All 320 pounds of Keith Norton was squeezed into a booth at Diane’s Uptown on Columbus Avenue. He was dressed like he always is: T-shirt, sweatshirt, shorts, sneakers. His friends call him Kizzy. It was right before his daily workout at the Reebok Sports Center, where he is known as Cyrus.
“I’m not big on people knowing who I am because that’s how I keep my mystery,” he said. “And that’s how I keep getting what I want, because people don’t know who I am. I’m not out there.”
The 33-year-old Mr. Norton spent his last 13 years in Los Angeles-modeling, bartending, gambling-and he claims to be an information gopher, favor fixer or friend to stars such as Warren Beatty, Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Peter Berg, Woody Harrelson, Mickey Rourke and Val Kilmer, though it is not always clear what he actually does for them. Though Mr. Beatty does return his calls. Mr. Norton moved to Manhattan from Los Angeles in April.
One way Mr. Norton has gotten the attention of celebrities is by purchasing their names on the Internet before they do or by buying back the names from other, less scrupulous parties and giving them back to the celebrities. He is behind Celebsites.com, which boasts “official” Web sites of actors such as Mel Gibson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Denzel Washington. Mr. Norton says he is doing the celebrities a favor by keeping their names out of the hands of porn kings and unprincipled Internet profiteers.
“We’re just capturing the market,” he said over a whirring cappuccino machine. “We’re trying to conquer everything on the Internet with celebrities and Hollywood. Travolta’s is going up tomorrow and his is perfect. It’s got his old clips, all his movies from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, TV shows, interviews, his kid, his love of airplanes. We’re just locking them up.”
He said he has some 60 employees in Phoenix and Los Angeles designing the sites and dealing with publicists and celebrities. He says he has “locked up” 3,000 names, and that if a celebrity doesn’t want Mr. Norton protecting his Internet name, no problem, he’ll give it back. Recently lawyers for John Tesh, the host of Entertainment Tonight on CBS, came after him to get back Johntesh.com.
“He didn’t even register it! He registered Teshhead.com,” said Mr. Norton. “His lawyer came after me, sued me-tried to. I called him up, ‘What are you doing? I’ll give you your name back! Sue what ?’ I’m not selling any names, I’m not cyber-squatting. I’m not doing any of that.”
One day recently Mr. Norton was in his sublet apartment in a walk-up on the Upper West Side, on the phone with Warren Beatty. The actor had asked his help in getting his name back-specifically, getting Warrenbeatty.com from a guy in the Philippines who’d registered it a few years ago. Mr. Norton said he’d bought the name back easily, for $2,500 of his own money. He said that if Mr. Beatty or his lawyers had tried, the Filipino businessman would have probably asked for $100,000.
“I hate to be bugging you during your day,” Mr. Norton said to Mr. Beatty. “I’m fine, sir. Two things. Well, actually a lot of good things. You got quite a nice following on the Internet. In Voteforwarrenbeatty.com, there’s a really good fan who talks about all of these issues and he says, ‘We wouldn’t be having these problems if Warren Beatty were president.’ I mean, there’s some funny stuff, good stuff.”
They talked for a few minutes.
“I should be out there in about a month or so,” Mr. Norton said. “I’d love to have some lunch, thanks for the invitation. Thanks a lot, sir, bye-bye.”
What else does Mr. Norton do for the cream of Hollywood?
“In life, everybody likes excitement and entertainment and vice, and anybody’s got a question about anything about that, I’m the first one that gets the call,” Mr. Norton said. “The nicknames I got are like ‘He’s like a fountain of knowledge’. ‘He’s like a sponge.’ I can get any information-that’s what I’m good at.”
He didn’t want anything from the waiter. He was on a diet. No dairy, no bread, no salt, no sugar. I ordered grilled cheese with bacon. He groaned. “I’ll watch,” he said.
Mr. Norton has a roommate, named Les Senzon, an actor-bodyguard-stuntman who is 50 but looks 35, wears black leather pants and co-owns the Divine Bar on Liberty Street. He acted in Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels , and is an aspiring screenwriter.
They met in the late 90’s in L.A., where, according to Mr. Senzon, Mr. Norton was “like Hoover except he looks better in a dress. He can make a phone call and find whatever you need, anything from A to Z. If someone wanted to get a car, he knew someone that was a car dealer. If someone wanted weapons, he knew someone that was a-you know legal, all legal-weapons dealer. For some reason he was always able to look at things and see beyond everybody else’s visions.
