Careers of Former Stars Renewed by Social Media

December 27th, 2012

REMEMBER ME? From left: Jennifer Grey, George Takei, Justine Bateman and Sally Jessy Raphael are among the former stars who have kept their celebrity alive by posting frequently on social media sites.

IN the 1990s, Sally Jessy Raphael was the doyenne of daytime television, a bespectacled redhead whose mild, auntish mien belied the sensational tabloid fodder that her syndicated talk show was built upon.

These days, Ms. Raphael, 77, is exposing her edgier side on social-media sites. Words like “homies” and “haters” are a part of her everyday lexicon. She enjoys absinthe. She’s a fashion fanatic who’s as comfortable donning Forever 21 as she is Chanel. She listens to cool-kid music like Girl Talk and supports the Russian punk rock troupe Pussy Riot, some of whose members have been imprisoned. She expertly spoofs “Jersey Shore” and the Kim Kardashian sex tape on YouTube.

This new, sassy and sardonic Sally is the one who has become familiar over the past couple of years to the thousands of people who follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“Sally Jessy Raphael is the best on Twitter,” one of them wrote recently on Tumblr, another platform where Ms. Raphael appears to be enjoying a modest comeback. BuzzFeed, the popular arbiter of all things viral, dubbed her “The Queen of Social Media.”

Without social-networking platforms such as these, “I think I’d be in, ‘Is she still alive?’ heaven,” Ms. Raphael said in a phone interview from the 55-acre farm in Dutchess County, N.Y., that she shares with her husband, Karl Soderlund, and their four affenpinschers.

If the social web is what made Internet phenoms like Ms. Kardashian and Justin Bieber famous in the first place, it’s also giving Ms. Raphael and others who have veered into the Hollywood hinterlands a much-welcomed second wind — or, at the very least, a medium by which to rebrand and reintroduce themselves.

No longer must celebrities of yore resort to appearing on campy reality shows to remind the public they exist. Over the past two years George Takei, best known as Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original “Star Trek” series, has cultivated more than 3.7 million followers combined on Facebook and Twitter. (He did appear, however, on “The Apprentice” earlier this year, and on a British reality show in 2008.)

In November, Mr. Takei, 75, joined Tumblr; The Los Angeles Times described his blog there, “Are you talking to meme?” as “goofy, surreal, and nerdy with just a touch of political activism,” and noticed that most of his posts were receiving more than 600 comments apiece.

After thyroid cancer destroyed Roger Ebert’s ability to speak, the film critic and former television personality found a voice of sorts on Twitter, where he pronounces on movies, politics and just about everything else to nearly 800,000 followers.

“A @rogerebert tweet is worth as much traffic as a small Digg or Y Combinator hit,” Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic noted earlier this year. “Crazy. That’s some distribution power.”

Mr. Ebert’s 2.0 persona has also earned him a large following for a new film Web site and helped raise the profile of an annual film festival in his native Illinois.

A fellow avid tweeter and a former child star, Soleil Moon Frye, otherwise known as Punky Brewster, is having a lucrative new career as a mommy blogger with her own Web series and an e-commerce shop for children’s clothing. Ms. Frye, 36, has parlayed her Internet stardom — 1.5 million Twitter followers and 112,000 Facebook likes — into a job as a contributor on NBC’s “Today.” In September, she took over the show’s Twitter feed for an hour. “Watch out, world!”  an NBC blog post proclaimed.

Justine Bateman (Mallory from the popular 1980s sitcom “Family Ties”), 46, has attracted more than 88,000 Twitter followers while developing a digital consultancy. She has also enrolled in the computer science program at the University of California, Los Angeles; she blogs about it on “College Life,” one of her two Tumblr pages. (She also used Tumblr to promote “Wake Up and Get Real,” an Internet talk show she hosted with Kelly Cutrone, a fashion publicist.)

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