20 Year Retrospective: Fame Game
by tom austin
The hawking of celebrity has always been something of a cottage industry on South Beach, a singular American city built on fantasy, fame, and photo-ops. Ocean Drive magazine came along in the era of Versace; South Beach’s allure then seemed limitless, and it was a time when Madonna might turn up for an ordinary party.
Celebrities come here for all the obvious reasons—warm winter weather, easy nightlife, a certain aura of pleasure—that entice regular folk. Twenty years ago, they came to escape the floating fame jail that is Los Angeles; back then, no one really made a fuss over celebs in South Beach clubs. For Madonna’s 1992 book Sex, featuring Vanilla Ice and several other (then) A-listers, the Material Girl posed nude all around a relatively quiet South Beach, turning the town into one big soft-porn movie set.
Some 20 years later, celebrities have—or maybe we all have together— turned South Beach into Hollywood East, a place where they can expect to be photographed, paid for appearances, written about, and generally fussed over. Maintaining celebrityhood is as addictive and taxing as maintaining a drug habit, and the new generation of boldfacers has learned to use the fame of South Beach to establish and augment its own renown. These days, every hip-hop star has to make a rap video set in Miami just to prove they can ball with the big boys, and reality shows abound. It has come full circle: Celebs built the fame of South Beach, and now, they come here to stoke the fire of their own fame.
These days, the most famous thing on South Beach is South Beach itself. The new Legoland Florida even has a Lego-block re-creation of Ocean Drive. In 1993, South Beach seemed limitless, and as it turned out, this really is a town without limits.
These 20 famous faces defined our social scene—sometimes in the blink of an eye
1. King of the Casa: Gianni Versace and his villa, Casa Casuarina, made Miami chic. His horrific murder on its steps immortalized it.
2. Material Magic: Madonna had a social orbit at her Brickell Avenue mansion.
3. Rocky Style: Sylvester Stallone hyped movies and dated models here. Then, he married, sold his house, and, just like that, he was gone.
4. Hometown Homeboy: Years after “Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice is renovating South Florida properties on the show The Vanilla Ice Project.
5. Star Quality: Rosie O’Donnell bought a Star Island home in 1999.
6. Conga Girl: Gloria Estefan owns Ocean Drive properties such as Hotel Cardozo and Larios on the Beach.
7. Power Player: Before becoming a brand, Sean “Diddy” Combs played an Ocean Drive anniversary party.
8. Lo Rider: An Ocean Drive two-time cover girl, J.Lo was ours before Diddy ramped up her fame.
9. Daddy Damon: Matt Damon fell in love with a bartender from Cameo—marriage and kids ensued.
10. King James: Miami loves winners out on the town, and the Heat’s LeBron James plays as hard as he, well, plays.
11. Post-Menudo: International star Ricky Martin finds the strength to come out of the closet and have kids—a South Beach success story.
12. Best Man: Rupert Everett recounts living in Miami Beach in his book Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins.
13. Love Symbol: Prince opened his club Glam Slam in 1994, in what is now Mansion.
14. Club Mickey: Miami Beach High School grad Mickey Rourke owned the forever-shady Mickey’s of the mid-’90s.
15. Designer Rocker: Lenny Kravitz was one of the early fabulati; he recently designed parts of the SLS South Beach and condo Paramount Bay.
16. Fresh Prince: Will Smith filmed three flicks here and, of course, had a 1998 hit with “Miami.”
17. Airy Heiress: Paris Hilton is made for Miami—sunny, empty, and as vaguely cool as a January morning. Still around, she encapsulates what Miami fame is all about.
18. Big Bash: Sean Penn was a partner at the 1993 Bash nightclub, whose opening was attended by Johnny Depp and Timothy Hutton.
19. Midas Tush: Kim Kardashian found destiny on South Beach, turning ordinary product launches into frenzied media events. She graced our cover, too.
20. Mr. Worldwide: One of our own, Pitbull hustled his way into fame, immortalizing his hometown spirit in “Don’t Stop the Party.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY manny hernandez