Local blogger Kevin Cotter has turned a heartbreaking divorce into a new side career and flight to fame.
The ticket to that flight? His ex-wife's wedding dress.
A year ago, when she left him after 12 years of marriage and two kids, all that remained was the gown.
Cotter stared at the white, frilly remnant and wondered what to do with the symbol of a failed marriage to his high school sweetheart.
Now he gets up to 5,000 online visitors a day offering suggestions.
Cotter has become an Internet sensation by doing silly, morbid things with the dress, and then posting pictures and writing on the darkly humorous website Myexwifesweddingdress.com, which he started with help from his brother, Colin, in May.
One shot has Cotter bundled up on his bed, using the dress as a blanket. Another has him using the dress as a banner that says "GO CATS." Cotter also has used the dress athletically, as a yoga mat and a jump rope.
This iconic image is Cotter's favorite: a shot of the dress adorning a makeshift scarecrow, with a Darth Vader mask as the head.
Not that he's bitter or anything.
"Some people just jump on (the blog), look at some of the pictures and think I'm an angry guy out for revenge. I'm not," said Cotter, a 36-year-old graduate of Salpointe Catholic High School and the University of Arizona. "One of the challenges of this whole project for me is that I don't want to be a burden on my ex-wife. I really don't."
That's why Cotter said he hasn't mentioned his wife's name in any of the dozens of interviews he's given since the CollegeHumor.com website linked to his blog, leading to follow-ups from ABC News, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, AOL and others from as far away as Germany and New Zealand.
He said Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. has talked to Cotter about movie possibilities, and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" has spoken to him about a possible guest appearance.
During an interview at his spacious east-side home, complete with a jumbo high-definition TV and the Mac with a 24-inch screen on which he conducts his blog magic, Cotter smiled as he pulled the dress out of a watermelon-size bag after retrieving it from the top shelf of a closet.
The dress is tattered and lined with dark scum, and it still had an American flag pinned to it - a sign that Cotter hadn't used the dress since he trotted it out for a World Cup soccer game at a bar.
"At first, the plan was to burn it at the end," Cotter said. "But I'm definitely going to keep it. It might be worth something."
Cotter and Colin, the designated photographer (the brothers also work together as packaging-products salesmen), are awe-struck by the site's success.
"I sent a link to I don't know how many people. Maybe 30 friends and family," he said. "I haven't pushed it, really. After that College Humor posting, it made its way onto Fark (www.fark.com) and in different newspapers and magazines. A few weeks into it, the blog was linked on 3,000 sites."
The inspiration came from Colin's wife, Jenny, who remembered reading a book about 101 uses for a dead cat and thought the concept could apply to the wedding dress. The Cotters' three sisters got involved, tossing in ideas, and the blog was born.
"Really, from what I remember, it was the first time in a long time I saw Kevin laugh," Colin said. "He started having a good time. The idea provided therapy, a positive outlet."
When Cotter started the blog, his goal was to post 101 uses for the dress or land a book deal. Cotter originally composed the ideas as something of an outline for a manuscript for a coffee-table book, using mostly pictures and captions, and found no interest in the publishing world. The blog has changed everything. Cotter said agents and publishers have been talking to him about book concepts.
Cotter said he's not sure why his ex-wife left.
"It just didn't work out," he said. "I think it's hard to completely understand, but in the last couple years, it just really wasn't working out. When you have kids, you give it everything you can."
Cotter has joint custody of his children, ages 7 and 9. He said he shields them from the dress project.
He was surprised that the vast majority of his fans are women. He's even gotten some presumably tongue-in-cheek marriage proposals.
"I've had more angry guys write than angry women," he said. "Something that's blown me away about this whole thing is that so many women are writing me and giving me support for what I'm doing."
He said his new girlfriend gradually came into the camp of female supporters.
"She's OK. She's known about it for a little while," Cotter said, declining to reveal her name. "I was afraid she would think that it was the sign of a guy who would always be hung up on his ex-wife, but when I first told her what I was doing, she completely understood. She knows me well enough to know why I'm doing it."
Cotter said the dress has come to signify his future rather than his past.
"I don't see it as a symbol of my failed marriage," he said. "I see it as a symbol of recovery."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or email@example.com