Saturday, February 11, 2012


We're always surprised when famous, or once-famous, people die suddenly, especially when those deaths come across as self-inflicted. And I think that has to a lot with the way that we view ourselves and our lives. Most of us have difficulties in our daily lives, some of them serious. In fact, if the average American meets their end by gunshot wound, they're more likely to have pulled the trigger themselves than to have been gunned down by a criminal. For many of us, the fame, fortune and adoration that goes along with celebrity would be the answers to all of our problems. But the reality is somewhat less uplifting.

Celebrity comes with its own set of stressors, problems and issues. Not being a celebrity myself, I have no first-hand knowledge of what they are, but when you look at the number of celebrities who have driven themselves to untimely ends, you realize that they have to be there. But we never seem to hear about them. Sure, the news is always full of stories that remind us that a celebrity "struggled with drugs and alcohol," but there's often precious little information about what sparked those struggles. The default assumption is that Hollywood is simply a decadent place, awash in booze and dope, and that some of the people that the entertainment world sucks in simply aren't strong enough to resist its vices.

But it's more likely that the bright lights of the big city simply don't prepare people to deal with the stresses that are placed on them. You could contrast this with the life of a politician, which likely has a heaping basket of its own stressors, but the people who deal with them seem to be better prepared. While politicians often self-destruct, it's rarely at the cost of their lives - but sometimes the effects can be quite a bit more far reaching. (One wonders what would have happened if one Jack Ryan had won a Senate seat in 2004, rather than been taken down by the details of his divorce...) Of course, like most of us, many celebrities learn to roll with the punches, and they survive both the spotlight and the twilight that follows it being turned elsewhere. The problem is that we never hear from them again, and their names fade from memory. The ones that flare brightly one last time before extinguishing, however, sear themselves onto the news cycle one last time, and color our entire understanding of what celebrity is like. That they do this without us in the public ever seeming to gain any greater understanding of the problems that celebrity brings sets us up for another surprise, the next time the media kicks into high gear to bring us up-to-the-minute coverage of a celebrity's untimely demise.

No comments: