What is the recipe for instant celebrity? In the case of Chicago Bears rookie William “the Refrigerator” Perry, it is a heap of manhood scoring touchdowns on national TV, with equal parts gap-toothed smile and memorable moniker thrown in for good measure. “He has put the fun back in football,” the commentators agree. “He has made ‘refrigerator’ a household word,” cracked a teammate. Indeed the 23-year-old defensive lineman has become so hot a commodity that he expects to become a millionaire (with an estimated $340,000 annual salary and at least $750,000 in fees as a pitchman for McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, long underwear and who knows what else) in the coming year.
Not surprisingly Perry’s life has changed as dramatically as his financial statement. “We anticipated just a little attention,” says Sherry, 22, Perry’s sweetheart since junior high and his wife of four years. “But it’s gone so far now.” Latavia, the couple’s 3-year-old daughter (left), is bothered by her father’s frequent absences. “She’s always crying, ‘I want my daddy,’ ” reports Sherry. “She’s always wanting to be in her daddy’s lap.” The Fridge claims to be unaffected by the clamor of fame, but Sherry’s not so sure. “William used to go out a lot and do things by himself,” she says. “Now it seems like he can’t do without me. He says he feels all by himself when I’m not with him.” The image is startling yet touching: Surrounded by a sea of admirers, the outsize phenomenon leans on his 125-pound wife for support.