He was the man everyone knew and no one really knew, bar his close family and a hand-picked circle of friends.
When they made Joey, they broke the mould, wrote our late motorcycle racing correspondent Jimmy Walker in his acclaimed biography, Just Joey.
Six years ago, I looked for another description to complement Jimmy's when an online poll of our readers acclaimed Joey as our Greatest Sports Star Ever as part of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
Of all the great names this country has produced, in the end it came down to Joey and George Best, and, typically, Joey crossed the line first.
The next day I began my tribute piece with Winston Churchill's famous description of the Russian psyche… a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. That, to me, summed up the late, great William Joseph Dunlop in the nicest possible way. Proud son of Ballymoney, husband, father, the epitome of a quiet man - until he clambered on board a racing motorcycle and roared to iconic status.
To call him a legend for his record-breaking, high-speed exploits would be to knowingly undersell him, and the fact he never saw himself in anywhere approaching those terms only added to the charm and affection in which he continues to be held, 20 years after his tragic death in a racing accident, doing what he loved - riding bikes and helping people - on an aid mission to Estonia on Sunday, July 2, 2000.
Here was a man who lived his sporting life very much in the public eye and yet shunned the limelight. Who disliked attention and adulation yet, because of his gifts and achievements, was showered with them.
A very private man, who only allowed his immediate family to know and understand the real Joey Dunlop, yet many hundreds of thousands inside and outside the confines of the motorcycle racing world felt that they knew him personally. He was, they felt, the guy they could identify with and, if they could, who they wanted to be.
The sporting superstar and legend who was one of us, an ordinary 5-8 who did extraordinary things, yet never displayed any of the trappings or mannerisms associated with fame. The very opposite of ostentatious, he lived, dressed, ate, drank and smoked as he pleased in a way that defied all the conventions of a lifestyle associated with sporting excellence.
Joey flew in the face of every health and fitness regime we know today, remaining at the top of motorcycle racing for over 30 years by virtue of his natural ability to make his bikes go faster and perform better than anyone else's.
And we loved him for it, some for the rebellious streak they perceived in his DNA, but that was just Joey. Nothing was ever affected. What you saw was what you got.
He was ever approachable and accessible to his fans and the man and woman in the street, and although less comfortable with the media, or indeed any kind of intrusion on his personal space, brusqueness or rudeness were not his style.
Persistence in the face of an interview politely declined would more often than not see Joey take to his heels. Joey, half out of his leathers, fleeing on foot through a race paddock with a camera crew in pursuit was an amusing and not uncommon sight back in the day.
His eccentricities appealed to us, too.
Bike fan or not, everyone has smiled at a Joey Dunlop story. Like how he removed the passenger seat from his battered Mini so he could fit in a plank to sleep on when he was away at race meetings, even though sponsors would happily have afforded him a hotel instead.
How he slept in the aisle of a jumbo jet on a long-haul flight to New Zealand, consulted a faith healer to tend to his injuries rather than a qualified medic or physio, and bamboozled the best Japanese technological brains by improving their computer-programmed bikes with a few twists of a wrench from his old tool kit.
And who else but Joey, when nabbed at the wheel of a car after one celebratory drink too many during Isle of Man TT week, would turn out never to have had a licence in the first place for the court to take away!
Whether he liked it or not, Joey resonated with people.
Popularity, though he neither sought nor courted it, can sometimes be thrust upon the unassuming in different ways.
Joey's was encapsulated for me by the famed escapade when he and his racing pals had to be rescued from a sinking fishing boat off Portavogie as he transported his bikes to another TT.
The rough and ready mode of travel was typical Joey and the incident catapulted him from the sports pages to the front pages and firmly into the general public conscious and even started a craze.
Interviewed on the quayside as he returned to salvage his bikes, Joey was asked on UTV news if he'd been frightened by the harrowing experience.
"Frightened? I was near myself," he responded in pure Ballymoney.
Some accents are often described as inimitable. Not Joey's. That TV interview launched a raft of Joey impersonations and jokes, borne in my view out of a mixture of both relief and affection for a recognised, rare Ulster treasure we could all claim as our own.
When Rory McIlroy said with sincerity that he comes from a generation that refuses to be defined by flags and emblems, Joey, as a man who saw only barriers around race tracks, could have given him 40 years' start.
From the playground to the pub, a province laughed with Joey, not at him.
Did you hear the one about Joey in the hospital? The doctor asked him: "Comfy?" "Ah comfy Ballymoney," he replied.
