WAUWATONKA, WI–Unable to cope with the mounting pressures of local fame, local celebrity Randall "Herch" Herchwick, 51, shocked residents of this placid Midwestern community Monday with an uncharacteristically emotional outburst during an Elks Club Picnic at the Plefko County Fairgrounds.
According to witnesses, the popular WTNK Action News anchorman "snapped" after being submerged in a charity dunk tank, at which he had volunteered as a "human target." Following the humiliating dunking, Herchwick allegedly raised his voice and swore at several picnic-goers, storming away angrily and frightening a group of small children, one of whom reportedly began crying.
Described by town doctor Glen Hardale as "almost a nervous breakdown, but more minor," Herchwick's disturbing display is believed to have been brought on by the strain of 11 years of intense, unrelenting local celebrityhood.
"Being in the public spotlight each weekday at six on the Channel 15 NBC Action News, as well as Saturdays as co-host of Wauwatonka Live At Five, well, it's a lot of pressure for a man to face, I'd imagine," Hardale said of Herchwick, beloved by hundreds of Wauwatonkans, as well as residents of nearby Plovis and viewers throughout the greater tri-county area. "Local fame is, as they say, a harsh mistress. An ordinary fellow like you or me, or Pastor Bob or Don over at Hefke's Seed & Feed, can't imagine what it's like."
"Everywhere he goes locally, people recognize him," Hardale continued. "If he wants to enjoy any privacy or anonymity at all, he's pretty much forced to leave this three-mile-radius area."
Following the outburst, Herchwick was rushed to Dr. Hardale's office, where he was asked to lie down and rest while the doctor administered a mild sedative. He was reportedly also offered a cookie.
Early Tuesday morning, WTNK Channel 15 released the following statement: "WTNK and the entire Action News family is deeply saddened by this unfortunate turn of events, but we are confident that Randall Herchwick, or 'Herch' as he is affectionately known, will make it through this crisis and be back to bringing you the same level of telejournalistic excellence and service to his community that has established WTNK as Plefko County's leader for 'News You Can Use.' In the meantime, we ask all of you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers."
Rumors that Herchwick's outburst was the result of a fame-induced drug problem were quashed when lab reports revealed that the news anchor's system contained only over-the-counter antacids and a mild prescription antihistamine. Still, locals said, the strain of Herchwick's local notoriety has taken its toll in recent months.
According to Wauwatonka resident and regular Action News viewer Eileen Lund, the first sign of trouble came in February, when Herchwick seemed "stressed and even sort of irritable" during the taping of the ordinarily heartwarming "Thursday's Child" segment, during which he reaches out to a child in need. While taking a terminally ill boy on a tour of a cheese factory, the usually cheerful anchorman, Lund said, appeared bored and impatient with the child's questions about cheese and "seemed in a hurry to get the segment over with and go home."
"I watched it with my grandmother," Lund said. "Neither of us were heartwarmed at all, which I thought was unusual."
Over the past few months, Herchwick's behavior has become especially erratic. In April, he began covering his face when exiting his favorite eatery, the Portage Road Sizzler Steakhouse, shielding his identity from Plefko County paparazzi. Since early May, he has been spotted grocery shopping at Banjo's Food Ranch as late as 11 p.m., hoping to avoid the swarms of local fans which plague him whenever he shops in the afternoon. And on June 3, his 1995 Pontiac Bonneville was seen in the lot behind Larry's Tip-Top Inn, where Herchwick had gone, it is presumed, to drown his sorrows in drink.
"I asked him for an autograph for my daughter when Patti Danforth and I took a tour of the WTNK studios with our Daughters Of The Corn group last week," resident Carole Helmsley said. "He sighed heavily and looked a bit pained. Then he said he'd have to go get a picture to sign from the WTNK NewsTruck. But once he went in, he never came back out. It was as if he was deliberately avoiding us."
"If I'd only known the pressure the poor man was under, I wouldn't have asked," Helmsley continued. "All that constant hounding from autograph-seekers must have been too much for him."
Other Wauwatonkans, however, feel little sympathy for the regional luminary.
"Herch knew what he was getting into when he decided to seek local fame, and now that he's grabbed the brass ring, he's got to live with it," said Gus Brinkle, weatherman at rival station WPGN Channel 27. "He wouldn't be here today if it weren't for his fans, but now that he's got the spotlight, suddenly he turns on them and starts complaining about the pressures of celebrity. It's ridiculous. If he can't take the attention, he should never have gotten into this business. It's not all store grand openings and charity fun runs, you know. If you want the glamour and the glory, you've got to be willing to take the bad stuff, too."
"That's the way this crazy rollercoaster that we in the business call 'the fame game' works," Brinkle said.
Will Herchwick recover? At this point, it remains too early to tell. But one thing is certain: For this anchorman, local fame has brought local accolades and adoration, but not without a steep price.