The other side of fame – stress
For some reason, perhaps because it’s far from the L.A.-N.Y. continuum, celebrities’s siblings are drawn to Central Florida. Not only that, but they feel compelled to become journalists here.
I’ve sat two desks over from Jennifer Beals’s brother, Greg, been at newspaper parties with Susan Sarandon’s brother, Terry Tomalin, and shared journalistic turf with Gretchen Letterman, Dave’s sis.
These relationships occasionally bring the mild-mannered reporters some fall-out fame. Terry, while on a backpacking trip with his sister and her pal Julia Roberts, noticed that Roberts was listening to Lyle Lovett cassettes on her Walkman, and set the two up for their first date. Gretchen made the newspapers when her brother dropped by for a visit in St. Petersburg and had a car accident.
But mostly, they’re closemouthed about their celebrity sibs.
“It’s not just that you get tired of people asking about them,” says Arthur McCune, a reporter whose stepbrother, Daniel Waters, wrote Heathers and Batman Returns. It’s also that, in comparison, you feel kind of like a failure. I mean, he comes home for Christmas and has been at some exotic locale for his new movie, or just had lunch with Winona Ryder, and then it’s, So what’s new with you?”‘
Celebrity and success have become synonymous in a culture that judges by how rich, seductive, and riveting the image; where the name recognition of teenage waif models rivals that of Nobel Peace Prize recipients,
“Celebrity [is] the reward of those who project a vivid or pleasing exterior or or have otherwise attracted attention to themselves,” Christopher Lasch wrote in The Culture of Narcissism. “It is evanescent …. In our time, when success is so largely a function of youth, glamour, and novelty, glory is more fleeting than ever, and those who win the attention of the public worry incessantly about losing it.”
Stars, then, have their own problems, not the least of which is contemplating their own half-lives. Some worries intrude from outside: rabid fans, gold diggers, paparazzi, critics, competition. Others gnaw from within: self-doubt, addiction, wanderlust.
Entertainers – whether actors, artists, evangelists, writers, musicians, politicians, or athletes – survive by peddling themselves and their talents to the masses. They’re put on display, consumed, evaluated and achieve either dismissal or acclaim. Feedback is received through Gallop pons, Nielsen ratings, and box-office draw.
Like the tree-in-the-forest conundrum, this presents a philosophical puzzle: If a celebrity doesn’t rivet the public’s attention, does he exist?
Fame has always had a bad reputation among thinkers. Poets sung of its seductiveness, and its tendency to breed vanity and superficiality. But the worst you could say of the old kind of fame, the kind based on accomplishment, was that it clouded your vision. The new, less durable fame, the kind refracted through images, proves especially corrosive to the self.
“To be a celebrity means to have more than the usual assaults on one’s ego,” says Charles Figley, Ph.D., director of the Psychosocial Stress Research Program at Florida State University. “You’re very vulnerable to the personal evaluations of other people. The public is ultimately in control of whether your career continues.”
Figley, who is writing a book on the stresses peculiar to celebrities, conducted a survey in which 200 questionnaires were mailed out to names randomly selected from a list of the public’s top-ranked celebrities in 1991. From 51 replies, he compiled a list of the primary sources of stress for celebrities and their families, as well as their reactions and solutions. Most of the questionnaires were completed by the celebrities, the rest by a spouse, friend, or adult child of the celebrity. The top 10 stressors, in order, were:
* the celebrity press * critics * threatening letters/calls * the lack of privacy * the constant monitoring of their lives * worry about career plunges * stalkers * lack of security * curious fans * worries about their children’s lives being disrupted.
The celebrities’s reactions to this stress were: depression, loss of sleep, crying over nothing, bad moods, acting out and misbehavior on the part of their children, lack of concentration, stomach problems, paranoia, over-spending, lack of trust, and self-hatred.
“There’s a certain amount of insecurity,” Figley says. “One of the respondents said that, at any time, he expected someone to come up and tap him on the shoulder and say, `Go back to being a waiter. What do you think you’re doing here, anyway?’ There’s a constant need for reassurance that they deserve what they’ve received.”
