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Fears Give Kiss of Death to Record Chances

Worries about SARS in the Southland hinder a Minnesota man's plans to top his own world record at a Corona festival.

May 03, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The world's greatest smoocher is in town. But Alfred A.E. Wolfram can kiss off any hope of setting a new record on this visit.

That's because the fear of SARS is nothing to sniff at.

Wolfram has held a lip-lock on the title of "World's Greatest Kisser" since the day he bussed 11,030 people at a festival near his home in North St. Paul, Minn., to win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

That was in 1998, though, long before anyone faced the pneumonia-like severe acute respiratory syndrome. It has infected 6,054 people worldwide, killing 417, according to world health officials.

"People are continuously asking if I'm worried. But I've kissed hundreds of thousands over the past 18 years and never caught anything, even a cold," Wolfram said.

Aside from exhaustion, all he has suffered are chapped lips and a bruised nose. "When hundreds of people bang up against your nose, you feel at the end of the day like you've gone up against Muhammad Ali," he said.

The 60-year-old Wolfram was in Venice on Friday, doing some practice puckering at a luncheon at the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center. Today and Sunday he will be greeting visitors to the Koroneburg Renaissance Festival at Crossroads Riverview Park in Corona with pecks on the cheek.

SARS wasn't on the minds of those at the senior center Friday.

Women were only too glad to turn the other cheek to any concern over a stranger's kiss.

Ann Mayser, 85, of Santa Monica flashed an "OK" sign to her friends after Wolfram's embrace.

"He's done this before," she said.

Ruth Hoffman, 75, was equally enthusiastic. "Hey, it's the best I've had in a long, long time," said the Venice widow.

To set the world record, Wolfram kissed a different person every two seconds for eight hours. So this weekend he's more realist than romantic: There's uncertainty about the weather for the festival, and the local socio-medical climate is an unknown factor, too.

While 58 suspected SARS cases have been tallied in California -- including 11 as of Friday in Los Angeles County -- the mystery disease is not a big concern in Minnesota, Wolfram said.

"I'm not going to cloister myself. Life's too short," said the king of kiss. "But this is the first time I've gone up against SARS."

Wolfram, who says he has been happily married to the same woman for 33 years, said he came to town to deliver the real deal.

This may be Los Angeles, he said, but -- even in the face of SARS -- Hollywood air kisses don't hack it.

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