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Celebrity body parts: Million-dollar thighs and smiles

So, would you cut off your legs for $1 million?

We would guess not. On the other hand, it probably never occurred to you to buy an insurance policy for them either.

Unless, of course, you're a celebrity.

The tradition of celebrities insuring talents and body parts is a long and storied one, ironically re-introduced to public consciousness lately by a fiction -- the insuring of Jennifer Lopez's body (or booty) for $1 billion. While the story was widely reported, Lopez's representatives insist it never happened, and there's no evidence that it did.

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Although juicy tales of Lopez's body being priced in parts like a fine Holstein (legs -- $400 million, breasts -- $200 million, or so went the rumors) proved false, many other celebrities have provided us with a menu of limbs and other, um, attributes, neatly broken down by price per part.

Alan J. Levin, a partner at Edwards & Angell, LLP, in Coral Gables, Fla., traces the origins of celebrity insurance to the 1920s, when silent movie star Ben Turpin, famed for his crossed eyes, took out a $20,000 policy against them uncrossing.

Crooner Jimmy Durante followed suit years later, taking out a $50,000 policy on his moneymaker -- his infamous schnozzola.

Female stars, perhaps more conscious of their attributes, raised the stakes. Marlene Dietrich insured her voice for a cool $1 million, and Betty Grable insured her dynamite legs for the same amount -- thus coining the phrase "million-dollar legs." (By comparison, dancer Fred Astaire had his legs insured for a paltry $75,000 per.)

Other stars of the day took out unusual insurance, including Bette Davis' $28,000 policy against weight gain.

But while superstars added a new element to the insurance business, some celebrities of a lesser caliber kept it equally interesting. Harvey Lowe, winner of the first World Yo-Yo Contest in 1934, had his hands insured by the Cheerie Yo-Yo Company for $150,000.

And while Britain's skiffle craze was on its way to influencing The Beatles (who themselves were insured for $1 million on their first American tour), a washboard player named Chas McDevitt protected his own career by insuring his fingers for £5,000. Unfortunately, he didn't think to insure the popularity of skiffle, an early form of rock 'n' roll that eventually melted away.

Celebrity insurance stayed strong in the '60s as Angie Dickinson insured her Sinatra-loved legs for a cool mil, and famed San Francisco topless dancer Carol Doda, in what would become another bizarre insurance practice, insured her breasts at Lloyd's of London (the standard bearer for this sort of thing) for $1.5 million.

The insuring of breasts and other sexual attributes has become standard among the A-list and B-list alike. Dolly Parton insured her infamous, theme-park-inspiring 42-inch breasts for $600,000, since who knows where her career would be without them.

In Brazil, a 20-year-old Playboy model named Susana Alves, famous in that country for portraying an S&M queen on television, got what is perhaps one of the best insurance deals ever. A company there insured her buttocks, knees and ankles for $2 million in exchange for placing her image on its billboards. In Brazil, in fact, policies on celebrity rear ends are so commonplace that insurers coined a name for them -- bumbum policies.

Equal rights advocates will be happy to note that sexual insurance is not merely the province of women. A British male stripper named Frankie Jakeman insured his penis for $1.6 million -- no doubt inspiring shrieks of laughter from Jakeman's ex-girlfriends nationwide.

And sometimes, gender is irrelevant. One of the oddest examples of celebrity insurance came when a 24-year-old Thai transvestite performer named Poh was told her breast implants could explode at high altitude if she flew to an appearance in Edinburgh. The implants were therefore insured for $500,000.

While the body parts themselves produce healthy profits for insurers, voices also generate business. Bruce Springsteen has a legendary policy on his for somewhere in the $6 million range, and Rod Stewart has insured his scrubbed-with-steel-wool pipes as well.

Other body parts also rate protection. Liberace, French pianist Richard Clayderman and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards -- an unlikely trio -- all insured their hands.

Surprisingly, one category where you would expect lots of insured parts -- the world of sports -- yields none. While one would expect that superstars like Kobe Bryant, Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens would have more insured arms that the United States military, it turns out that the sports world finds little time to quibble with details.

Sports teams take an all-or-nothing approach. Why just insure a part when you can insure the whole package? These teams, rather than insuring their main attractions' body parts, just take out special disability insurance on the athlete himself -- like the St. Louis Cardinals did with a $12 million disability policy on now retired Mark McGwire.

Even in this area, though, teams take wildly divergent approaches to insurance. Over the past few years, The San Francisco Giants insured only one player -- Barry Bonds. That policy wasn't renewed in 2001, however, because at that time Bonds was in the last year of his contract, and the deductible was more than the premium. Other teams, such as the Seattle Mariners, insure no one as their draw is more dependent on fan loyalty at this point than on any one superstar.

And sometimes, players take on the insurance burden themselves. Outfielder Juan Gonzalez, for example, while a free agent, purchased a $50 million personal disability policy that was transferable to whichever team signed him in order to reassure teams concerned about his history of back trouble (he eventually re-signed with his old team, the Texas Rangers).

And in football, where there are no guaranteed contracts, the insurance risk falls solely on the player, leading superstars such as Rams quarterback Kurt Warner to purchase policies for themselves as soon as they take on major roles. Warner bought his when he took over the starting quarterback position.

Of course, some athletes are so successful -- and so rich -- that they are beyond insurance. Golfer Tiger Woods, for example, makes so much money that to insure himself against injury would cost him $10 million to $20 million a year, more than he made in 2002 from golf. Most of his money, more than $69 million a year, comes from endorsements.

But luckily, non-sports celebrities do not have these restrictions, and keep themselves "covered" from head to toe.

And, perhaps since much of this insurance has been handled over the years at England's Lloyd's of London, that country seems to have (or at least publicizes) more than its share of odd policies. British food critic Egon Ronay insured his taste buds for $400,000; comic actor Ken Dodd insured his teeth for £4 million; and a cricket player named Merv Hughes took out a £200,000 policy on his moustache.

But the most common celebrity insurance seems to be for legs. Betty Grable inspired a legion of celebrities to protect their golden gams. Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart has her legs insured for $1 million dollars, as does actress Angie Everhart. Jamie Lee Curtis insured hers for $1 million while doing advertisements for a stocking company, and porn star Porshce Lynn has had her legs insured for the same amount.

In this area too, both genders are represented, as Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley insured his legs for an astounding £25 million.

Even the non-famous can enjoy this type of protection. When Miami resident Domitila Hunnicutt won a Most Valuable Legs contest sponsored by Jergens, the company insured her legs for $2 million for one year, thereby bestowing her title with literal truth.

While there are sound business reasons for much of this, rest assured that the insuring of attributes does have its limits. A British performer known as Mr. Methane sought coverage against the loss of his "talent," which consisted of performing standards such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "How Much is That Doggy in the Window?" using his naturally-produced gases.

He was refused.

-- Updated: June 27, 2003

See Also
The world's wackiest insurance policies
Linda Blair -- committed to animals, nature
Insurance for cats and dogs
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