A retired sheriff, Modderwho looks a bit like Santa without the beardwas the muscle behind the fund-raising scheme that saved Diamond’s house. Last June, he did it all: loading boxes, stuffing envelopes, overseeing postage. He even stored tens of thousands of the T-shirtseach bearing the slogan i paid $15.00 to save screeech’s housein his basement. (The third “e” is there for legal reasons; Diamond doesn’t own the trademark to the name.) In one month Modder helped raise the nearly quarter of a million dollars Diamond claims he needed to avoid losing his home.
“I knew who he was when he moved in next door,” Modder says. “He’s a fine fella. Like any neighbor, if he needs help, I’m gonna help him out.” Diamond, Misner, and Modder stand among the few hundred T-shirts that remain.
Not everyone buys Diamond’s story. In his column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Nichols wrote that Diamond was still behind on his mortgage payments and accused him of “milking unsuspecting fans of their cash.” Diamond denies this. In any event, when the final numbers were rung up, he had sold more than 22,000 shirts and was able to meet his financial obligations, even after paying $110,000 in postage. Dustin Diamond was saved by Screech.
In Modder’s basement, there’s a sense of accomplishment radiating from Modder, Diamond, and Misner as they survey the leftover piles of T-shirts. Modder breaks the silence: “You know, Dustin, I was watching Dancing With the Stars the other night, and Mario [Lopez, his Bell costar] got you good.
“Yep,” he continues, “they were showing a map of all the states and who was voting for who, and Wisconsin had lots of votes for Mario. He said he had Screech to thank for that.”
Witness the monkey on Diamond’s back. No matter what he does with the rest of his life, he will always be associated with a character he played as a teenager.
“I’m not trying to distance myself from Screech,” he cautions. “How could I distance myself from something I’m not? I’m more talked-about now, sure, but I don’t know if I’m more famous. The T-shirt thing came out, and all of a sudden I was on the tip of everybody’s tonguethe front burner of every chat room. That started to subside, and then the sex tape comes outnow I’m on the sizzle plate. A fajita plate! Eat up! This plate’s hot!”
And that’s all that matters: He’s back in the game. For Diamond, whether his resurrection is because people are laughing at him or with him is beside the point.