Fifteen years ago, Almost Famous—Cameron Crowe’s poignant, semi-autobiographical film about going on tour with rock stars in the 1970s and writing about it for Rolling Stone—was released in theaters. The film launched Kate Hudson’s career and won Crowe his (so far) only Oscar. Here are some rockin’ facts about the classic rock-driven movie.
1. THE ORIGINAL ENDING INVOLVED NEIL YOUNG.
In 2015, Cameron Crowe told Vanity Fair that he intended for the film to end on Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand) playing the family Neil Young’s “On the Way Home.” “In the end, we decided not to hear that song or her dialogue, and to let the sequence live in a montage as the Stillwater tour bus drives away to the sound of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tangerine.’ That song was more eloquent in its summary of the movie than any spoken words,” Crowe said.
2. KATE HUDSON RESEARCHED GROUPIES AND ROCK STARS’ WIVES FOR HER ROLE AS PENNY LANE.
In a 2000 interview with The Morning Call, Kate Hudson said she prepared for the role of Penny Lane by listening to a lot of classic rock music, reading former groupie Pamela Des Barres’ book I’m With the Band, and interviewing the wives of rock stars. “You look in their eyes and you see a sadness,” Hudson said. “You can tell how much they lived, and how jaded it gets in that world. But, at the same time, they knew what they were getting themselves into.”
3. CAMERON CROWE’S MOM LIKES THE FILM, EXCEPT FOR THE BAREFOOT PART.
Frances McDormand’s character, Elaine Miller, is based on Crowe’s own mother, Alice, who has appeared in most of his movies (including Almost Famous). Before production began, Alice read the script and liked that the mother wasn’t too “shrill.” But it bothered her that Elaine walked around the house without shoes and socks. “She’s troubled by the fact that people will think she went barefoot,” Crowe told Amazon UK. “Which is kind of like saying, ‘Well, the murder is fine, but you had me commit the murder in a red dress, and I never wear red.’”
4. CROWE AND NANCY WILSON WROTE A LOT OF THE FILM’S SONGS ON THEIR HONEYMOON.
Crowe told Film Comment that while honeymooning in 1986 with his then-wife, Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, they holed up in a cabin in Oregon and created a fake band and wrote songs, “knowing sort of one day we might do a movie where we could use the stuff,” he said. “Almost 15 years later, those songs became a reality.
5. DESPITE BEING NOMINATED FOR FOUR OSCARS (AND WINNING ONE FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY), THE MOVIE FAILED TO BREAK EVEN AT THE BOX OFFICE.
DreamWorks decided on a slow rollout, so the film debuted in a paltry 131 theaters the weekend of September 15, 2000, but grossed a robust $2.3 million. One week later, when it was released on an additional 1000 screens, it grossed less than $7 million. The overall U.S. tally was $32.5 million. Add that in with the foreign take of $14.8 million, and it didn’t match its budget of a $60 million, nor did it come close to Jerry Maguire’s $273.5 million worldwide haul.
In 2001, Crowe told Entertainment Weekly why Almost Famous failed to capture a bigger box office: “Our movie about 1973 got its ass kicked by a movie from 1973,” he said, referring to the re-release of The Exorcist. With the release of two different DVDs in 2001, including Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, Almost Famous managed to find an audience.
6. GLENN FREY TAUGHT CROWE HOW TO CRAFT A PROPER BUZZ.
Russell Hammond, Billy Crudup’s character, was loosely based on Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and in real life Frey actually uttered the “Look, just make us look cool” line to Crowe. Frey also contributed a lesson on how to hold a drinking buzz, which Crowe scribbled down. “If you want to craft a buzz correctly, you walk into a party, you drink two beers quickly,” Crowe shared with Rolling Stone. “Then you drink a beer every hour and 15 minutes after that. You’ll always have a buzz and you’ll never get too embarrassing.” After their 1970s encounters, Crowe and Frey worked together again in 1996, when Crowe cast Frey as Dennis Wilburn in Jerry Maguire.
7. CROWE WROTE A PART FOR DAVID BOWIE, BUT IT DIDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE FINAL SCRIPT.
A publicist named Russell DeMay, who was based on The Beatles’s publicist Derek Taylor, showed up in earlier drafts of the script. “I wanted David Bowie to play that part,” Crowe told Film Comment. “I just thought it would be the greatest thing, rumpled white suit, and that was an important character that I'm sorry is not in there, because the publicist used to not be the buffer, the publicist used to be one of the band.”
8. PATRICK FUGIT HAD TO BE SCHOOLED IN CLASSIC ROCK.
Crowe and the production team received hundreds of audition tapes for the part of William Miller, but Fugit’s tape surprised Crowe. “Patrick was funny and kind of awkward and not jaded in the slightest. He was just a raw talent,” Crowe told The Washington Post. Crowe flew the Salt Lake City-based Fugit—who was born nine years after the movie takes place—to Los Angeles. Fugit thought Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull were solo artists, not bands, and at the time the only music he owned was a Chumbawamba CD. To educate Fugit, Crowe made him listen to classic rock. “He gave me all these albums from Led Zeppelin, The Who, Neil Young, David Bowie, Peter Frampton … He told me, ‘I want this stuff coming out of your pores,’” Fugit said.
