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Dying for cash, Postal Service to put living Americans on stamps

Clockwise from top left: Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Graham and Muhammed Ali have all been suggested.

Clockwise from top left: Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Graham and Muhammed Ali have all been suggested.

Could Bruce Springsteen bail out the U.S. Postal Service? How about Oprah? Is the twisted allure of using Madonna to send out your Progress Energy bill enough for you to ditch online banking and bust it old school?

In a move to stave off financial woes and death-watch buzz, the U.S. Postal Service on Monday announced that, for the first time, living Americans will be eligible to have their proud visages smacked on stamps.

Surely you remember stamps: tiny, sticky, square-y. Before we all filed our taxes electronically and wrote love letters with our thumbs, we used to do things the old-fashioned way.

You know, mail stuff.

Originally, someone would have to be dead 25 years before they were considered for grand stampitude. The Postal Service eventually dropped that time limit to 10 years and then, in January 2007, to five years.

Now, in hopes of reviving business — the USPS lost $2.2 billion in the second quarter of this fiscal year — select famous folks will enjoy their postage prestige while they can still hear people complain about the choice.

"The main criterion (for the honor) is outstanding contribution to the U.S.," says Stephen Kearney, executive director of stamp services for the Postal Service.

"We tried not to limit it up front," he adds, "although it is unlikely we would consider any politician currently serving in office or running for office."

So President Barack Obama is out, and probably Sarah Palin, too. You have to be American. So bye-bye, Canada's Justin Bieber.

Such luminaries as Michael Jordan, Ellen DeGeneres and Rush Limbaugh, as well as the Boss, Oprah and the Material Girl, have been suggested on the USPS Stamps Facebook page.

Dolly Parton is snagging votes; maybe she could be on one of those giant priority mail stamps! Willie Nelson has been mentioned, which, while a cool choice, makes me thankful we don't lick stamps anymore.

The Postal Service gets 40,000 suggestions for stamp honors every year; typically 50 finalists are selected, with the ultimate vote going to the postmaster general. Postal officials aren't sure how this gambit will pan out, but they're excited about the reaction.

"It's not that there aren't enough deceased people to honor," laughs Kearney. "We're just hoping to be more timely, relevant and meaningful."

He allows that his agency's fiscal burden is "part of the reason for this," but he's also a romantic at heart: "It can get people back in the business of writing letters. It's fun to send them, and it's fun to get them."

But some local philatelists don't see this rule twist as a definite boon. "The stamp hobby could sure use a stimulus," says John Frost, owner of Tampa's Gilder Shop Rare Coins & Stamps. "I hope it works."

Some readers have misunderstood the "living" part of the new deal. James Brown, Art Linkletter, John Wooden, Albert Einstein — all great, but all quite dead. (However, as of press time, Abe Vigoda is still eligible.) Others need to bone up on their geography. Bono is from Dublin, Ireland, not Dublin, Ohio.

But for the most part, the Great Stamp Debate has been fascinatingly smart. With all due respect to Maya Angelou and John Glenn — legitimate front-runners, as are war heroes and first-responders — some nominations celebrated a distinctive, and messier, brand of American individuality.

On tampabay.com, a reader had the chutzpah to suggest Hustler publisher Larry Flynt for his decades-long fight for freedom of speech. He won't make the cut; nor will Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock or Stephen Colbert: smart alecks unafraid of offering hot-button opinions when our country is so wickedly divided. But just considering their names makes for a more refreshing discourse about what it means to be an influential American.

Several tampabay.com readers e-mailed their stamp hopefuls. Dale Curtis voted for Colin Powell. Estelle Gordon wrote, "We would like to see Jack Nicklaus on a first class stamp." Warren Buffett, Wade Boggs and Aretha Franklin also got shout-outs. (The Queen of Soul should be a shoo-in.)

And may we suggest Stephen King? That guy can sell a million of anything.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com and (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.

Dying for cash, Postal Service to put living Americans on stamps 09/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 11:47am]
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