Licky Witherspoon a fraud?

By Beth Norton

bnorton@nytimes.com

“Enthralled” is a word perhaps too often associated with what has become the Lickey Witherspoon phenomenon — a simple Google search comes up with 3,436,905 pairings of the terms “Lickey” and “enthralled” in critical reviews — but no other word comes close to capturing the reaction of millions of viewers when Oprah Winfrey pulled the rug out from Witherspoon live on national television last week.

Witherspoon at first tried to shrug off Winfrey’s increasingly combative series of accusations. He laughed — albeit a bit nervously — when she turned to page 346 of his latest allegedly “autobiographical” tome and then quoted a nearly verbatim passage from a little-known memoir of an obscure Indonesian fisherman. But all laughter ceased when Winfrey asked Witherspoon point blank why he had lied to her last spring about his supposed upbringing in a Texas whorehouse.

“I didn’t lie,” Witherspoon insisted. “To me, it was a whorehouse. Maybe to others it wasn’t. But to me, 1980s suburbia was the worst kind of brothel.”

The revelations didn’t stop there. The New York Times has since learned that Witherspoon, contrary to the picture laid out so colorfully in “Travels With the Garbageman,” never had sex with a baboon, did not miraculously recover from a rare case of bubonic plague, and never learned to speak Cantonese. In fact, Witherspoon isn’t even Witherspoon. His real name, as it turns out, is Jeff Bishop, who until eight months ago was an obscure small-town journalist living in the rural South.

Of course, “Witherspoon” still vigorously denies this.  His publicist stopped returning calls as of Tuesday afternoon, but in his latest public statement on the matter, Witherspoon says he was “ambushed” by Oprah. “I was unprepared and, frankly, shocked by the whole episode,” Witherspoon said. “I never claimed to be anything more than an entertainer. I gave the world what it seemed that the people wanted. No — what they NEEDED. And I suppose, like my father always said, no good deed goes unpunished.”

Rumors have surfaced of sightings of Lickey in Paris, but these are unconfirmed. His publisher says there is no recall planned of any of Witherspoon’s memoirs.

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“We were as dismayed as anyone, when we heard the allegations,” said one rep from the company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But we still don’t feel like we have all the facts. And the book is, frankly, selling more copies following the Oprah incident. Like Lickey says, we’re giving the people what they want.”

4 Thoughts on “Licky Witherspoon a fraud?

  1. I hate people who write to deadline for a living.

  2. And who grew up in whorehouses.

  3. marc on March 5, 2008 at 5:39 am said:

    I read the article before anything else and thought it was one of Dale’s “findings.” I thought immediately of a playwright I knew at CU, Ken Witherspoon, who I could easily imagine perpetrating such a scam. His African-Americaness also made it seem more possible that he’d be holding forth on Oprah. (He never returned a copy of Barthes’ S/Z that I loaned him.) You had me. Well done.

  4. Terry on March 8, 2008 at 1:43 pm said:

    This reads like it was written by a reporter. I believe we have a ringer in the group for this assignment – and a good one at that.

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