20 February 2012

Why fame is a killer

Why do so many stars die so horribly? Is real talent a double-edged sword that both blesses and curses, asks Susan Erasmus.

Why do so many stars die so horribly? Is real talent a double-edged sword that both blesses and curses, asks Susan Erasmus.

Many people with real talent lead lives of obscurity and desperation. They know they can really write or sing or dance or act, but never get the opportunity to hit the big time. They end up waiting tables and singing at friends' weddings and watching their dreams slip away slowly as the years pass.

The big time

Others hit the big time and their careers become stratospheric. They become household names, their concerts sell out, they have to duck to avoid the paparazzi, and the minor details of their lives get splashed on the front pages of tabloids.

But there's something else many of them also have in common: their lives are like accidents in slow motion. They reel from one messy divorce to another, their kids appear desperate, overindulged and rudderless, and drug and alcohol binges seem routine. The very photographers who made them famous now shoot pics of them looking derelict as they enter drug rehabs, trauma units, or get arrested for drunk driving – again.

A curse vs. a blessing

Is real talent both a blessing and a curse?

It takes an enormous and sustained brilliance to hit the big time. Imagine the surge of energy you would experience if you were performing in front of a stadium filled with 75 000 fans screaming in adulation. Who could possibly get down from such a high in half an hour, watch some TV and go to bed? I certainly couldn't.

But here's the thing: it's not really you they're screaming for. It's your public image, your brilliance, your fabulous make-up. Your fame and your money isolate you from real life and real people. So in the middle of all this adoration, the real you is still a lonely kid with few people around who are brave enough to say no to your every whim.

As Rita Hayworth said of men who slept with her: "They go to bed with Gilda (her most famous role), they wake up with me".

Fame doesn't solve things

Things get really out of hand when people start believing that stardom is a solution to their problems. It isn't: it's fame, it's adoration, it's heaps of money, but nothing more. Hoping that fame will solve everything in your life is like drinking water because you’re hungry. In fact, fame brings pressures of its own and ends up being a real test of character. There's nothing that reveals your true character to the same extent as do freedom and an endless supply of cash.

Brilliance often stems from being out of kilter with the world, from having a hole in your soul. For many, it is the driving force behind trying to find some sort of equilibrium and acceptance.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote," You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star". But the dancing star does not make the chaos go away. Success does not fill the hole. Neither do money, or drugs, or drink. These things bring mere temporary relief. Think Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston.

So are stars doomed to lead lives that get to the crash-and-burn stage early? Not always, I suppose – some have the strength to distinguish the plastic world of flashbulbs and names- up-in- lights from reality. But they are few and far between.

But are drug rehab and psychotherapy a solution for stars? Maybe not. Maybe stars do sacrifice themselves on some level for their fans. Maybe they know deep down that "if their devils were to leave them, their angels would take flight as well" (Rilke).

But maybe they are just like kids let loose in a candy store: they grab as much as they can, because there's no one to tell them enough is enough.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2012)


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