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EXTRA: What About Willie Fulgear?

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

Now that most of the stolen statues have been found, the big question is this: Will Willie Fulgear watch the 72nd Annual Academy Awards in person, like the hero he seems, or on TV, like a common citizen? Oscars: As found by Willie Fulgear Fulgear is the 61-year-old Los Angeles scrap collector who literally stumbled upon 52 stolen Oscars on Sunday night. The police, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the trucking company that the trophies were stolen from (allegedly by two employees -- one of whom prosecutors declined to press charges against) have all publicly thanked Fulgear, but so far they've stopped short of doing what seems like the obvious: giving the man the $50,000 reward and a ticket to the festivities at the Shrine Auditorium.

Ask the folks behind the Oscars, and you'll get a glib answer. "I haven't booked him. … It's an idea. I haven't thought of it, but it depends on what Bruce can write for him," Lili Fini Zanuck, producer of the Academy Awards show, told Hollywood.com's Sandy Kenyon today.

Zanuck was referring to Bruce Vilanch, the head writer for the telecast. And Vilanch was equally flip on the topic of Fulgear. "Well, somebody may drop out. I mean, it's entirely possible," he told Kenyon. "Do you think he knows the lyrics to that song from 'Magnolia.'?"

Here's the problem: Although Fulgear's not a suspect in the theft, Fulgear is still part of the Los Angeles Police Department's investigation into the crime. Any reward or invitation may have to wait until the case is fully closed -- and by that time, the Oscars will probably be in the distant past.

"Any time something like this is missing and you find it, you're automatically the No. 1 suspect," a somewhat-resigned Fulgear said today in an interview with radio station KLSX-FM in Los Angeles.

But, make no mistake, Fulgear wants the reward money, and he thinks he's entitled to it. He says he'd like to invest in something, maybe a house, and leave it for his 22-year-old son, whom Fulgear has raised alone. The two now live in a small one-bedroom apartment, near the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.

And he wants to go to the Oscars.

"If I'm invited, I'm definitely going," he said to KLSX. "Me and my son."

In a year when the Academy Awards have been stricken with bad luck -- Oscar ballots lost by the post office, snoopy Wall Street Journal reporters threatening to give away the winners and then the theft of the statues -- Fulgear's find was a rare bit of good news. Inviting the bottles-and-cans collector to the awards ceremony and featuring him on the telecast, even for a moment, seems like an ideal publicity stunt.

But the Academy won't say whether Fulgear -- a transplanted former rock 'n' roll singer from Mississippi -- will get a TV appearance as part of his 15 minutes of fame.

"No decision is being made with regard to the reward, or an invitation for Mr. Fulgear to attend the awards, until the police department's investigation is completed, and we don't know when that will be," Academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger reiterated today.

Fulgear said he's confident that he'll eventually get the reward and a seat at Sunday's black-tie affair. Whatever happens, he said he doesn't regret turning in his most valuable scrap-metal booty ever (the gold-plated statues are worth about $18,000) to the police.

"I never thought about keeping them," he said in the radio interview.

"I did eight days in jail one time, for a parking ticket. I can't take jail. I wasn't thinking nothing like that. It ain't worth it."

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