Stress-busting solutions celebrities mentioned included: talking to friends or therapists, beefing up security, having friends outside the business, protecting their kids, laughing as much as possible, finding faith and religion, getting out of L.A.
“A sense of humor was one thing that kept coming up when they were asked about coping,” Figley says. “One family had fun with it, and made a game out of trying various disguises to not be recognized.” But another respondent, a well-known celeb, said he vividly remembers a painful moment when his family was going out for pizza, and his youngest child asked his mother, “Does dad have to come?”
“There tends to be a wide variation among the children,” Figley says. “Some don’t mind the attention, or even look forward to it. Others hate it.”
Kate Capshaw, wife of Steven Spielberg, recently said their three young children were the reason she wants to move her family out of Los Angeles. “L.A. is kind of i one-horse town – because of the entertainment industry – and their daddy’s riding on a pretty damn big horse.”
Although Figley asked respondents to focus on the negatives, he said most acknowledged that celebrity comes with “tremendous highs, an extraordinary sense of pleasure and reward. They enjoy the sense of influence.”
Let’s state up front, nobody’s feeling sorry for people who get $4.5 million a picture, own three mansions on various hies, have tired of being invited to so many glamorous parties, and fly to Paris on a whim. As Jerry Seinfeld, star and creator of the eponymous un-sitcom, told TV Guide, “I think people want to see you enjoy what you’ve done. If I were depressed and complaining, people would say, `Oh, for crying out loud, what the hell does it take?'”
But even this expectation – that celebs should be modest and grateful, zenfully happy, and content in their accomplishments – is just another larger-than-life role that we expect them to play.
Brad Pitt, he of the undead, who, ironically, was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine, says, “Being in the movies doesn’t make you laugh any harder, or any less sad.” Pitt collects live chameleons that hang in cages behind his California home, which he fins with old-wood furniture and antiques. Changelings in confinement, surrounded by things that are solid and lasting; the symbolism is not subtle. “The house is very, very important as this [fame] thing builds and builds and gets completely out of hand. Proportion, materials, light, perspective,” he told Rolling Stone, just after the release of Interview with a Vampire.
And Jodie Foster, on the set of the movie Nell, tells reporters that she’s suffering from bad dreams and sleeplessness because she doesn’t live anywhere anymore. She bought a house in a remote location years ago, when she was in an “L.A. is a scuzzy Hollywood town” frame of mind, and now, she says, it’s too far away from everything. A home, a place of comfort and security, is vitally important to her. Foster endured a madman’s obsession after John Hinckley claimed that he made his assassination attempt on President Reagan to impress her. “The problem is, I can’t really go out all the time and feel okay about what might happen to me. I don’t get to go out like other people do. I can’t go to McDonald’s, or a coffee shop,” Foster says. And, in a later interview, “I’ve gotten more fragile as I’ve gotten older.”
Celebrities by Association
Celebrityhood – being well known and recognized either by face or name to large groups of people – isn’t confined to a few towns or professions. Dr. Jack Kevorkian has it. Joey Buttafuoco has it. JFK Jr. has it. Ivana Trump married and divorced it.
People who acquire fame quickly or due to reasons outside their control deal with it less well than those who have struggled for years before making it or who were born into high-achieving families, observes psychotherapist Marcia Lasswell, M.A., a professor at California State University and private practitioner in L.A.
Lasswell has surveyed almost 40 other therapists who counsel celebrities, asking them about their clients’s most frequent problems. “I believe the most difficult areas in which to be a celebrity are religion and politics are politics,” said Lasswell. “You’ve got the same types of stress as other celebrities, but you’re held to a higher standard.” Drugs or affairs are verboten. And while it might be trendy in Los angeles to have a therapist, for politicians it can be seen as a sign of weakness and, for religious leaders, a crisis of faith. Take, for example, the debate over whether Florida governor Lawton Chiles was fit for office after it was disclosed that he was on Prozac for depression.
