From shirts featuring his picture to beverages and donuts holding his name, no one ever expected epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, 79, a senior expert in the White House's coronavirus taskforce, to become a star in the eyes of Americans.
Accompanied by his fiancée, his dog in the back seat, Tony Mastrangelo drove three hours to get the pastry that everyone is snatching up right now: the "Doc donut", a donut with a photo of Anthony Fauci printed on a food sheet, created by the Donuts Delite store in Rochester, New York. With this work, Nick Semeraro, owner of the Donuts Delite, hopes to "pay tribute" to the director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases who he sees "a powerful and calm voice in the midst of chaos" during televised press conferences at which expert participates daily alongside the president.
"I have never seen anyone admired by so many people," Semeraro, who had to open new phone lines to handle the rain of orders, told AFP. With small glasses and round cheeks, the face of the epidemiologist is now displayed on all types of objects, from "In Fauci We Trust" T-shirts to "Keep calm and wash your hands" mugs, socks and candles.
Etsy, a US e-shopping platform selling handicrafts has more than 3,000 objects dedicated to the expert. On social media, a Facebook account, "Dr. Anthony Fauci Fan Club" has more than 79,000 members, in addition to a similar Twitter account with 21,000 followers.
In a video game called "Fauci's Revenge", the doctor has lasers shooting out of his eyes to help defeat the virus. He also has a cocktail named after him, "Fauci Pouchy", made of lemonade, vodka, elderflower, and grapefruit. "It's crazy! We sold up to 300 last Saturday," said Rohit Malhotra, inventor of the cocktail and manager of Capo, a bar in Washington.
Probably no one expected this serious, reserved-looking New Yorker, respected worldwide for his expertise on many viruses, from AIDS to Ebola, would become a pop culture star. With his television appearances at the White House, he was "propelled to the heart of all Americans," said Robert Thompson, head of the Television and Popular Culture Department at Syracuse University. Fauci is all over social media, giving live interviews in his raspy voice on Snapchat, answering questions from basketball star Stephen Curry on Instagram and talking to late-night funnyman Trevor Noah on YouTube.
His direct, factual side and his ability to reframe the words of Donald Trump with scientific arguments also explain the enthusiasm he triggers. "In a time of crisis like this, Americans desperately want heroes. Fauci has always insisted on telling the truth, even with an angry president standing behind him," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public relations at Princeton University.
"He has a small stature, he is extremely normal. And he seems to speak with reason and science," added Robert Thompson. Tony Mastrangelo, who does not rule out buying other products bearing the doctor's picture, appreciates that the expert "does not embellish things" unlike Donald Trump. But Fauci has also earned himself enemies among US conservatives for correcting Trump. He has been the target of insults on social media, which led the government to boost the security around him.
Trump himself retweeted a tweet with a #FireFauci hashtag, but said later he has confidence in him and called him a "fantastic guy." Amid all the love and hate, Fauci remains stoic.
When asked by American journalist Peter Hamby about the petition to be elected "Sexiest man of 2020" by People magazine, which collected more than 18,000 signatures, Dr. Fauci replied: "Where were you when I was 30 years old?"