Some flowers grow well in the shadows, and you might be tempted to say that Rita Carrey is one of them, except that her brother’s outsized fame never felt like a shadow to her.
It is more like a really big south-facing window.
If you see Rita this summer — and you probably will (between her band dates and her appearances as a radio DJ, she seems to be everywhere) — you will notice the penguin Popper. It’s a prop from Jim Carrey’s new film, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a gift from Jim to Rita to help her raise money for the Light of Day foundation in its fight against Parkinson’s.
Rita exults in her sibling’s success. She grew up believing in it, and the force of his personality and legend never cramped her own style.
When Rita drove buses in Burlington, which was her job until she went into radio, her passengers liked her not because she is Jim Carrey’s sister, though many knew she was, but because she sang so entertainingly. She was known as the Singing Bus Driver.
When she sang the national anthem at a Ticats-Argos game at Ivor Wynne a couple of years ago, people recognized her in the line-up to the women’s washroom afterwards. Not as Jim Carrey’s sister, but as the one who had just sung O Canada.
“I still had to stand in the line-up, though, and missed half the game,” jokes Rita, who lives in Flamborough. “I loved it — singing to 26,000 people. I didn’t want to get off the field.”
Singing on the buses; singing at Ivor Wynne; being flown on a private jet to watch her little brother stick his hands and feet in the cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater in the 1990s.
These will all presumably find their way into Rita’s memoir — the one she’s working on this summer.
I catch up with her in a rare quiet moment on the dock of the Grimsby marina where her 30-foot Bayliner named Angelina (her middle name) is moored. Parked near it is her 2006 Mustang with the chrome hubcaps and double white strips, and beside her, Popper.
The stories flow easily, there are so many, and she tells them with fondness and an irresistibly personable, down-to-earth charm.
There’s the one about how she and her sister found Jim’s little black book when they were visiting him in Malibu.
“We couldn’t resist,” Rita says, deliciously. They opened it. That’s how Rita knows Tom Hanks’s phone number and Adam Sandler’s.
There are stories from their childhood. The family lived for a time out of a van. Jim was impossibly energetic, always putting on a show.
“We knew something would come of it,” she recalls.
One time, she and her sister tricked him into eating wallpaper paste.
There’s another branch to her memoir that could, if she let it, render all else a mere footnote. In 2005 her son Marty, the one who spurred her to take her music out to a wider public, was tragically killed in a car accident. A flatbed flew off a passing truck and struck his car. He was 25.
Rita says, rather than opening the pain again, writing about it is helpful. She says she moved through many stages in the aftermath, but ultimately knew she had to push beyond the paralysis of loss — she has two other sons, Mike and Matt, and the joy of music was Marty’s legacy.
Marty not only encouraged Rita to get up and sing in clubs and bars, they formed a band together, Transit, and wrote songs together.
These days, with her group The Rita Carrey Band, she still writes original material as well as covering classic rock tunes.
Music fills her life. Rita is also a DJ for Giant 91.7 (classic rock) in Welland. The way it works with Popper is she brings it wherever she goes. People pose with Popper, who is signed by Jim Carrey, and the photos are posted online at Giant 91.7’s website, along with the penguin’s upcoming whereabouts (on Aug. 1, Popper’s going to the CN Tower). On Nov. 11, Popper gets auctioned off in Niagara Falls in the culminating show of Light of Day’s concert series.
Rita says she hopes to finish her book in time for Christmas. For more information on Popper and Light of Day, visit lightofdayniagara.com.
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