Pizzazz pays off big for teenaged 'slob'
By George Gamester
LET'S face it, friends.
The teenaged manager of the Pastissima shop at First Canadian Place in the early '80s was not a model employee.
As his boss, Dick Butti, recalls: "Key wasn't very good at showing up, cleaning up or dressing up."
"But I must admit a lot of the customers liked him. The guy had pizzazz."
That he did, and Dick wasn't the only one to notice.
Key's friend, Alan Powell, observed how the brash teenager could charm the customers:
"You'd think he was some kind of connoisseur, the way he'd go on about all these pasta dishes, and what kind of wine they should serve.
"He was one of those guys who could talk to anyone about anything. He had confidence, charisma."
Not that Ke looked charismatic.
"He was always a slob," recalls Alan, now a North York writer. "He wore this crummy army jacket and drove a ratty old Volvo he called Dumpy."
Hard to believe his mother was a leading fashion designer. But Ke was always a little different - which is what you might expect from a guy who had a Hawaiian father, was born in Lebanon and bounced through four Toronto high schools in four years.
Next stop was an alternative school in North York, where he encountered Sharon Switzer, now a sculptor in Toronto.
"What I remember best about him was his magnetic personality. He had tremendous energy, combined with a sort of laid-back manner. Very popular with the girls."
But personality can only carry you so far. Carl Harrison, a teacher at North York's Alternative and Independent Study school, remembers Ke as an engaging guy who preferred beating him at squash to hitting the books.
"I think he brought out the maternal instinct in young women."
Is that what led Sharon to invite Ke to join her in classes at North York's Leah Posluns Theatre School?
"I had a hunch he might be interested in acting," recalls Sharon. "But I had no idea how he'd do."
Well, Ke did just fine. Rose Dubin, the school's director remembers:
"That kid came in and just blew us away. Tremendous stage presence, commitment, confidence and talent.
"You just knew he was going to be a star.
"Then one day he loaded up that old Volvo and hit the road. Next stop: Hollywood."
Yes, it's been an excellent adventure for this dude. You know him. Don't you?
Keanu Reeves, of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood today.