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Jewish Journal

The Most Interesting Jew in the World

Dos Equis’ pitchman is Jewish actor living in Marina del Rey.

by Adam Wills

May 4, 2010 | 5:32 pm

“He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself,” a disembodied voice states.

“He is the Most Interesting Man in the World.”

Seated at a table, surrounded by beautiful women, a bearded man with salt-and-pepper hair looks into the camera: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.”

At a time when many viewers use DVRs to skip over TV commercials, Dos Equis gets people to stop and watch its ads for their potent blend of machismo and absurdist humor. The debonair Latin pitchman, a creation of Euro RSCG, appears one part Earnest Hemingway, one part Baron Munchausen. We learn his “beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”

But the actor who portrays the Most Interesting Man in the World is more likely to attend a bar mitzvah than a Quinceañera. Jonathan Goldsmith, 72, whose face and voice are now inexorably linked with one of Mexico’s top-selling beers, is a New York-born Jew who lives with his wife on a 50-foot Beneteau sailboat in Marina del Rey.

“It’s 47.3 feet,” he corrected during a recent phone interview. “It had a bris … it was 53 feet.”

Story continues after the jump.

Goldsmith says he had a nice career as a character actor before his Dos Equis stint, which began in 2007. He appeared in films, like “Go Tell the Spartans,” and television shows such as “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider” and “MacGyver.” “But I’ve never gotten the accolades that I’ve gotten since this wonderful campaign started,” he said. 

Given the campaign’s popularity, Goldsmith says he can’t venture outside without being recognized.

“I was sitting with my wife in a little Mexican restaurant that we love to go to for breakfast. A fellow came over and said … ‘I was speaking with my little boy yesterday, who is 7, and I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Unhesitatingly, he said, “I want to be the Most Interesting Man in the World.” ’ And on the other end of the spectrum, we were on a bus, and an elderly gentleman on a cane came over and said, ‘When I come back, I want to be like you.’ ”

When he auditioned for the Dos Equis role, Goldsmith said he drew inspiration from a renowned Argentine actor.

“I immediately thought of my friend, Fernando Lamas, who was a great raconteur and a sailing buddy of mine. … That was the first thing that came to my mind, and it stuck with me after that,” Goldsmith said.

Despite the grandiosity of the Dos Equis character, separating the actor from his Latin alter ego is not as easy as it might seem. Goldsmith has yet to arm-wrestle Fidel Castro, but he has led an interesting life that includes saving two people from certain death and rescuing tigers.

Born in New York to a gym teacher father and a mother who modeled, Goldsmith was brought up in a family with religious grandparents and a great-grandfather who founded a Brooklyn yeshiva. He attended Hebrew school and became bar mitzvah, but these days he keeps his observance to High Holy Day services.

“Wherever the tickets are less than flying to Paris, we’ll drop by,” he said.

Goldsmith is a vocal proponent for the S.A.B.R.E. Foundation, a tiger rescue organization in Nevada. He traces his love for the animal to a toy tiger he carried around during his early childhood.

“I just fell absolutely in love with it,” he said. “My zayde used to take me to The Central Park Zoo to [visit] the lions and tigers. Those were wonderful, wonderful days.”

Goldsmith met Peter Renzo of S.A.B.R.E. while living in Nevada City, Calif. At the time, he was introduced to two 30-pound tiger cubs. Several years later, after S.A.B.R.E. moved outside of Fernley, Nev., Goldsmith paid a return visit and found the cuddly cubs had become 700-pound adults. Renzo invited Goldsmith to step into the cage to feed one of the tigers by hand, and Goldsmith said the big cat wasn’t exactly intimidated by the Most Interesting Man in the World.

“He handled it very well,” Goldsmith joked. “I was a little bit nervous, but he looked like a Landsman, so it was alright.”

Among Goldsmith’s other charitable causes are Free Arts for Abused Children, which pairs artists with children in protective custody, and the Stella Link Foundation, a group calling attention to child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

In addition to helping children and animals in need, Goldsmith has rescued people from deadly situations on two separate occasions. Once, while hiking during a snowstorm, he found a man stricken with hypothermia and cared for him overnight until help could arrive the next morning.

The second incident occurred at Malibu Lagoon. 

“I noticed one girl who was in trouble right in front of everybody. I got her just as she went down. If I wasn’t there, she would have drowned 10 feet from her parents. It was just fortunate,” he said.

And while the Most Interesting Man in the World is portrayed with a Superman-like invulnerability, Goldsmith says he knows a thing or two about dying in front of the camera. During a career that spans more than 50 years, he has been drawn-and-quartered, shot, electrocuted and drowned, and Marshal Matt Dylan killed him on five separate occasions on the TV show “Gunsmoke.” But Goldsmith’s favorite death sequence was a public hanging in a movie of the week—the 1969 Western “Cutter’s Trail.”

“It was dawn in Kanab, Utah, and there were hundreds of extras. There was a long drum roll and a pronouncement. I had this long walk to the gallows, and then made some last-minute speech of defiance,” he said. “That was one of my favorite ways that I passed on.”

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