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Will the real Bill Gates please stand up?

Billionaires they're not, but Gates impersonators are cashing in.

By , Network World
September 06, 2004 12:11 AM ET

Network World - It not only pays to be Bill Gates, it also pays to look like him. Just ask John Ranlett and Steve Sires, two Gates impersonators who don't have to dress up to look like the software maven, and in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist live within 10 miles of each other and not far from the Microsoft campus.

"I tell people it's the water," says Sires, who recalls a man who walked up to him in a grocery store, stared into his face and said, "same father, different mother" before walking away without another word.

Sires, who is three inches shorter and two years younger than the 5-foot-11-inch, 48-year-old Gates, charges a minimum of $2,500 per appearance but makes more for film work and commercials. Nevertheless, he has no plans to end his career as a civil design engineer.

Ranlett, a bus driver, often navigates a route that slices through the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. His personnel file includes a letter that prevents him from identifying himself as Gates lest passengers get confused, excited or hostile.

But away from the bus Ranlett over the past seven years has used his likeness to Gates to land parts in a TV commercial with Donald Trump and a music video for the song "Pentium" by Weird Al Yankovic. His financial gains have picked up in the past three to four years, he says, but not enough to make it a full-time gig.

Ironically, Ranlett and Sires are devoted iMac users. Neither has met Gates, though Microsoft has hired them as stand-ins on video shoots and for promotional stunts.

Ranlett once dressed up in an MSN butterfly costume and passed out CDs in Bellevue, Wash., which borders Redmond.

"I don't know why Bill didn't want to get into it," Ranlett says.

Sires, who has trademarked his gig as Bogus Bill 2.0 and Microsortof, also has done four in-house videos for Sun. "They like to poke fun at Bill," he says.

Both men say they have limits and won't do anything that puts Gates in a bad light, although Sires pushed the envelope when he played the Microsoft founder in a 2002 "mockumentary" about police misconduct and cover-up in Los Angeles called "Nothing So Strange." In the graphic opening scene, Gates/Sires is fatally shot in the head by an assassin and lies bleeding in the street.

"It wasn't morally in question. It didn't put Bill's name in a bad light, so I had no problem doing it," Sires says. He still gets hired by Microsoft even though a company spokesman was quoted after the movie's release saying, "It is very disappointing that a moviemaker would do something like this."

Sires says the moviemaker, Brian Flemming, still gets asked how he ever convinced Gates to appear in the film.

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