9. CROWE THINKS THE MOVIE IS A LOVE LETTER TO MUSIC, NOT TO ROCK STAR DECADENCE.
Critics berated the film for its lack of sex and drugs, but in 2005 Crowe told Paste magazine that his rock star friends understood the film. “And it was those guys that were the biggest fans of Almost Famous that said, ‘Yeah, sex and drugs and stuff are a part of rock ’n’ roll, but a true musician never picks up the guitar at first because they just want sex and drugs.’ It’s usually because a record blew their head off, and they never could go back to whatever they wanted to be before. And that’s what I think Almost Famous is about—it’s about getting your head blown off by a piece of music, and everything else is secondary.”
10. THE FILM’S TITLE DERIVES FROM BEING ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF CELEBRITY.
Before Crowe produced the movie, the original title was Untitled and then The Uncool, but the studio told him he had to rename it. “I used to go to concerts and I would see Mick Jagger, then off to the side are these people standing by the amplifiers,” Crowe explained. “You look at them, and you think, who are they? Are they groupies? Are they friends of the promoter? Are they married to the bass player? Because they’re almost famous.”
11. THE CHARACTER OF PENNY LANE IS PARTLY BASED ON LIV TYLER’S MOM.
Bebe Buell dated a lot of rock stars back in the day, including Todd Rundgren and Steven Tyler (Liv’s dad). During an interview between Buell and Crowe in Talk magazine, Buell told Crowe about how in real life she twirled in concert debris just like Penny Lane does in movie. “I once did that in Madison Square Garden,” Buell recalled. “I couldn’t believe how small it looked without anybody in it. It looked like a basketball court. These rooms just come to life and look so huge and vibrant when they’re filled with people!”
“In the screenplay version, there’s a longer speech that Kate Hudson gave that I must say is a tribute to Bebe,” Crowe said. “It’s about how she first went to a concert and almost got crushed but was saved and pulled up on stage. The idea was Kate was saved and pulled backstage. They gave her a Coke and a lemon, and she never went home.” Crowe also revealed Jason Lee’s character, Jeff Bebe—who is based on Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and Free—was named after Buell.
12. ALMOST FAMOUS PURPOSELY CAPTURES A MORE INNOCENT TIME IN ROCK MUSIC.
When Crowe set out to make the film, he thought movies set in the early 1970s were missing a certain quaintness that existed at the time. “Mick Ronson, David Bowie's guitarist, died before we made the movie, and somebody got a deathbed interview with him and asked, ‘How did it feel to be at the ground zero of decadence in rock?’ And he said, ‘It was a very loving time and a very naive time, or at least it was to me.’ And I just thought that was profound,” Crowe told Film Comment. “But the whole global change in rock, cool being a mass concept, was still around the corner, so it was still a little more personal, and all I can say is passionately naive. And I really wanted to catch that.”
13. THE MOVIE REUNITED CROWE’S MOM AND SISTER.
In 2000 Crowe revealed to Rolling Stone that he and his sister, Cindy (Zooey Deschanel’s Anita in the movie), had a falling out after their dad died in 1989 and that his sister and mom had been estranged since then. “After my dad died, the chemistry of my family got f***ed up, and in my wildest dreams, I hope the movie helps my mom and sister communicate. They talk through me now, but three and a half weeks ago our family got together. The one fake scene in the movie—the reconciliation at the end—actually happened in its own weird way.”
14. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN WORE CROWE’S VINTAGE GUESS WHO T-SHIRT.
Crowe admitted to keeping many souvenirs from his days as a teenage rock journalist, including a T-shirt from the group The Guess Who. When William and Lester Bangs (Hoffman) meet at Sun Cafe, Bangs is wearing Crowe’s own T-shirt. “Lester dressed in promotional T-shirts, which was funny because his message was that corporate America is just around the corner ready to seize rock with merchandising and commerciality, but he had no problem wearing rock T-shirts,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. “They were free, and they fit.”
15. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP PAYS HOMAGE TO THE FILM.
One of the most famous moments in Almost Famous is when Russell stands atop a roof, high on drugs, and screams “I am a Golden God” to the teenagers below, then jumps into a pool. Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer prequel series has Chris Pine playing a Russell Hammond-like character who stands on top of a roof and riles the campers to sing a song with him.
It’s also revealed that Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is not a camp counselor but an undercover reporter for Rock ‘n’ Roll World magazine. In Almost Famous fashion, her editor tells her not to make friends with the campers, but she does anyway.