By his own self-deprecating account, Richard Dunn realizes he's already at "minute 13 of my 15 minutes of fame." But what a heck of a cyber ride, one that has taught him a valuable lesson about the planet's runaway Internet culture.
The 43-year-old suburban Atlanta resident never dreamed that a goofy self-shot music video of himself while recently waylaid overnight at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas would make him a viral celebrity.
The inside-joke video he made for his wife Elissa back in Atlanta has so far garnered more than 11 million hits on numerous websites.
Dunn, a lighting designer for corporate events, posted the five-minute video on YouTube on Sunday before going to church. By the time he got home, the slapstick romp though a largely-empty airport had been viewed hundreds of times.
The next day, the hits had soared into the thousands. By Thursday, it had reached into the millions, viewed in more than 150 countries, he said.
"Every time I refresh my computer, the hits go up by a few thousand," he told the Los Angeles Times. "The first time I watched it, I thought it was funny, but then again, I was tired. I had no idea."
He's right about that: He had no idea.
The video, set to a Celine Dion version of the song "All By Myself," has even prompted a response from the the singer herself, who joked that she'd give him free tickets to one of her shows if he ever returns to Las Vegas.
Here's how it all came about: Dunn was leaving Las Vegas after a professional event last Thursday, when he learned that his 3:05 p.m. Delta Air Lines flight was overbooked. After consulting with his wife, he accepted $400 to give up his seat, knowing that he might be bumped from the 11:15 p.m. flight as well.
And that's what happened.
While Delta had offered to put him up in a hotel room overnight, he realized that he would only get about four hours of sleep before his 6 a.m. flight Friday. It wasn't worth the hassle, he told himself.
"So I decided to hang out in the airport. But I told myself that I wasn't going to waste the entire night doing nothing, so I decided to make a stupid little video, put some music behind it and send it to my wife. I wanted to see if I could make her laugh. That was the end of it."
He got online at the airport and looked for songs that would capture his sense of loneliness -- by himself, without his family, in a strange city.
"I saw the Celine Dion version of 'All By Myself' and thought 'Are you kidding me, that's phenomenal. It's perfect.'"
In another creative stroke, he decided to lip-sync to the song while sitting, lying and standing at various places at the airport.
The video begins with a preface: "What do you do when you're stuck at the Las Vegas airport overnight? Shoot a music video with your iPhone, that's what."
The production shows various airport scenery: destination boards; shots of crowded terminals dissolving into the same scene without people. There are scenes of him going up and down escalators; on a people-mover; forlornly sitting on the floor in front of the women's bathroom. He used a wheelchair to capture moving shots.
He lounges by a giant turtle statue, stands behind the Delta ticket counter and later lies on top of it. He also opens his button-down shirt Superman-style to reveal an "I [heart] Las Vegas" T-shirt.
He shot the video between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
"If you knew me at all, you'd know that I've made 30 or 40 of these dumb little videos to be seen by 30 or 40 of my friends," he said. "As I said, I thought it was funny. But only because I was tired."
He looked at his footage on the plane and put the video together once he got home. He later showed it to his wife.
She loved it. He posted it.
"Normally, nobody cares about my stuff," he told The Times. "I'm lucky to get one response from my friends when I post something. By Sunday night the shares were in the hundreds and I thought 'What's going on? Am I missing something?'"
One theory, he says: People rarely see deserted airports. Had he shot it inside a mall or bus terminal, nobody would have cared.
But he's also learned a few sobering lessons about Internet culture.
"What happened to me was really terrifying, in a way," Dunn said. "At the 5,000 mark, I realized that I'd lost control over my own work. It made me realize just how crazy real time really is."
Soon after the number of hits began to soar, so did the biting comments.
"People said I was lying, that I didn't do it myself, that I couldn't make a video like this my myself. People said I stole the Las Vegas T-shirt from a shop after it closed. What scares me is that opinion is fact on the Internet. People read someplace I'd stolen the shirt, and then the attacks grew."
Other cyber critics blasted Dunn as a show-off and a glory hound. One blogger wrote a post complaining that his video wasn't even that good and asking why he got the fame and attention she'd been seeking for so long.
"And I thought: Are you kidding me?" he said.
Still, he'd do it all again. But after so much attention, even his wife, Elissa, has changed her mind.
She told The Times: "We were sitting there the other day and I told him: "I'm growing tired of that song. I can't get it out of my head.'"