“We were a gang of guys that ran together,” Mr. Senzon said. “None of us ever really dated girls per se. We were always traveling in packs. We were a rat pack of guys who wanted to climb up the ladder but who knew the lies and deceit and disloyalty of most of the people in the business, so we decided that we were going to stay together.”
They lost touch for a while, but reconnected two years ago.
“He went from rags to riches,” said Mr. Senzon. “Pulled up in a brand-new Mercedes-Benz. Took me to Vegas. He put me up in a hotel suite in Vegas for 30 days. You know, I’m a struggling writer. He says, ‘I’ll put you up, take care of you.’ So he takes me to the craps tables, says, ‘Watch.’ Throws the craps. He makes money for breakfast, he makes money for lunch, he makes money for dinner. A great gambler, almost to the point of being an idiot savant in the area of numbers.”
Mr. Norton grew up in South Boston, where his mother assigned referees to local school sporting events and his father was in charge of admitting incoming patients at McLean Hospital in nearby Belmont.
At 12, Kizzy started stealing cars. “I was a bad kid,” he said. “A bad influence. I could convince people to do anything.”
“I don’t remember reading a book or taking a test probably since sixth grade,” he said, though he excelled at athletics. At 17, he went to court for petty thievery (hub caps, stereos, bikes), saw his parents crying and decided he’d “never do anything ever again to make my mom and dad cry.” He was offered athletic scholarships to Boston College and Syracuse University but his G.P.A. and S.A.T. scores were too low. “I wanted to flunk because I knew home was where I wanted to be,” Mr. Norton said. But soon he was off to Los Angeles, where he ran 10 miles a day and hung out at the gym with Mickey Rourke, who offered him an extra bedroom in his loft.
“What I learned from that situation is any time someone had something bad to say about Mickey Rourke, I knew a 100 percent it was an all-out lie,” said Mr. Norton. He befriended Ari Emanuel, who now runs the Endeavor talent and literary agency, and moved onto the floor of Mr. Emanuel’s “$500 a month slum.” The two attended premieres and parties.
“Ari just guided me,” said Mr. Norton. “Ari said, ‘Listen, we ain’t nothing now but we’re gonna be something, just ride this wave.’ He had the best line: ‘Before we see the rainbow, we gotta go through a few thunderstorms!'”
He also became friends with an actor named Paul Gleason. “He’s the prick in The Breakfast Club , he’s the teacher,” said Mr. Norton. “He’s the one who introduced me to the older crowd. Brando. Duvall. Pacino. He put me into the old culture. He knew Clark Gable’s son, he introduced me to Hollywood. This was ’89, and I couldn’t believe it, I was 21 at the time, 22.”
(“You call him if you ever want any information,” said Mr. Gleason of Mr. Norton. “The first time I ever heard the expression ‘e-mail’ was from him. He was always Mr. Insider. Like he would know whoever was being cast in a movie before it was ever announced. He’s infamous, he’s the real Dana Giacchetto, without the larceny in the heart.”)
In 1993, Mr. Norton and Mr. Emanuel attended an Internet conference in Las Vegas. “It was an ‘Internet as the future’ thing,” Mr. Norton said. “And they said it was going to be good and everybody’s going to want it, and everybody’s got vices, so they’re gonna want celebrities, they’re gonna want gambling, they’re gonna want adult stuff, they’re gonna want to buy stuff, and I said, ‘Oh, this is something I should get into.’ So that’s what I got into.”
Mr. Emanuel had Mr. Norton research this Internet thing. “I’d have to read 30 newspapers and 30 magazines every day,” he said. “And anything that said ‘Internet’ I’d have to clip it out and put it in a folder, and at nighttime, I had to leave the folder on his bed.”
Mr. Norton plunged in himself. In 1996 he set up a sports gambling Web site, with offices in Venezuela and Costa Rica. But when the Feds made a friendly call, he bailed out. “They said, ‘We know what you’re doing, it’s not legal, it’s not illegal …’ and that was it for me,” said Mr. Norton. “Why dance with the devil? I want to sleep like a kitten.”
So he focused on celebrities. To ingratiate himself, he did some free cleaning up of the sites already out there. To find who was peddling famous names, he started some bogus adult Web sites (Nakedcelebrities.com) and put the word out he wanted to pay big money for celebrity nudes. In the process, he got the names, numbers and Web sites of the merchants.
“So it was like me being an underground Fed, a sting, I had a whole list of 50 or 60 people who were selling celebrity pictures,” he said. “I had their addresses, their phone numbers, and I was dealing with them, I sent them a little check under a bogus account, so they knew I was in good faith, I was for real. And the next thing you know, I put the big hammer down on them. I didn’t say who I was, I passed it on, I went to somebody else, we sent them a letter to their house and we scared them, and then all of a sudden like 85 percent of them shut down.”
