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The back story behind Oscar's social media sensation "Gary from Chicago"

"Gary from Chicago"

Gary from Chicago,” the tourist who became a social media sensation at the Oscars Sunday night before the world learned he had walked free from prison just days earlier, passed through a security checkpoint before entering the Dolby Theatre.

Gary Alan Coe was one of about a dozen tourists who boarded a Hollywood sightseeing bus only to be unwittingly made a part of the Academy Awards telecast thanks to a prank by host Jimmy Kimmel. 

Since then, Coe’s criminal history has come to light. 

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The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports it released him from prison last week, after he served a 20-year sentence for theft. He’s also a registered sex offender. The California Megan’s Law Website shows he has a prior conviction of attempted rape by force or fear. His lawyer, Karen Nash, says the crime happened in 1975, when he was 18 years old. 

“I just made the wrong choices,” Coe told CBS News. “I’m ashamed and remorseful, and regret what I did as a young adult. But a lot of that was 41 years ago.”

One of the other tourists, Yulree Chun, tells CBS News the group underwent a security check when they arrived, with workers checking their bags while ushering them through an airport-like metal detector.

She says they didn’t realize until the auditorium doors swung open that they were stepping into the middle of Hollywood’s biggest night. Prior to that, she says the group had been on what they thought was a real tour on a Starline double-decker bus through Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

“They did say that we’d get exclusive access to an Oscars exhibit,” Chun said, describing how undercover producers rounded up tourists by promising they’d see “old gowns and old trophies that we can touch and take pictures with. We thought that was cool.”

She says the producers asked them for their names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. It’s unclear if any of that information was used to conduct background checks. CBS News reached out to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as show producers, but hasn’t heard back.

Coe’s lawyer said he was serving a life sentence for stealing perfume in 1997. Because he had a prior history of robbery, she said he received a longer sentence under California’s “three strikes” law. However, he recently won his release. 

During the broadcast, Coe and his fiancée, Vicky, rubbed elbows with the likes of Washington, Ryan Gosling and Meryl Streep. When Vicky told Kimmel that Washington was her favorite actor, the host enlisted the “Fences” star to officiate an on-the-spot wedding. Jennifer Aniston provided her sunglasses as a wedding present.

Coe also had the opportunity to pose for a photo with “Moonlight” star Mahershala Ali’s newly won Oscar.

“He’s a really sweet, genuine, loving-type of dad,” Coe’s daughter, Jacqui Williams, told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s the best. I’m proud of him.”

Coe tells CBS News it hasn’t bothered him to have his criminal record exposed in such an unexpected way.

“Compared to 20 years in prison, this is a piece of cake,” Coe boasted. “You don’t have to be afraid of your past. What you must do is change.”

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