“Politicians can’t lead reclusive lives,” Lasswell says
Indeed, the media frenzy that surrounded Henry Foster, M.D., when he was nominated for Surgeon General in February took him respected obstetrician to controversial candidate overnight. “Now, when I wake up in the morning and look out my window, the press is out there waiting and watching,” Foster said. “I have even picked up a new lexicon: Sound bites, Boom mikes. Stakeouts. Live shots. Talking heads. On-air analysis. All dissecting me over and over again. And all before I uttered one word at my Senate confirmation hearings.”
Face recognition is the most stressful part of being a celebrity, the therapist reported. People who are famous but not easily recognized, such as authors, have an easier time of it.
In his book The Image, Daniel J. Boorstin writes, “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness… The hero was distinguished by his achievement, the celebrity by his image or trademark.” Even the most enduring, respected actors question which of these categories they fall into.
Paul Newman, in a recent interview, says he continually wonders if his entire career was based on his arctic-blue eyes. “You’re constantly reminded. There are places you go and they say, `Take off your dark glasses so we can see your beautiful blue eyes.’ And you just want to, I dunno, um…thump them,” Newman says. “They could say, `Hey, it’s very nice to meet you’ – that’s great. Or, `Thanks for a bunch of great performances,’ and you can feed off that for a half. But the other thing, which is always there, is a never-ending reminder.
“The bloodshot blue eyes,” he says, laughing.
Newman, 70, says despite his years of philanthropy and dozens of classic movie roles, this issue perplexes him. “I am thoroughly and predictably concerned about what was my accomplishment, and what was the accomplishment of my appearance, which I have no control over,” he says. “What was attributable to me?”
Celebrities live in a world of myth and fantasy, where limits have been peeled back by money and fame. Boundless opportunities, however, can feel like a prison with silken walls, luxurious in its isolation. However much the world opens up to celebrities, a part of it also closes down. There is a massive loss of privacy. It is a challenge to maintain human contact.
The seclusion and grandeur imparted by fame can trigger paths of thinking that resemble schizophrenic or paranoid delusions. “I don’t know who to relate to,” says musician Eddie Vedder. “I don’t know how people relate to me. I don’t feel like people relate to me as a normal human.”
Therapists say their celebrity clients often develop an adaptive form of personality disorder: a split between their private and public selves. “There are constant accolades from outside based on how they look, who their characters are,” says Annie Coe, a Los Angeles therapist who has done research on celebrity couples. “It’s easy to lose track of who they are. Holding on to a sense of self is difficult.”
Celebrities struggle every day with their private persona, notes Lasswell: “Who am I to the world, who am I to myself, who am I to my family.?”
There are two types of celebrities, says Coe, who estimates that about 60 percent of her clients are celebrities, or on their way up. The first type is self-confident and secure, and retains their ego strength. The second is driven by inferiority to gain approval and masks this with narcissism, constantly demanding special attention.
But there are commonalities in people who are drawn to the genre and succeed. “They tend to be iconoclasts, people who need to live the gypsy life. They love challenges, stimulation, verbal expression. They’re usually social and gregarious, and have great charm and wit,” Coe says.
Chutes and Ladders
“Things are going very wen for me,” says actor Tom Sizemore, who played the love-besotted detective in Natural Born Killers. “Unless, of course, people don’t like me.”
Celebrities ply their wares in a business that the Screen Actors Guild says has an 85 percent unemployment rate at any given moment, which is bound to create a bit of tension, even for the 15 percent lucky enough to be at work that day.
“The main stressor I’ve seen in our clients is the cyclical nature of the entertainment business,” says psychologist Michele Harway, Ph.D., director of the California Family Study Center in North Hollywood. “And, when working, the incredible hours. There’s no time or energy left over for family. Then, during the hiatus, there’s anxiety about if they’ll ever work again. Commitments are not made from year to year. Fame is elusive – you’re the darling today, and can’t get a job tomorrow.”
Celebrities, then, can scarcely enjoy their fame for fear of it slipping away. And while you are on top, the people who sign your paycheck, fickle lot though they may be, insist on following you everywhere. Stardom, Harway says, means that “you can’t even go pee without being followed by hordes of fans demanding autographs.”
