By Brittany Moseley
Fusion staff writer
Ray Campbell is half an hour late.
This would piss most journalists off, but I’m not fazed. Two years ago, Ray was my date for my sorority’s formal.
He didn’t arrive at the sorority house until we were boarding the bus to leave.
I was halfway between tears and anger when he finally made it. As soon as he said, “I’m sorry!” and kissed me on the cheek, I was under Ray’s spell. It’s happened to lots of people. He could tell you the sky is hot pink, and you’d believe him. He’s the guy who can rely on his name alone to get people to a party. He’s so ridiculously genuine and accommodating to everyone. Ray has the ability to one day plan the Democratic National Convention, says Jay Hayes, the adviser of Sigma Nu, Ray’s fraternity. He’s the guy who compliments every girl, no matter what she’s wearing. He has built a reputation on being nice to everyone.
“Max Weber called it charisma, and there’s no real way to measure it or define it, but you know it when you see it, and he’s got it,” says Hayes. “He is the most charismatic person I’ve ever met. He can walk into a room full of people and he can walk up to you, put his arm around you and the next thing you know, you’re best friends. It’s perfectly genuine. That’s just him.”
In his six years at Kent State, Campbell became the most well-known figure in the Greek community, if not the entire Kent State student population. Even those who don’t know him have probably seen him around. He’s always wearing a backwards Kent State baseball cap. He has a knack for saying things like, “I’m just being a dude,” or “What’s up, hottie?” In the words of Darla from “Little Rascals,” he has a smile that can make a girl “melt like a Popsicle on the Fourth of July.” Just check out his Facebook photos, and you’ll understand. Speaking of Facebook, he has 2,198 friends.
It’s a Thursday night in March. The Robin Hood is already packed, and it’s not even midnight. Two lines are forming outside. Inside, people are carefully weaving around tables and bar stools, balancing beers in each hand. Getting to the dance floor is a task in itself. Ray makes his way around the bar, saying hello, hugging girls, getting his friends drinks and manning the door.
As he stands on stage looking out at the mass of dancing people before him — a mass of people he’s assembled — it feels like the end of Ray’s marathon to Kent State stardom. Now that his popularity is literally paying off, you have to wonder, how much longer can he ride this for?
He gets paid to throw parties. He’s attended seven sorority formals and more than earned his reputation as a lady’s man. As his friend Jesse Meekins says, Ray Campbell is “that guy” at Kent State. The guy everyone wants to be around. The guy who’s not afraid of having gay friends or the shit he might take for being on the cover of this magazine. The guy everyone knows but doesn’t really know.
“There are so many rumors about Ray Campbell out there,” Ray says. “Half of them are true, and half of them I’ve made up.”
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Ray is recovering from his party at the Robin Hood the night before. After finishing his Wendy’s hamburger, he starts to talk.
He doesn’t stop for three hours.
Ten minutes into the interview, the two sides of Ray are revealed: the popular, crazy frat guy everyone loves and the witty college guy who has a tendency to ramble and sing along to Britney Spears.
Ray isn’t sure when or how he became so popular. Maybe it was because he was in a fraternity. Maybe it was because he was a Kent State cheerleader for four years. Maybe it’s because he has a penchant for stripping naked in public. (See next page.) However it happened, it was part of Ray’s plan since his freshman year.
“I remember, I was walking in the dark towards the Student Center one night and being like, ‘I want to take over this place,’” Ray says simply. No other explanation except ultimate takeover. Pretty lofty for a guy who describes himself in high school as “a bum athlete with a lot of acne.”
Although he’s been a prominent figure in the Greek community for years, Ray opened himself up to more people last semester when the Robin Hood hired him to throw parties every week. When Sigma Nu went on social probation last year due to falling grades and too much partying, according to Ray, the fraternity members started hanging out at the Robin Hood, a bar that used to be a local favorite but was losing business and popularity. When the owner offered Ray a job hosting parties, he was hesitant, but after the first went well, he was hooked. His parties have become a weekly tradition, attracting Greeks, non-Greeks and anyone who happens to walk past the Robin Hood Thursday night.
Anyone can gain a reputation for throwing parties, but Ray went beyond that. From pumping up the crowd at this semester’s basketball games, to participating in every Greek event on campus, Ray has become a master at self-promotion. His lifestyle may seem superficial to some, but Ray isn’t some frat guy who drinks too much and hits on every girl he sees, although he has been known to do both.
“I know three people who have said Ray Campbell has talked them down from suicide,” says Ray’s friend John Kozlik.
Ray shakes his head and opens his mouth to protest when I tell him this. He assures me it isn’t as heroic as it sounds. He does mention one friend and fraternity brother, who he prefers not to name. Ray wasn’t talking his friend off the side of a building or anything. All he did was what any friend would: He listened.
After a night of drinking, Ray’s friend was ready to go home, but Ray noticed right away something was wrong. His friend, who was in the military and served in Afghanistan, was having a tough time. That night he said he wanted to drive off the road. Ray wanted to make sure he got home safely. He ended up talking to his friend all night until he passed out. Later, he told Ray, if they hadn’t talked, he probably would have killed himself.
