Fame is a dangerous drug.
It changes a person’s life forever, and is felt more as an impact or “overnight” experience, rather than a gradual transition. It gets to your head before you realize you’ve undergone this change; and to be honest? it’s kind of hard to come back.
Developmentally, the celebrity often goes through a process of: first loving, then hating fame; addiction; acceptance; and then adaptation (both positive and negative) to the fame experience. Becoming a celebrity alters the person’s being-in-the-world. Once fame hits, with its growing sense of isolation, mistrust, and lack of personal privacy, the person develops a kind of character-splitting between the “celebrity self” and the “authentic self,” as a survival technique in the hyperkinetic and heady atmosphere associated with celebrity life.
Some descriptions of fame include feeling like:
“an animal in a cage; a toy in a shop window; a Barbie doll; a public façade; a clay figure; or, that guy on TV.”
Famous people describe a new relationship with the “space” around them, as a component of learning how to live in a celebrity world. “It’s like fame defines you to a certain degree: it puffs you up, or it shrinks you down,” one celebrity said.
Being famous is variously described as leaving the person feeling: “lonely; not secure; you have a bubble over you; family space is violated; a sense of being watched; living in a fishbowl; like a locked room; and, familiarity that breeds inappropriate closeness.”
Yet, while the celebrity experiences many negative side effects of fame, the allure of wealth, access, preferential treatment, public adoration, and as one celebrity put it, “membership in an exclusive club,” keeps the famous person stuck in the perpetual need to keep their fame machine churning.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that for each and every celebrity, the fame machine can only churn for so long. As a former famous child star revealed, “I’ve been addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or another, and the most addicting of them all is fame.”
The irony, of course, is the extent to which so many people in our culture clamor at some level for their own slice of fame.
And, from the other vantage point, how dangerous are the blinding lights of fame to the unsuspecting and naive star? How vulnerable are famous people to fame’s addictive qualities and its ensuing engulfing pathology? The answer is: very.
The relevant question becomes how can a celebrity survive fame? How can someone take a God-given talent, like Whitney’s, or Michael’s, or Judy’s, rise to mega-stardom, and ride the merry-go-round of fame with health, grace, and perspective until it is time to finally get off? Clues to the answer lie in becoming part of something larger than oneself (countering fame’s natural tendency toward narcissism), and dedicating all one’s drives and ambitions into making a real difference, in a meaningful way, in the world.
Through such determined commitment to using life to its fullest, as a show of gratitude for all the riches and rewards, and rooted in humanistic notions of self-responsibility, meaning, values, authenticity, and mindfulness, the celebrity has a fighting chance.