A Marine poet who wound up on YouTube performing a rap-style piece about the post-Sept. 11 mission of soldiers has become a minor celebrity in the months since his story was told and identity revealed.
Staff Sgt. Lawrence E. Dean II, 30, was first featured on FOXNews.com in August, when he was just an unknown Marine in uniform doing a video on file-sharing site YouTube.
Since his 15 minutes of fame, according to the Cherry Point, N.C.-based serviceman, he has gotten an offer for a record deal; has been featured on the BBC; is booked through New Year's to perform at various events; has had his 9/11 poem translated into French; and is cutting a demo tape to send to the HBO/Def Jam Records show "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry."
No marriage proposals or requests for a date, though. And thankfully, no stalkers, either.
"Not currently," Dean said, laughing, when asked about proposals and crazed fans. "I haven't received any hate mail or anything like that, either."
Before the media attention, Dean was already well known throughout North Carolina, not only for his inspiring poetry but for his compassion and drive. Now, his star has risen a bit.
The soft-spoken, polite young man who goes by the stage name "Life" has been flooded with hundreds of letters and emails in the past few months — at least five a day, he said — and plans to answer each one personally. Not surprisingly, it's taking a while.
"I'm trying to get to everybody," Dean said. "They say the cup runneth over. It does."
The Conway, S.C., native said he turned down an offer for a recording contract from a small label called Fallen Soldiers Records, but he has agreed to perform for countless charity fundraisers, military functions and other events. His weekend schedule is packed through the end of the year.
He also wants to be on "Def Poetry" — a late-night HBO show hosted by Mos Def in which poets read and perform their work in front of a live audience — and plans to shoot his audition tape this week.
"It's just been real busy as far as spoken-word poetry is concerned right now," Dean said.
He also did interviews with the BBC, some military publications including Stars and Stripes and several local TV and radio stations. His poem was even translated into French.
The YouTube video of Dean reciting the poem he wrote about fighting for freedom became a cult hit on the site, capturing about a half a million views in only a couple of days and later getting close to a million.
In it, the aviation electronics specialist, who hasn't been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, talks not about what it's like to be at war, but why the armed forces answer the call to serve.
"We just defend the country, no questions asked," Dean explained in August.
He wrote the poem more than two years ago, when his grandmother challenged him to express what would compel him to fight. He'd already been profoundly affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a subsequent visit to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers used to stand in downtown Manhattan.
The 12-year career Marine recited the poem on camera last year, when a young, fellow serviceman asked him if he could film him so that he could send the video to his parents to explain why he was going to war. Unbeknownst to Dean, the clip was then posted on YouTube, presumably by the other Marine, and slowly made the rounds on the video-sharing site.
"She called," Dean says in the videotape as he stands before a U.S. Marine Corps crest hanging on a barracks wall. "From the bowels of Ground Zero, she sent this 911 distress signal because she was in desperate need of a hero ... and said, 'I am America, and I’m calling on the land of the free.' So they answered."
Among the charities he's agreed to recite his poetry for are the American Cancer Society and The More Foundation for underprivileged children. He opened for a military basketball tournament on base over the weekend.
Dean isn't interested in a record contract for now. It's all he can do to keep up with his performance schedule and his duties as a Marine.
He said he's grateful that his experience with YouTube and the resulting publicity have been so positive.
"It's been a real blessing," Dean said.