Harway sat behind Don Johnson and Barbra Streisand, back when they were a couple, at a Dodgers game, and when Johnson got up to go the bathroom, a whole crowd of people followed him, waving slips of paper in his face.
Don, and even Barbra, may not have to worry about this for long. “There are more famous people than ever before, but most of their lives are parables of perishability, “says author Neal Gabler in Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity, a biography of gossip columnist Walter Winchell. “For decades, an ever-expanding pool of celebrities has been competing for a finite public attention….Viewed in more ruthless economic terms, these movie stars, athletes, artists, journalists, and socialites were human commodities.”
In a speech she wrote for acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, the late Audrey Hepburn thanked those who “guided an unknown, insecure, inexperienced, skinny broad into a marketable commodity.”
But most celebrities don’t like to think of themselves as passing fads, or even plan for that possibility, for fear of jinxing their careers. They tend, instead, to make huge amounts of money in short amounts of time, then spend it very quickly. In a business that is feast or famine, celebs may reward themselves when the big checks come in, assuming that they will be able to sustain their new lifestyle.
In a business where what you sell is, ultimately, yourself, appearance takes on a special significance. In acting and modeling, it has become almost chic to step away from your own image. “I don’t really look as good as I do in pictures,” Christie Brinkley once said during a television interview, straight to the camera.
Stars, like most of us, often fixate on their flaws, not on their best attributes. Women in the business seem especially anxious about fulfilling expectations of willowy beauty and ever-sustainable youth. It may be an understandable response, given the built-in insecurities of fame: There’s always another talent arriving on the celebrity shuttle.
Demi Moore, as surely as Hester Prynne, knows the power of her dark eyes and throaty voice. And yet, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood history details why she believes she’s a plain Jane. “You know … eyes too small, I don’t have a good smile, I’m square, I have no waist, and I’m never thin enough.”
The late Gilda Radner did some soul-searching in her autobiography, It’s Always Something, written just before her death from ovarian cancer. “With fame, and the constant display of my image on television, came anorexia. I became almost afraid to eat,” she said. But New York streets are filled with tempting kiosks. “During the second year of `Saturday Night Live,’ I taught myself to throw up. I became bulimic before medical science had given it that name.”
After her hair fell out from chemotherapy, Radner could go out in public and not be recognized. But with that freedom came the loss of her sense of self. “I started introducing myself by saying, `I used to be Gilda Radner.’ That was how I felt. I used to be her, but now I was someone else.” Radner finally broke through the desolation and joined a cancer support group, where she established friendships and made people laugh. “Finding that part of myself again,” she said, “was wonderful.”
Drugs and Destruction
English actor Gary Oldman seems to take pride in finding the oddest roles imaginable; he’s played Count Dracula, Beethoven, Sid Vicious, and Lee Harvey Oswald. “Acting comes too easy for Gary. He’s a genius at the craft. It bores him,” says Douglas Urbanski, Oldman’s agent.
The nemesis Oldman is struggling to conquer is more challenging than a difficult screen persona. “He’s 61 days sober as of today,” Urbanski told me in early February. “Isabella (Rossellini), Gary, and I have been on the most incredible journey together. The work he has done on himself is awesome.”
Oldman, 36, is the son of an alcoholic welder who abandoned his family when Gary was seven. While Oldman was gliding to the top of the film industry, his personal life was in shambles, with two broken marriages. “Sometimes acting gets in the way of living life,” Oldman has said. “It’s very consuming.
After five weeks of rehab, Oldman now plays his Steinway to relieve stress, attends AA meetings, and stays grounded by establishing a routine in his life. “He’s got children, dogs, nannies, housekeepers, a whole menagerie up there [at his home],” Urbanski said. “But this is the first time he’s experienced it all from a point of sobriety.”
“People are naive about chemical dependence,” Oldman now tells reporters, “about how destructive, powerful, and overwhelming it is.”
