The man known simply as “Gary from Chicago,” who vaulted to fame after meeting Hollywood’s biggest stars at the 89th Academy Awards, was released from prison just days before his headline-making Oscars appearance, PEOPLE confirms.
In an interview with Chicago’s ABC 7 — after he rubbed elbows with Mahershala Ali and Meryl Streep at the Oscars — Gary Alan Coe opened up about his past life of crime, revealing that he completed a 20-year prison sentence just days before the ceremony and declaring that “change is possible.”
“It’s a sad day to be in prison for 20 years and not be able to be a dad, a granddad to your children, “Coe told Chicago’s ABC 7. “You know what my son told me today, man? I almost come to tears. He said he’s proud of me. So to hear your children say that they’re proud of me means the world to me.”
Coe told the station that during his sentence, he met his fiancée, Vickie Vines, and he found faith.
Coe has been in and out of California’s prison system since 1994. In 1997, he was convicted of petty theft and sentenced to 25 years to life under the three-strikes law, according to a spokesperson with the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
After spending about 20 years in prison, Coe was re-sentenced under the Three Strikes Reform Act to just six years. Having served well over six years already, Coe was released from the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran on Thursday, the spokesperson said.
Karen Nash, who identified herself as Coe’s public defender, announced on her Facebook page that the man “got a life sentence for stealing perfume in 1997.”
“We finally won release this year,” she said, noting that Coe spent the weekend “sight seeing with his lovely fiancé Vicky.”
“If you watched the Oscars, you know the rest.”
Along with multiple petty theft and robbery convictions, Coe was convicted of attempted rape in 1978.
Coe and Vines were part of the unsuspecting tour bus group that Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel invited into the auditorium at the Academy Awards. There, Coe and Vines met Ryan Gosling, Nicole Kidman and, Vines’ personal favorite, Denzel Washington.
“Denzel, would you be the best man at their wedding,” Kimmel is heard asking in a Twitter video as the actor made his way over to the couple.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” Washington send as he stood between the pair. “Kiss the bride.”
During the pre-ceremony meet-and-greet, Coe and Vines shared pleasantries with the star, with Vines getting a kiss on the cheek from Gosling and Coe planting a kiss on Nicole Kidman‘s hand.
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“I am actually ordained to marry people. So, if they are here, I will marry them,” Anderson said on ABC’s Oscars after-show. “I’m actually ordained to marry people in the state of California. So if they’re around, I was trying to get them up here so I could marry them on this show.”