Collins reflects on guarding celebrities

Published 9:11 pm Monday, September 9, 2013

If protecting some of the biggest names in entertainment for six years taught O’Brien “OB” Collins anything, it’s that “money isn’t everything, money doesn’t make you happy and nobody’s really happy.”

The former bodyguard to Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and musician Prince also mindful that “nobody wants you there. If celebrities had their own way, they’d do their own thing. It stinks having someone follow you around all the time. Personally, I hate being in the spotlight.”

Now that the former semi-professional football player is in sales instead of security, Collins, 33, of Dowagiac, is coming up on his first anniversary in October with Niles’ Tyler Automotive, where deals move Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Hondas, Kias, Dodges, Chryslers, Jeeps and Rams.

“I was busy in my 20s,” he said. Though he has a girlfriend, he has never married or had kids.

“Millionaires are not happy,” he said Thursday. “You’re living the life here in Dowagiac. Don’t think going to L.A. is going to make you feel you belong or are a better person. There are a lot of good people here and a lot of fake people out there.”

A client who impressed him was “the most hated white person in America,” Morris Dees, 76, of Alabama.

Collins said the co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center “is a huge part of American history. I’m very proud of working for him. I didn’t know who he was, but he’s helped thousands of people going back to the Sixties, including minorities out of prison for crimes they didn’t commit. He fights the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation to make things right. They were opening a civil rights museum at an open-air event. He’s got money because he’s a good guy who’s been changing people’s lives, not because he plays ball or sings well. That’s big. They’ve blown up and burned his offices. My jaw dropped when I looked him up online. But my grandma knew him. He’s beloved by older black folks down south.”

“My first time doing sales was here in town at Sears for Jerry Paller,” Collins said. “He was looking for someone with sales experience and I didn’t have any, but he thought I had a good personality and he could teach me.”

Collins was recruited by Keeler Glasgow steel structures of Hartford, which made the greenhouses his parents, Larry and Mildred, use at Creekside.

“They do stuff all over the world, so that gave me my first taste of travel,” Collins said. “I was still a teenager.”

Home-schooled, he graduated in 1998 and attended Southwestern Michigan College.

He played football four years, including the Dowagiac/Kalamazoo Dawgs and the Detroit Seminoles of the Mid-States Football League.

“I was 19 or 20 when I moved to Detroit,” he said. “I left Michigan in ’02. I did security in Detroit for RSIG, which does Cobo Hall, DTE Energy Center, the Pistons, all the major events. If you’re lucky enough to get a job, you can see every concert that goes through Detroit. As one of the bigger guys, I kept people from trying to get on stage. Crowd-surfing is the worst. When they pass people forward, you snatch them down with a step on the barricade. You grab an arm, a leg, their head, whatever you can, pull them close and bring them down from eight feet in the air. You do this all night. Those shows are serious workouts,” shielding Metallica, Jay Z, Prince’s 2004 Musicology tour, Reba McEntire, Gretchen Wilson (“Redneck Woman”), Kenny Chesney and Cass County Fair alumnus Trace Adkins, who won All-Star Celebrity Apprentice.

“That’s one of the biggest guys I’ve done security for,” Collins said. “He’s 6-foot-6. Most artists are very small. You have to really watch Prince because he likes to stick his hand out and touch the crowd. The majority of his hard-core fans who follow him around are large women and gay men. He’s so tiny, those big women will snatch him off the stage in a heartbeat. I started in security in ’99 in St. Joseph during Venetian Fest.”

Collins for eight years has studied aikido, the Japanese martial art.

“I’m not trying to kick you standing close in a nightclub. Steven Seagal is a master,” he said of the Lansing-born action film star. “He’s one guy in movies if you put hands on, it’s over for you. He’ll break every bone in your body. I’d love to meet him. When I started it was all about brute strength, just dragging people out.”

Collins worked for Bryant for a year out of bodyguard school in Colorado, or, as he calls it, “glorified Secret Service training. They teach you how to shoot, how to fight, everything the President gets. Peace of mind from having someone who will jump in front of a bullet. They’re there for you. A good bodyguard takes care of you from top to bottom, opening doors and pointing out cracks so you don’t trip because there are always cameras around celebrities. You never want them to look dumb on your watch.

“Watching for little things makes it a nerve-wracking job. You think Kobe Bryant with four titles can walk out of his house and walk down the street in Los Angeles? Sometimes the second-best basketball player of all time (after the Bulls’ Michael Jordan) wants to be out with his family without doing autographs. You get to know him, but you don’t want to know him too well. I’m not there to talk or be your friend, I’m there with a purpose, working. There are fun parts, but it’s not a fun job, it’s stressful. Your head’s on a swivel 24 hours a day, thinking ahead because you don’t know what’s happening next. Prince is an awesome person, you just don’t talk to him. He has a guy you go through to talk to him since he became a Jehovah’s Witness. They wheel him to the stage in a box so you don’t see him coming. I never talked to Prince.”

Collins can be contacted at (269) 414-0133.