David Wellisch, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s medical school, says Oldman may well have two of the factors associated with alcohol abuse – a genetic predisposition and an environmental influence from chilhood, with at least one parent modeling addictive behaviors.
But because of his talent, Oldman, like many celebs, had a third risk factor – one that Wellisch calls a “crisis of mobility,” in which his fame transported him from one world to another. “He knew how to act when he was the son of a welder, but then he became a stranger in a strange land. His life had, at some level, lost its bearings. Drugs can be a stabilizer, at least temporarily, providing anxiety reduction, feelings of omnipotence and power, or a soothing, deep peace otherwise unattainable,” Wellisch says.
For celebrities, especially in the entertainment field, the pressure is always on to turn in a perfect performance, to be better than before, to constantly hit the mark. At the same time, artists tend to be sensitive souls in touch with naked emotions they mine for our perusal.
“Artists are the lenses through which life is transmitted. They show us what we think and feel in a way that is profound, intense, and highly emotional,” Wellisch says. “They experience life more clearly than the rest of us.” Drugs are a way to mute these feelings, which threaten to overwhelm.
And with the riches that accompany their fame, drugs are an escape route celebrities can afford – at least for a while. The list of celebrity deaths from drugs is long, and continually updated – Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Scott Newman, David Kennedy, John Belushi, River Phoenix.
“I think it has to be remembered that he was 23 and he made the choice,” said Judy Davis, who was set to star opposite Phoenix in his next movie. “There’s something about stardom and the way it empowers people – he thought he was immune.” Fame, therapists agree, can draw stars into a kind of magical thinking, wherein the laws of humankind are suspended.
Or, perhaps, River Phoenix felt he was unworthy. “There’s embarrassment and guilt among those who become superstars quickly,” Figley says. “They may have a self-destructive streak.”
Jib Fowles, professor of media studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and author of Star Stuck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public (Smithsonian Institute Press), found in a study of 100 stars from all fields – Hollywood entertainers, sports stars, musicians – that celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American.
“It’s an enormously stressful profession,” Fowles says. “There is unrelenting pressure coupled with diminishing private lives. They have to be on every time they step out their front door.”
In fact, Fowles found that the average age of death for celebrities, overall, was 58, compared to an average of 72 years old for other Americans.
Celebrities, he believes, are the sacrificial victims of our adoration.
“Never in a society has the individual been anywhere near as important as in contemporary America,” Fowles says. And, as old heroic figures – military, political, and religious leaders – have fallen by the wayside, entertainers have taken their place. “They are delivered to us as perfect human beings. We look to them as ideals, and that gives us orientation. But the burden falls heavily on them. There’s an argument to be made that stars aren’t paid nearly enough for the cultural service they provide.”
“You have to wonder if anyone set limits for these people, if anyone said, `You’re nuts, you’re going to the hospital,'” Wellisch says. “Take if from me, I’ve seen celebrities who are household names, and it’s tough to tell them things. Everyone else is telling them what magnificent, otherworldly creatures they are, and you have to tell them they have clay feet and all these problems they need to deal with…”
Show business, like police work and medicine, is a high-risk profession, says Wellisch. “You experience too much, you see too much.”
Some of the celebrities who have kicked drugs and come through to the other side attribute the change to settling down and having children. Actor Dennis Quaid battled drugs and alcohol for years, finally checking into rehab to kick a cocaine addiction before marrying Meg Ryan in 1991 and having their son, Jack.
Children can pun their parents, famous or not, outside themselves. There is no longer the luxury of complete self-indulgence, if one takes parenting seriously. And, perhaps for the first time, there is someone more important, someone more deserving. For celebrities, who are at the center of so many orbits, it’s especially important to have a little Copernicus around.
“As soon as Sam was born,” said proud papa Michael J. Fox, “I knew that I would throw myself in front of a truck for him.”
Sharon Stone, who’s had a reputation for being outspoken and forthright in interviews, recently switched tacks. “My new policy is this: I have a life of my own. Just a little, tiny one, but it’s mine,” she told the “Entertainment Tonight” crew when they asked about her latest love interest.
