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Going viral ruined my life: Man in legendary 'Nek Minnit' meme reveals the torment of being called an 'inbred crackhead' after his brush with fame - as he says a genetic disorder is behind his toothy grin

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 4 days ago Kelsey Wilkie For Daily Mail Australia

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The man behind an infamous meme has revealed how his life was almost ruined by his sudden brush with fame.

Levi Hawken's viral video began as a joke between him and a friend as they skated through a park in Auckland, New Zealand in 2011.  

The skateboarder and landscaper had found a broken scooter in the street and did an impersonation of the kid whose scooter it was.

a person wearing a hat: Levi Hawken's viral video, which launched the catch phrase 'Nek Minnit', began as a joke between him and a friend as they walked through a park in Auckland, New Zealand in 2011 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Levi Hawken's viral video, which launched the catch phrase 'Nek Minnit', began as a joke between him and a friend as they walked through a park in Auckland, New Zealand in 2011 'Left my scooter outside the dairy (corner shop) nek minnit,' he said in the short clip, before the camera panned to the broken scooter.

As the video's popularity snowballed, Mr Hawken began to be recognised on the streets and called upon by media outlets for interviews. 

But the skater - who had dreamed of becoming a comedian - began to realise he was on the wrong side of the joke. 

a man standing next to a tree: Hawken (pictured) still gets recognised in the streets for the 10 second clip he made in 2011 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Hawken (pictured) still gets recognised in the streets for the 10 second clip he made in 2011

The catchphrase 'nek minnit' was New Zealand's sixth-most-searched term on Google in 2011.

What is ectodermal dysplasia?

Ectodermal dysplasia is a collection of disorders that affect the outer layer of the embryo (ectoderm) that helps make up the skin, sweat glands, hair, teeth, and nails

They are caused by in various; the mutations may be from a parent, or normal genes may become mutated at the time of egg or sperm formation

Symptoms include: 

Abnormal or missing teeth, or fewer than normal number of teeth.

Cleft lip.

Decreased skin color (pigment)

Large forehead.

Low nasal bridge.

Thin, sparse hair.

Learning disabilities.   

And Mr Hawken's face became synonymous with the phrase, both appeared on television shows and T-shirts. 

The catchphrase was even used as a slogan for a political party during an election. 

Mr Hawken suddenly found himself as the butt of a never-ending joke. 

'A lot of people found it funny because they thought I was funny looking or I had funny teeth or I sounded funny – they are laughing at you not with you,' he says in new short film MEME Me by Loading Docs. 

He began to feel helpless, unable to control what people were saying about him.

'There's nothing you can do. And then you go on the internet and there's people saying you're a crackhead or you're inbred or something.' 

No one knew the reason for his toothy grin was actually the result of a genetic disorder called ectodermal dysplasia, which affects hair, skin, teeth and sweat glands.

As his public persona spiralled out of control Mr Hawken turned back to skating to escape. 

'I was really worried about what I was going to have my persona and my credibility assigned to,' he told the New Zealand Herald.

a man standing in front of a building: Hawken had been skating with his mate and saw a broken scooter. ' I did an impersonation of the kid whose scooter it was'

Hawken had been skating with his mate and saw a broken scooter. ' I did an impersonation of the kid whose scooter it was'
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited

'You have all these things you want to do and you think of how they would play out and then something happens and catches you off-guard.'

Mr Hawken, who used to work as a landscaper, had grown up on his board, it was his way of clearing his head.  

He now skates for American company Sector 9 and works as an artist in Auckland, selling unique sculptures and paintings online. 

As he zips through the streets on his board these days people still recognise him.  

Mr Hawken said when people stop him in the streets they still expect the character they saw in the 10 second clip.  But that person is far from his reality. 

Now 43, Mr Hawken has turned to art as a release.

He creates mixed-media pieces, brutalist garden sculptures and abstract paintings.

But he still can't escape the notoriety of the meme. 

'It's still a part of everything I do I guess. It's still a part of who I am. Kids come up, you don't really want to bum them out and say ''the memes over, I'm an artist now''.'

Mr Hawken managed to make money from his catchphrase, appearing in commercials across the globe.

'I made an ad for lube. I reached my pinnacle, then I was like 'what do I do now?' So I just went back to skateboarding and doing art,' he told Newshub.

He has warned those who are seeking fame and fortune by going viral to be careful.

'The trouble is you don't know what's going to go viral, it's completely organic. It might be the last thing you want to go viral.

'MEME Me is part of the Loading Docs collection of short documentaries. To view the rest of the 2019 films, visit https://loadingdocs.net/shorts/ 

Pictures: Moments that went viral and dominated the internet

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