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Barry Bremen, 64; known for his gate-crashing stunts

As an imposter, Barry Bremen pretended to be an NBA player, a New York Yankee, an umpire, and actress Betty Thomas. As an imposter, Barry Bremen pretended to be an NBA player, a New York Yankee, an umpire, and actress Betty Thomas. (Detroit Free Press/File 1979)
By Jeff Karoub
Associated Press / July 9, 2011

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DETROIT - Barry Bremen, a Detroit-area businessman whose fun-loving, gate-crashing stunts led him to shoot layups before an NBA All-Star Game, accept an Emmy for best supporting actress, and flee from veteran baseball manager Tommy Lasorda, has died of cancer at age 64.

Sometimes called the Great Impostor, Mr. Bremen became known to millions in the 1980s for sneaking onto professional courts and fields in chicken suits as well as player and umpire uniforms, capers that required such accomplices as baseball player George Brett and golfer Jack Nicklaus.

Mr. Bremen died June 30 in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he lived with his wife, Margo.

Some of his more famous exploits included being chased off the field by Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, during warm-ups for the 1986 All-Star Game and slipping onto the stage to accept an Emmy award in 1985 for Betty Thomas of “Hill Street Blues’’ before she could make her way to the microphone.

Mr. Bremen was a father of three and an enthusiastic amateur athlete who ran a successful merchandising business in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. Friends say he began his career as the Great Impostor in 1978 while attending a Detroit Pistons game. He casually made his way toward the visiting Kansas City Kings bench and grabbed the warm-up suit of a Kings benchwarmer in the final minutes of his team’s rout of the lowly Pistons.

The get-up reappeared a few months later, on Mr. Bremen’s 6-foot-3-inch frame, in the NBA All-Star Game. After an air ball and a couple of clunkers, players started feeding him the ball. His hard work, love of the game, and charm endeared him to many professional players.

“They always have a good time pulling something off against the establishment,’’ Mr. Bremen said in 1997. “That’s why it’s been so successful.’’

Mr. Bremen’s list of stunts included shagging flies in a New York Yankees uniform before the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle; showing up at home plate dressed as an umpire before a 1980 World Series game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and Royals; and playing a practice round with Fred Couples and Curtis Strange at the 1985 US Open at Oakland Hills, Mich.

He found his way, by invitation, onto the late night sets of Johnny Carson and David Letterman and became the subject of a “Jeopardy!’’ question.

Mr. Bremen told the AP he retired from gate-crashing because he did not want to be mistaken for the real nuts who run onto sports fields for attention or worse. The knife attack on tennis star Monica Seles in Germany in 1993 was a game-changer for security breaches.

Family and friends say the gate-crashing was just an outward display of Mr. Bremen’s insatiable love for life.

Sports reporter Jeremy Schaap said at the memorial service he admired Mr. Bremen’s refusal to take no for an answer’’ and his ability to see padlocks and velvet ropes not as obstructions but as “provocations.’’

“Ultimately, ironically, the Great Impostor was the most genuine of men, and we will all miss him,’’ Schaap said.