Celebrities understandably become more protective when they achieve the level of fame where fans begin to swarm, track, or target them obsessively, says therapist Coe, whose office is across from the entrance to Warner Bros. Studios. “They’ll buy burglar alarms, cars with tinted windows, guard dogs, body guards. Some of them even border on paranoia, like the stars who have four bodyguards with them at all times, even on a movie set, and change clothes five times a day. It’s a fine line.
“You’ve got the up side, where celebrities have the freedom and opportunities to go places and do things that bring them wonderment and joy. But their boundaries are constantly being pushed back, physically and mentally. Also, their trust level is down. They don’t trust a lot of people.”
Through their prominence and visibility, celebrities become living Rorschach tests, valued by their adoring public not for who they are, but for who their fans want them to be. With the casual fan, this could mean confusing actors with the roles they play, or feeling a sense of false intimacy with someone they’ve never actually met. For the lunatic, it could mean that the celebrity becomes the fantasy half of a dangerous delusion. Take the woman who, after breaking into David Letterman’s home, took to driving his cars and referring to herself as “Mrs. Letterman.”
Michelle Pfeiffer has said that she acts for free – but charges for the inconvenience of being a celebrity. She tells about one day on the set of The Age of Innocence, when people were gathered around her trader. “I kept trying to find a place where they couldn’t see in. So I find myself in the back of the trailer and they can’t see me, but I can hear them. Now, these are people who are usually like, `Michelle, Michelle, we love you.’ And I hear somebody say, `Hey, man, I saw her and she looks old,'” Pfeiffer recounted, laughing. “I’m not worried about age. But I’m very aware that this is my window of time.”
Moving away from fans to “get away from it all” might work too effectively, however. Garrison Keillor, radio host from the banks of Lake Wobegon, left St. Paul for Denmark, homeland of his Scandinavian wife. He claimed he wanted anonymity, the freedom to “live the life of a shy person.” Six years ago, he moved back to Minneapolis and resumed broadcasting live. Nothing’s worse than adulation, till it’s gone.
Celebrity parents may produce celebrity progeny: Janet Leigh begat Jamie Lee Curtis, Debbie Reynolds begat Carrie Fisher, Kirk Douglas begat Michael, Lloyd Bridges begat Beau and Jeff, Martin Sheen begat Charlie and Emilio, Henry Fonda begat Jane and Peter, who begat Bridget.
But for the most part, celebrities have ordinary, moms, dads, dogs, and siblings back in the great American heartland who serve as touchstones in their lives. Families and old friends, say the stars, counteract the dizzying seduction of a world in which you can endlessly reinvent yourself, losing track of who you are and where you came from.
Sarah Jessica Parker, 29, says she takes “self-appointed sabbaticals” from the demands of filming to “see my family, go to the market, and cook every day.” Heather Locklear, “Melrose Place” bad girl, told Barbara Walters that her parents live nearby, visit often, and keep her sane.
When your parents are the ones who are famous, though, it can be a tough act to follow. It is the children who often pay the price of parental celebrity. The insecurity in the household, the tension, the career and mood ups and downs, the errant, hectic schedules, and the long absences all coalesce to shift a great deal of the emotional burden to the kids.
“I feel so for the kids,” says Coe. “You’re always dealing with having that name, or that face.” No surprise, then, that the children of celebrities, like the prodigal minister’s daughter, often act out in effective and embarrassing ways.
Alison Eastwood, now a model, grew up in Carmel as not only the daughter of actor Clint, but also as the rebellious child of the town’s mayor. “I was feeling my oats,” she said in a recent interview. “I dyed my hair orange and “drove around fast with my stereo blaring. I was one of the big noisemakers in town. I bet people were happy to see me go to college.”
The trappings of fame – frequent travel, drug use, affairs – can estrange celebrity parents from their children, preventing a normal relationship during their formative years. Actress Liv Tyler, 17, is the daughter of model Bebe Buell and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Raised in Maine, Liv was nine before she learned that Tyler was her father. Her mother blocked Tyler from his daughter’s life due to his drug and alcohol abuse. “He was a screwed up mess, and I chose not to have him in her life until he chose sobriety,” Buell says.
