Bogus Bill Gates winding down career

Steve Sires has been impersonating Bill Gates for a decade now, and following him into retirement might not be any different.


Steve Sires has been impersonating Bill Gates for a decade now, and following him into retirement might not be any different.

Sires, who has a trademark on the name Bogus Bill, is toning down his second career, looking only to cherry-pick assignments that either pay well or bring him to a part of the world he has not seen.

The real Bill Gates is doing the same, including semi-retirement and travel to other parts of the world, even if his goals for those trips are somewhat different. He will leave his full-time post at Microsoft on July 1 to work full-time for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable foundation.

Sires, who is a dead-ringer for Gates - especially when his hair gets a little longer and scruffier than usual - no longer has an active talent agent, although his website remains online. He still lives about 45 minutes north of Gates, but despite numerous gigs he has worked for Microsoft as a stand-in for the chairman, he has never met him personally.

The alignment with Gates' retirement is happenstance. "I am basically winding it down," Sires says. "It's more coincidence than purposeful. I think it has run its course."

But what a course it has been: paying gigs in Greece and Singapore, film work and commercials, that all added up to good supplemental income for him (couch-cushion change for the real Bill) - but not enough to quit his day job as a civil engineer. His minimum fee just to appear is US$2,500, an amount he says keeps lunatics from trying to hire him for their beer bashes.

And all this for a guy who 10 years ago didn't even know who Gates was until his wife mentioned an ad in the local paper seeking a Gates look-alike. She pressed him to answer, and when he didn't, she did it for him. After a couple of weeks and phone calls from the agency, Sires went down for an interview - and the rest is history.

His most dramatic Bill-gig was playing the Microsoft co-founder in a 2002 mockumentary about police misconduct and cover-up in Los Angeles called "Nothing So Strange." In the graphic opening scene Gates/Sires is fatally shot in the head by an assassin and lies bleeding in the street. Sires, who is three inches shorter and two years younger than the 5-foot-11, 52-year-old Gates, says mockumentary director Brian Flemming still gets asked how he ever convinced Gates to appear in the film.

It was the most controversial work Sires ever took. He prefers to avoid jobs that cast Gates as a villain. But along the way he did help Sun and Red Hat "poke fun" at Gates via in-house videos or promotional stunts.

Sires isn't the only Gates look-alike, however. John Ranlett is another; he lives around Seattle and was featured in ComputerworldUK's sister publication Network World four years ago. He did not answer e-mail this time inquiring about his post Gates-retirement plans.

These days Sires prefers to find quiet time at home in rural Washington, where he has a couple of acres, some goats, chickens, cows and a big garden. During an interview, a rooster could be heard crowing in the background.

"[Impersonating Gates] is not near as fun as it was," he says. "There is a lot of pressure to perform." That is something the real Gates might also have been feeling, given slips in ship dates, battles with Google and simmering litigation.

"If it's a job I want to do, I will do it," Sires says. Recently he even worked as Bogus Bill for free with a Russian crew who came out to interview him as a look-alike. But he also recently turned down an offer from someone in the country of Oman to come out for a "meet-and-greet."

"They wanted to pay me $2,500 to fly half-way around the world. Oh my goodness, that is not very much money," he says. Clearly, Sires knows he doesn't have to be Bill Gates to understand the value of a dollar.

Despite the slowing pace of his look-alike work, Sires says he still gets seven or eight calls and a handful of e-mails every year.

Even though he portrays the larger-the-life figure Gates has become, Sires says he is not enamoured by the celebrity: "He is just someone else who wears pants just like I do." Sires says he gives money to charitable causes just like the real Bill, although he admits it is less than the $37.3 billion currently held by the Gates Foundation.

And there's the fact that Sires is also leaving his mark on Microsoft: His son works as a programmer for the software giant. "He is winding up his career," Sires says.

And perhaps on some level, Sires' son also will impersonate Bill Gates, one of the world's greatest coders.

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