Nice Work If You Can Get It: The Man of a Thousand Theraputic Faces

nicework_icnAn occasional survey of jobs both unusual and extraordinary, and the people who make them happen.

Your average celebrity impersonator finds themselves working along the Las Vegas strip or in dinner clubs just outside the theater district, belting out pitch-perfect Lizas or Franks, sweating through motion-for-motion imitations of Rodney Dangerfield or Madonna. Not so for the versatile Kevin Coolidge, who boasts a near-limitless catalog of celebrity impersonations to his name and describes what he does as “Thera-personation.”

Charging $50,000 for a single one-hour session or $120,000 for a series of three, the willowy and unassuming Coolidge says he offers far more than a campy stage show or tacky drag performance.

“This is therapy at its most brutal and honest,” he tells us, sitting in what he calls his “professional space,” a loft apartment cluttered to the brim with books, clothing and wigs. “When you’re a celebrity, or really anyone in the news at any level, you find yourself under an almost intolerable amount of criticism. And your natural response, when you see nothing but negative news about yourself around every corner, is to give up on the real world and surround yourself with sycophants and yes-men, and all of this leads to very unbalanced personalities.”

Coolidge – who gave up smoking in case “tobacco breath ruined my impersonation” – drags unconsciously on a carrot stick as he flips through a photo album of his famous clients. There, in full color glossy 8×10 after 8×10, stand doyenne Ivana Trump, pugilist George Foreman, singer Katy Perry, music producer Mark Ronson,  director Martin Scorsese, dozens and even hundreds more – each standing shoulder to shoulder with an utterly identical doppelganger.

“What I do is to become the client, in all of his or her facets,” he says, “How they’re seen through other eyes, through their employees or through the tabloids, through the eyes of their fans, their family. I become them, I become every stark version of them, and they have to confront all of it, all their angels and demons.”

The startlingly high fee earns the client more than a one hour private performance through a twisted mirror; Coolidge prepares for his role by becoming part of the client’s staff or entourage, but always at a distance. “I learn their routines, I learn their tics and traditions, I capture their voice and their mannerisms. For this to work,” he says seriously over his carrot stick, “I have to become them down to the teeth.”

His range is impressive. The willow-thin impresario stands only a little over five feet and two inches, but he shows us a photograph of his brief tenure as European muscleman Dolph Lundgren, and the likeness is uncanny to the point where you suspect Photoshop or other computer effects play a role. Not so, says Coolidge, who even eats as his clients eat so that his breath smells the same as theirs. “Dolph enjoyed Ritz Crackers and Juicy Fruit gum,” to which he adds casually, “In moderation, of course.”

Equally impressive is the photographic evidence of his impersonations of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson, B-52 front man Fred Schneider or comic book celebrity Stan Lee. At our request, he zips through a catalog of vocal impersonations, nailing in quick succession pitch-perfect renditions of Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin and Jane Fonda. His duplications seem flawless, but in the end, there’s only one real question to ask: Does his system of starkly confrontational therapy dressed in the client’s clothes actually work?

“I’ll tell you this,” he says with a customary air of confidence, “Around the fifth or sixth time you find Mariah Carey crying on your shoulder, you know you’re making a breakthrough of some sort.”
– Jonathan Morris

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