June 24, 2010 -- Maybe they're not on the cover of Star magazine every week. Maybe Hollywood executives aren't banging down their doors. Maybe they're not even alive anymore.
No matter. They're getting a ton of love from the Internet, in the form of digital works of art that pair them with elements both incomprehensible (sandwiches and waterfalls) and awesome (the aforementioned sandwiches and waterfalls.)
"Sad Keanu" is the latest Internet meme, or quickly-spreading trend, to give a star a second wind. In May, a paparazzo snapped a series of photos of a downtrodden-looking Keanu Reeves sitting on a park bench, eating a sandwich and looking glum about the world.
He may not have been moping. He may have just been lost in a Reuben-induced haze. But Keanu fans on the Internet looked at the photo, looked at his "I'm probably not trying to impress any casting directors right now" beard, looked at Wikipedia to learn that he hasn't had a major box office hit since 2005, and concluded: Keanu needs some cheering up.
So was born Sad Keanu, which Photoshopped the original image of the actor into new and fantastic scenarios. One Sad Keanu picture gives him bench mates: Forrest Gump and David Beckham. Another sets him up at the "Cheers" bar with George Wendt. Yet another plops him in Kim Jong Il's family portrait. Others surround him with cats, miniature Sad Keanus, and Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.
Sad Keanu spawned a Facebook movement -- whose 14,000-plus members celebrated Cheer Up Keanu Day on June 15 -- and a URL shortener -- http://kea.nu -- that lets fans share Sad Keanu pictures while benefitting the charity Stand Up 2 Cancer.
But the actor isn't loving all the attention. When ABCNews.com requested comment from Reeves, his representatives sent back this e-mail statement: "Keanu Reeves would like to thank all of his fans for their concerns regarding his happiness and wants to assure everyone that all is well. This situation is a result of a misinterpretation of a paparazzi shot."
Sad Keanu Follows Selleck Waterfall Sandwich
In addition, Splash News, which owns the rights to the original photo, invoked the Digital Milennium Copyright Act to keep Internet illustrators from creating new Sad Keanus.
Now that's really what's sad. If Reeves had followed the example set by Betty White -- who welcomed a tidal wave of Web attention after starring in a Snickers commercial during the 2010 Superbowl -- he could be hosting "Saturday Night Live" with his "Bill and Ted" co-star, Alex Winter (remember him?), next season.
"Her whole career was revived via the Web and the reason why it was successful is because she had a really great attitude about it," said Jessica Amason, viral media editor of BuzzFeed.com, a site that tracks what's surging in popularity online. "Think about how much more successful he would be if he embraced it."
"It's a much more positive meme than a lot of other ones that are more mocking," said Nick Douglas, senior editor of Urlesque.com, which also explores Internet phenomena. "The problem with Sad Keanu right now, of course, is that they're complying with the take-down from the photographer who took the original photo. But this was a parody -- if there was anything I'd love to see a celebrity do when they get memed, is somehow set a legal precedent that this kind of parody is fine."
Before Sad Keanu, there was Selleck Waterfall Sandwich, a meme that is exactly what its name suggests: a collection of photo mash-ups of "Magnum P.I.", cascades of water and bread-enveloped meat.
Bea Arthur Mountains: Another Celebrity/Food/Land Mass Mash-Up
"Tom Selleck's mustache spoke to me in Portuguese and told me to 'make this dream a reality,'" Szmurlo said. "But on second thought, the mustache insisted on the use of a waterfall setting instead of a meadow."
Selleck did not respond to requests for comment. Perhaps he was too busy laughing at the photo of his "Three Men and a Baby" character trying to shield an infant from a Monte Cristo threatening to tumble down a waterfall? (Perhaps he was eating a Monte Cristo sandwich?) Point being, he let the meme ride on.
Bea Arthur scored similar attention from the blog bea arthur mountains pizza. Like Selleck Waterfall Sandwich, it requires no further explanation. The Photoshop ode to the "Golden Girls" actress appears to have been created after she passed away in April 2009 -- too late to affect her career, but a sweet, tongue-in-cheek tribute nonetheless.
Celebrity memes aren't going away. Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber thrives; it's probably only a matter of time before a blog dedicated to another 1980s/'90s icon (Scott Baio, anyone?), volcanoes and ice-cream emerges. Those who embrace Web revolutions in their name -- Conan O'Brien, Betty White -- will prosper, those who don't will ... well, what's Reeves up to these days?
The moral of the story, for celebrities: Next time the Internet lovingly pokes fun, wink back.
"The rule of thumb on the Web is if you can't laugh at yourself, watch out," Amason said. "the Internet is this land of frenemies, you have to walk that line and embrace it and if you don't, they'll release the hounds."