The Curse of Celebrity

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Marilyn Monroe“Fame hit me like a ton of bricks,” the rapper Eminem once said—and he is far from alone in that sentiment. From Marilyn Monroe, who died 50 years ago this month, to Macaulay Culkin, who has experienced a recent flood of criticism from media and family members alike due to his ostensible heroin addiction, celebrities are no strangers to the perils of their own fame.

Monroe, like Michael Jackson and so many others, was essentially used to death by her fans and critics. She was so loved, and yet so judged, that the difficulties of being a public figure and dealing with her own failings eventually got the best of her. She was given so much adulation at such a young age that she would have had to be extremely grounded and supported in order not to get swept away.

And here we are, watching that time-tested celebrity cycle repeat with Macaulay Culkin. Grown-up child stars like Culkin are particularly ill-equipped for failure because they never had enough time out of the spotlight in which to build their own strength and network of supporters. So when the Enquirer painstakingly chronicles that an allegedly drug-addled Culkin “was clutching his stomach, made a face, and then spit up, not once, but twice”—how can this type of excessive media exposure possibly help Culkin deal with his problems?

It’s a hypocritical world out there, and yet we can’t just blame the tabloids. We at Phoenix House often explain that it’s the American drug demand that fuels international drug supply. The same analogy is true of the American demand for sleazy stories. The terrible tales of Culkin aren’t the Enquirer’s fault—because the people who buy that magazine buy it for exactly this kind of story. The public has a hypocritical fascination with celebrity scandals involving relapse and death and infidelities and the like. People feel a need to celebrate the stars’ successes and then sit in judgment of their failures—to build them up only to tear them down. We can’t simply criticize the media for giving readers and viewers what they want.

In some ways, people who choose a public life (from politicians to actors to models to sports stars to Mark Zuckerberg) need to understand from the get-go that in this society and age, with ubiquitous social media and digital news, their every move will be in the limelight and broadcast by the press. From singers to CEOs, public figures need to make sure they’re equipped to deal with that level of scrutiny and pressure. Unfortunately, the biggest stars have the furthest to fall.

For a celebrity experiencing a crisis, it’s crucial to find people who are supportive of you—not just your fame. For Britney Spears, those people were her family members. For Robert Downey Jr., they were his friends. Similarly, if Macaulay Culkin does indeed have an addiction problem (which is largely tabloid speculation at this point) he will need exactly what anybody – celebrity or not – needs in this situation: help from loved ones. He should surround himself with friends and family members who genuinely care about his recovery—people who aren’t fans or enablers or voyeurs or critics. Fame may be “a ton of bricks,” but not every shining star is doomed to go the way of Marilyn Monroe. Help is out there, and treatment organizations are here for people (celebrities and “civilians” alike) who need their help.

Howard P. Meitiner
President and CEO
Phoenix House

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  • Mo

    “The public has a hypocritical fascination with celebrity scandals involving relapse and death and infidelities and the like.”

    This is true, and it is sickening.

    But let’s not go to the other extreme. Celebrities choose to become drug addicts or live wild lives.

    People like Jodie Foster and Elijah Wood and others have made successful transitions from child star to adult star. Others like Robert Downey Jr. have come back from drug addiction. Obviously I don’t know any of these people and I’m sure they still have their problems. I’m just saying it’s possible to be a celebrity and not completely self-destruct the way so many of them do.

    Like everything else in life, people make their own choices. They should be held responsible for them, not treated like helpless victims.

  • Mo

    As an addendum:

    I’d give anything to be able to do what I love for a living. I don’t have the skills/talent or the looks. I have very little patience for those who have it and choose to throw it all away with both hands.

  • Katrina Rucker

    I’m for the celebrities. This is not about the wrong choices they make. I know they need to take responsibilities for their own actions. But don’t expect me to be like the rest of the world and don’t show ANY respect. If you ask me, they can always STOP entertaining us at anytime. Because we don’t want to show any respect or pray for them. Celebrities never asked us to buy Us Weekly or watch gossip shows like Wendy Williams. I feel the public is responsible for the choices these celebrities make. If they make a mistake and tried to clean it up, we constantly remind them of their failure, and that’s not right or fair. How are they suppose to “take responsibilities for their actions” if we constantly reminding them that they will never going to do right? If you ask me, Country Singer Mindy McCready would still be alive if it wasn’t for a bunch of “GOSSIP ADDICTS”(the public) who want to make it so harder for them to get help from the loved ones. And I’m sorry if you feel that I’m being hard on the public, but they are the one who killed her, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, all of these people would have been alive if it wasn’t for the public.
    No, we can’t control what they do in their lives, but we can control what we do in ours. We can stop buying the tabloid magazines and stop watching the gossip shows that talk down about the celebrities.
    You say you have little patients for those who have it and then choose to throw it all away. Well I have no patients for those who thinks bullying celebrities who has it and then throws it away. I would rather pray for them ANYWAY! Whether they wreck their own lives or not. After all, I would pray for my family members who were on drugs. I’m not saying tough love isn’t the answer; but don’t make that as an excuse for not praying for them. Because we don’t know what they are going through.