Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Too Much Fame Can Kill

By Alan Caruba

There is an interesting juxtaposition between the annual Hollywood orgy called the Oscars and the death of actor Corey Haim at age 38, apparently of a drug overdose.

I must confess I have never understood the adulation heaped on people who make their living pretending to be someone else. I understand even less the instinct to latch onto some actor or actress and obsess about them as if they had any relation to one’s own life. They don’t.

Years ago I was engaged in doing public relations for Actors Equity, the union that represents theatre performers. When you meet a famous actor in the elevator on the way to a meeting they become real people to you, although I confess to my delight in running into Margaret Hamilton who was immortalized for her role as the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

What I learned, however, was that most actors are out of work much of their lives and the profession takes a terrible toll because they must contend for jobs that depend on factors over which they have no control; how they look, what age they are, a cattle call audition, their agents, et cetera. Talent often takes second place to luck and, in the actor’s world, luck plays an extraordinary role.

Some, because of their talent and the mysterious factor of on-screen charisma, do rise, often swiftly and at a young age. In my youth in the 1950s, the major movie studios were beginning to lose the tight control they had earlier exorcized over the publicity an actor received, but as actors became free agents and as the media devoted to celebrities expanded, those days ended.

The toll that celebrity takes on the lives of those actors who achieve fame is increasingly obvious. In recent days the actor Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy both died and drugs, often medications, were the suspected cause. In Corey Haim’s case, he had been in and out of rehab for his addiction.

We tend to forget that drugs killed Elvis Presley in 1977 at age 42. Judy Garland had struggled with drugs her whole life, dying at age 47. Prior to her passing she had had five marriages and several suicide attempts. Actress Marilyn Monroe died at age 36 and the Monroe “wannabe”, Anna Nicole, also succumbed to drugs in 2007.

There will be a trial soon to determine whether the physician attending Michael Jackson may have caused his death with a drug injection, but it was widely reported that the singer lived his life in total dependency on various “medications.”

Indeed, the list of those dying young from the curse of fame and celebrity just keeps growing. Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix.

If I were a parent today, I would do everything in my power to steer my child away from a career in the performing arts that might lead to a life spent on constant display, the prey of paparazzi, and the temptations of drugs and sexual promiscuity.

While there are many who manage to retain a grip of normalcy, marrying, raising children, and growing old gracefully, there are far too many dying young from corrosive fame.

These deaths should serve as a warning against the narcissism required to be “a star” and the poisonous exploitation involved, but they do not. Instead, they send a message to a generation of young people that drugs are just a risk factor or worse, glamorous.

The message is that an early death is just one of risks that fame requires of those who in real life are often among the most fragile and most vulnerable to the uncertainties of a profession that extorts a terrible price.

This will not, of course, deter those whose quest for fame, for a life on the stage or film, puts them in harm’s way.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


TexasFred said...

I think it was Margaret Hamilton that played the witch...

Ol James said...

Drugs in Holly-Weird,
Money & Sex in Politics.....
Some have tried both careers.
No wonder they can't decide which to follow...
They had better remember they aint 10 foot tall and bulletproof or God.

Alan Caruba said...

Right you are, TexasFred, and the correction has been made. Thanks.

Ol James, I am forever grateful I never had any inclination to become "famous."

Carolyn said...

Excellent article Mr. Caruba. Excellent. I feel bad for them- most of them. But they need to grow up some time, and it's sad that they some how can't. So many of them from my generation are gone- and I'm only 44.
God Bless~

HokieFan said...

The point of this article does not only apply to Hollywood, but to professional sports as well.
Too many kids bet the farm on becoming a professional athlete at the expense of a good education these days. Then those that make it often don't know how to handle the huge influx of money and fame.