
BTW, I did get the point.
Jeana, many thanks.
Richards is a plausible choice, though Jagger would have been just as good. Obama would have to be on the short list too. Not so long ago it would have been Muhammed Ali, then later Michael Jackson. Elvis & the Beatles too would have had their time on the short list and what about Hollywood stars like De Niro, Nicholson, Angelina Jolie or Leonardo de Caprio? For athletes, it's probably Lionel Messi. Fun topic Arthur.
Thanks, Abrawang. Ali fought on almost every continent, and was probably known in every corner of all of them, although that may no longer be true among the younger generation. He seems the most plausible candidate, at least in his heyday. I am stretching a point when I single out Richards, of course, but his fandom does span half a century.