He also contacted porn marketers, who had registered celebrity names such as Deniserichards.com to lure people to their X-rated sites, and paid them around $800 for the trademarked names.
In one case, he said, he found pornographic Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid animation and sent it all to Disney, who sort of said thanks.
“I figured this is something I had to do,” he said. “Because if you’re an 11-year-old girl and you’re a big Disney fan, next thing you know you’re going to an animated X-rated movie, you know?”
Mr. Norton also took action when nude shots of Brad Pitt showed up in 1996. The site was run by some Brad Pitt fans; Mr. Norton offered to let them be a part of an official Web site he was building if they cleaned up their site. He says they agreed, though he had to bribe one with a signed Interview with The Vampire poster.
To finance Celebsites.com, Mr. Norton said he made $300,000 by caddying for a golf hustler named Skittles and $700,000 gambling and playing high-stakes golf. The site hasn’t made a dime, but down the road, he sees big things.
“Movie clips. Behind-the-scenes stills. Contests,” he said. “If you want to win an ‘Eat Lunch with Mel Gibson on the Set,’ you’re gonna get a hundred thousand people e-mailing you and filling out a big data profile on them, because they have a chance to be an extra in Mel Gibson’s movie. So now all of a sudden we’ve captured a hundred thousand that are involved in the entertainment industry. We know their age, their height, their weight, what city they’re from, so now we’ve got a big database and a big thing.”
Meet the Roomies!
Mr. Norton said he’s been trying to lose weight, and that two poker champs bet him $100,000 that he couldn’t lose 100 pounds in five months.
“They’re doing it to inflict pain on me,” he said. “It’s not about the money, they’ve made their millions. They’re doing it for the agony. When they see I’m at a party or I’m at a premiere where there’s a lot of good desserts and food-that pain that I have to sit through, that’s why it’s worth their money.”
Mr. Norton’s one-bedroom apartment is around the corner from the Reebok Sports Club; he’s subletting from an investment banker who’s in Jerusalem now and who probably doesn’t know that the current occupants don’t feel the need to lock her front door. One recent day, ESPN was on, the sound off. There was a pungent socks smell. Another guy, a waiter and TV actor named Angelo DiMascio Jr., who goes by the nickname Tango, has been crashing there, too, along with Mr. Senzon. Of Mr. Senzon, Mr. Norton said, “He doesn’t have an I.D., he doesn’t have a license, he doesn’t have a social security card. You’re looking at a phantom . He’s never paid taxes, he’s never gotten a check, he’s never had a job.”
When I asked Mr. Senzon what he did in addition to writing screenplays, he said, “If I hear in a conversation that somebody needs something, I find it. If someone wants to get rid of something, I’ll help them get rid of it. Whatever you want to do, that you need in your life or want to get rid of, I will find that person to do that for you.”
“At a price,” Mr. Norton added. “He’s considered a cleaner. A vacuum and a cleaner.”
Mr. Senzon added that he was able to procure weapons and “big cash.”
A shapely woman named Sheila, a 39- year-old blonde who said she was a scuba instructor, showed up. She’d been staying at the apartment, too.
Mr. Norton called up Celebsites.com on his computer.
“Here’s Brad’s. It’s a nice one,” he said. “Stephen Dorff’s a good one, too. Peter Gallagher’s came out good. Watch the letters of his name. Because he’s more of a theater guy. Tony Danza’s like a little New York thing. His actual son works for us. His actual son is like a genius. And here are all the fan sites for John Travolta. See how it spiderwebs? We’re controlling the community.”
He said Celebsites.com’s home page gets 70,000 hits a day. He pointed to all the links under Brad Pitt’s name. “You want to go see all of them,” he said. “You want to go see all your Brad Pitts.”
What does he think of celebrities?
“I associate with them, and I know them, but I never ever once looked up to one,” he said. “I will never ever look up to one. A celeb is a celeb, they’ve done what they had to do.”
He said he’s most happy in the background. “My lifestyle is perfect,” he said. “I don’t really deal with that many people. I do my own lifestyle. I wake up when I want, I sleep when I want to sleep, I work when I want, I eat when I want. I don’t like listening to anybody. So that’s how I like to live my life.
“I don’t think I ever have a bad day. Every day is like winning the lottery. I wake up, every day just as good. I go to bed looking forward to the next day and I wake up looking forward to the future.”