On his way out, Joey met a new mother. "What are you calling the baby?" he asked. "Nathan," said the mother. "Nathan? You have to call it something," said Joey.
And so they went on.
As with most things he succeeded at, Joey had attained cult status without even trying.
It showed, above all, here was a man whose popularity transcended the insular world of motorcycle racing. A tight-knit, protective world with a tendency to circle the wagons in the sometimes justified belief that outsiders don't understand why they hurtle their machines between the hedges at speeds of up to 180mph, and, in some cases, would seek to prevent them.
Joey would love to have been able to keep himself to himself all of the time, and as for being understood, that wouldn't have cost him a thought.
He kept his charity work quiet too. Most would not have known about his regular trips to eastern Europe in a van loaded with clothing and supplies for orphanages and children's hospitals until the accident that claimed his life in Estonia.
In terms of the races he took on and won at the very highest level, the event in the woods, outside the capital Tallinn, was a low-key local affair he only entered for fun, but that was Joey - a race was a race, regardless of the prize.
As a mark of respect, the Estonian government's official website was replaced with a tribute to Joey within hours of his death.
A granite memorial was erected at the spot in the woods where his 125 machine left the road and when, four years later, we visited the scene as a group of journalists and Irish Football Association officials before a Northern Ireland game in Tallinn, it was both moving and reassuring to see fresh floral tributes and tea lights perpetually burning in his memory.
Back home, local television carried live coverage of his funeral, attended by 50,000 mourners, including bikers from all parts of Britain, Ireland and Europe, to Garryduff Presbyterian church, where he is buried in the adjoining graveyard, sadly, too, the last resting place of younger brother Robert, also taken in a racing accident during 2008 practice for their "home" race, the North West 200. And of Robert's much-loved son William, lost in an accident at the Skerries 100 on July 7, 2018, aged just 32.
Joey even had flaws the fans identified with.
He ate all the wrong food, if he ate at all, he smoked and he drank; a wee vod and coke was his tipple.
Only his immediate family really knew him, though Ballymoney townsman, the former Irish League footballer turned radio commentator and Sunday Life columnist Liam Beckett, who was mechanic to Robert, would have been as close as it was possible to be.
Beckett maintains: "It is impossible to come from the town of Balllymoney and not be touched in some way by motorcycle road racing. It is in the genes here, but Joey took the sport to a whole new level and to vast new audiences.
"He transformed road racing as we knew it, helping to make it the industry it is today, though that was never his intention. He just loved to race, and he had a knack not just for perfecting his winning style of racing, but also an amazing technical ability to understand and improve his bikes.
"It is correct to say he was laid back, unassuming, uncomfortable in the spotlight and a tad eccentric... all of those things, but the Dunlops weren't manufactured. They were naturals at the racing game.
"They didn't have an army of physios, personal trainers, sports psychologists, or nutritionists the way some do now.
"I would have been on the spanners for Robert, but we all travelled together to races, slept in our vans and only ate when Joey ate... sometimes we'd go without for days, then Joey would suddenly take a notion, lead us to a motorway cafe and order double sausage, eggs and chips, followed by a lemon meringue dessert. Hardly the stuff of champions, but it did the trick for Joey.
"Back then, the media tried to build up a rivalry between Joey and Robert but it was never there, other than in the racing sense. Even then they looked out for each other.
"One particular occasion sums it up. Joey understood the importance of Robert being his own man and wouldn't have offered him direct advice. But before one race on the island, Joey came and told me to tell Robert there was a bit of moss around a grate at the 33rd milestone that wasn't there before and to be careful. It showed Joey's attention to detail."
Son of May and the late Willie Dunlop, Joey was married to Linda and is survived by daughters Joanne, Julie and Donna and sons Gary and Richard.
After leaving school, Joey served his time as a steel erector, working alongside Robert and surviving brother Jim, who was one of the famed Armoy Armada group of road racing pals of the 1970s. The hard work was all part of the upbringing that kept Joey grounded when fame, if not fortune, came calling. And it ensured there are more lasting monuments to him in brick and mortar around Ballymoney than the commemorative statue in the Joey Dunlop Memorial Park where Joanne laid a wreath ahead of Thursday's 20th anniversary.
When hard-to-impress Northern Ireland folk universally take to you, as they did to Joey Dunlop, you have to be doing more right than wrong.
He was his own man and yet, in the eyes of all who admired him, he was everyman.