To an extent, Ray saved his friend’s life, but he’s uncomfortable looking at it that way. He may be the ultimate self-promoter, but he won’t compromise a friend’s trust for his own self-gain. It’s not something he wants to discuss. A part of him closes off when the topic comes up, and he’s eager to discuss something else. He doesn’t want to be pointed out for something like this.
“It’s not just me,” Ray says firmly. “It’s a fraternity. That’s what brotherhood means.”
The mystery surrounding Ray is part of the attraction. Few people know where he’s from or how long he’s been in school. His age varies from 25-30, depending on who you ask. It’s rumored he has millions of dollars in student loans. It’s actually only about $20,000, he says. As is true in most cases, the rumors surrounding Ray are much more extraordinary than the truth.
He’s a Catholic boy from West Park. He attended St. Ignatius, an all-boys prep school, where he played football and wrestled. His parents are divorced, and he has an older brother, Dave. His life sounds pretty typical — that is until Ray discovered acting.
When he quit the wrestling team, Ray became involved in his school’s theater program. After he graduated in 2000, he started pursuing acting through Cleveland’s independent film scene. He acted in two local independent films in 2002, but neither was released. In “The Pact,” he plays a character he says resembles Stifler from “American Pie.” In the horror flick, “The Summer of the Snowman,” he says he gets hacked up and killed.
Ironically, Ray’s biggest role is actually his smallest part. In 2003, he went to an open casting in Cleveland for “American Splendor.” The movie starred Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis. Ray got a callback securing him a spot as an extra in the movie.
“There’s an airport scene, and I really think this is what got the Oscar,” he explains as he stands up. He makes a motion to grab an invisible suitcase and walks across the room. “The thing is, that’s all I did, was just grab my bag,” he says, laughing and taking a seat. “I am in the movie for 45 seconds. It’s Paul Giamatti, (Hope Davis) and Ray Campbell, right in the middle. Like, I am in it for a long time — doing nothing!”
It’s difficult to say which is more surprising: the fact Ray was in an Oscar-winning movie or that few people know. Ray rarely mentions it. He doesn’t even list the movie on his résumé. Sure he likes to play up his big-screen debut if it comes up in conversation, but don’t expect him to brag about it to every person he meets.
In college, Ray got away from independent filmmaking and decided to concentrate on school. His decision to stay in college was even more difficult in 2003 after he spent two weeks in Los Angeles as part of the International Talent and Modeling Association. He got some callbacks, but Ray decided it would be best to graduate.
Now that he has, Ray plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He isn’t some starry-eyed kid hoping for a big break in Hollywood, though. He’s perfectly content to be in the background. “I’ve already won an Oscar being a background actor, so it can only go up from there.”
Every part of Ray’s life, from his past relationships to his crazy parties, has been mulled over by countless people, but the one thing people never tire of discussing is Ray’s never-ending college career. He became known as Kent State’s Van Wilder. Like most of the talk surrounding Ray, he doesn’t mind the comparison. In fact, he’s flattered.
“‘Van Wilder’ was way cooler and funnier and had way more boobs in it,” Ray says with only a hint of sarcasm. “I’m not at Van Wilder status yet, but I do get paid to party.”
Ray is the first to make jokes about his unusually long college experience. He once joked he’d been in school so long, why not shoot for 10 years? Still, he never planned to stay this long. After graduating from high school, he spent two years at Cuyahoga Community College West, which he calls “high school but with girls.” In 2003, he came to Kent State and spent six years here. He graduated last semester.
It’s impossible to get a straight-forward answer out of him as to why he took so long to graduate. He says he withdrew from a lot of classes if he failed a test early in the semester. He mentions his changing of majors from broadcast journalism to communications and finally to general studies.
But when you think about everything Ray’s done, from practically trademarking the brand “Ray Campbell” in his fraternity to being the face of the Robin Hood, can you blame him for wanting to stay? He’s created this Neverland where college never ends, and the parties never stop.
“The one thing (he and Van Wilder) share is a fear that they’re not going to be as great in the real world as he is in this place he’s created,” says Ray’s friend and Sigma Nu alumnus Andrew Meeks.
Still, even Ray knew he would have to leave eventually.
“I was busting my butt to graduate — for my family, my friends, for everyone who is just hoping Ray Campbell is doing something with his life,” he says. “Really, I feel like I’m doing it for other people too. I just don’t want people to be judging me like, ‘Oh my God, he’s still here?’”
Ray is indeed still here. He still lives in the fraternity house, and you can still catch him at the Robin Hood every week. In March, he was offered an internship with Kent State’s athletic department for the 2009-2010 school year. He will be in charge of in-game promotion and the marketing street team.
Even though he’ll still be around for another year, Ray knows his time at Kent State won’t last forever, and he finally seems ready to address that.
“Even though I’m working and getting paid, I still feel like I’m in college. I want to branch out. I want to make Ray Campbell global,” he says, only half-joking.
He may not be ready to leave Neverland just yet, but he is ready to admit his age.
“I’m 27 with a college degree, still living in a frat house, and I get paid to party. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to be.”