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Fred Phelps is dead: Who will play him in the inevitable Lifetime movie?

Fred Phelps
Fred Phelps

The “God Hates ____” signs are at half-mast as the world mourns the passing of Fred Phelps who united people of left and right leanings with an acknowledgement that the man was a class A tool. Of course members of his church, the one he apparently was ex-communicated from in August of last year, vow to continue his legacy of vocal protest whenever an American soldier is buried or Lady Gaga performs.

Surely in the near future someone is going to break the code and discover what fueled Phelps’ ire to the point of protest. It is one thing to have private beliefs about homosexuality or the wrongness of soldiers fighting, many even come together in the guise of faith to mumble their dissatisfaction, but to actively pack up the young’ns and take to the streets – well that kind of malice must have an origin. It is this mysterious genesis of Phelps hate that has to have someone in Hollywood salivating. Exactly who was the man behind the colorful damnation signs?

Phelps was 84 when he died so usually in biographical movies different actors play the person at different ages. According to his Wikipedia entry Phelps’ life was rife with drama. His mother died when he was five, estranged from his father, Boy Scout Eagle Scout, admitted to West Point but didn’t attend, various Bible colleges, along with a first taste of national notoriety when profiled by Time magazine for preaching against collegiate based sins. Get this; by the sixties he was also a civil rights attorney who took on cases involving racial discrimination by local school systems along with gender bias of various Kansas universities. He was eventually disbarred in the late 70s after his legal based harassment of a court reporter. There’s also the wife and thirteen children, 54 grandchildren, the establishing of the Westboro Church, the law firm made up of family members, allegations of abuse, hatred of Billy Graham, Catholics and Jews. Suffice to say there is a lot to work with for any writer or actor to take on.

Michael Parks played the Phelps based character in Kevin Smith’s Red State but I am thinking of a bigger name, an actor who himself has encountered controversy; Mel Gibson. One could argue that it might be cathartic for Gibson to play Phelps because whatever demons Gibson has dealt it appears Phelps had bigger ones. Granted the casting of Gibson for a now nonexistent movie could go either way for the actor. On one hand the public could chuckle and draw parallels between Gibson and Phelps; however it is the sort of casting that makes people take notice and Gibson is a good actor. To his credit he has kept a low profile in the last few years and has been in the penalty box for long enough. Of course Gibson would have to take responsibility for his past outbursts, stop blaming a former flame for his rage filled phone messages. If he has done therapy, or rehab, or whatever for a decent comeback he needs to be contrite, talk about how he has changed and then prove it. The role of Phelps would be an excellent catalyst for Gibson, or any actor who has garnered deserved public ridicule, to note the hate hole Phelps dug himself into and theoretically could not climb out – and how they learned to cope with life differently.

Other contenders for the role could be Michael Douglas, perhaps Kevin Costner. Of course none of the actors currently suggested would say yes to a Lifetime movie (they aren’t Lindsay Lohan for heaven sakes!). It would have to be a theatrical release or HBO production. Though no less talented but probably cheaper to hire; Tom Skerritt maybe Kiefer Sutherland.

In the end any actor hired to play Phelps will, with the right script, have a field day of emotions to portray. Phelps seemed to enjoy his status as the most hated man in America. If unable to travel the world because of his reputation he sure traveled around the nation a lot leaving many to wonder just how this clan of haters could afford making their presence known from coast to coast. I am sure that question along with others could be answered in a movie.

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