Tyler’s daughters now accept and acknowledge their rock-legend dad, although his 16-year-old daughter Mia says he does embarrass her sometimes while on stage. “I mean, he stands there and lie’s groping himself and he is 46 years old and he should not be doing that,” she told “A Current Affair” in an interview. “It disgusts me.”
Celebrities’ children, like the children of the very wealthy, also run the risk of wasted lives due to dysgradia, a syndrome where there is a complete lack of connection between doing and getting. “This is extremely amotivational,” says Wellisch. “You know that no matter what you do, everything’s still going to be there.”
In addition to blood relations, celebs often have extended “families” nearby, made up of friends, employees, and other stars. Celebrities often work out of their homes, scheduling appointments, reading scripts, conducting meetings, and having networking parties. “The household is fined with people always coming and going. There’s quite a bit of entertainment. It’s rather chaotic. Managers and agents who have been with them for a long time become close friends, and like aunts and uncles to their children,” Figley says.
With a support staff comes a payroll, employees and associates who depend on the celebrity for their own livelihood. “That puts a celebrity under constant pressure to be famous,” Figley says. “So if an actor is in a movie that gets bad reviews or does poorly, he is inclined to self-blame, which leads to depression.”
And, as always when there’s a lot of money involved, there’s that potential for corruption, for a trust violated. Indeed, celebrities are usually inundated by people who want to work for them. It can be difficult to scrutinize who to hire, never knowing what anyone really wants of you.
The Home Front
Hardest of all, perhaps, is the stress that fame can place on a celebrity’s marriage.
Temptations are abundant. Legends of the Fall star Aidan Quinn, who has a wife, Elizabeth Bracco, and a five-year-old daughter, has women slipping notes to him even while he’s getting his teeth cleaned at the dentist. “One time,” he recounts, “I was out with my wife at dinner, and this woman walks up to the table and puts down a card with her name and number. She just laid it down aid she walked away. I had to almost physically restrain my wife. Pretty fucking ballsy.”
Without a separate, strong commitment to a career or other interests, it is particularly difficult for a celebrity’s partner to maintain a clear sense of identity in a relationship. The attainment of celebrity almost automatically shifts the power balance. The spouse of a celebrity may live in constant fear of abandonment. What’s more, the frequent absences of the celebrity mean the partner winds up with the extra burden of domestic responsibility. And the unpredictability of employment puts constant tension on the relationship.
But the biggest stress or relationships may come from the celebrity’s own psyche. Does a star give up the role at home? The shift is almost always difficult for celebrities, therapists say. After a day in front of the camera, being catered to by teams of workers, not to mention sought out by hordes of fans, a request to take out the garbage can feel extremely claustrophobic.
Jennifer Sils, a Santa Monica therapist wed to comedy magician Mac King, says being in a relationship with an entertainer provides as many benefits as drawbacks to the spouse. Sils interviewed in depth eight women married to or living with men in the performing arts. Erratic schedules, long hours, unpredictable income, and periods of unemployment can make living with performers difficult, they admitted.
The financial ups and downs add a profound level of unpredictability in scheduling important life events, such as when to have children. There are difficulties in establishing a personal identity when married to a performer, who is often a strong personality. Parties and other social events supply more stress, because they tend to make the spouse feel unimportant. The frequent long absences of their mates require adjustments on leaving and reentry.
But, Sils found, most of the women said their relationships gave them opportunities they might not have otherwise experienced, like travel and rubbing shoulders with other stars. For the most part, said the women, their Eves were exciting, filled with creativity, and seldom boring.
For celebrity spouses anchored by children, homes, and careers, however, home can be a long way from the latest movie set.
And then there are those celebrities who feel destined to stay single due to their star status. Joan Lunden, co-host of “Good Morning America,” recently bemoaned her lack of romantic companionship, three years after her divorce. “Since then, I’ve only had a few dates – and believe me, that hasn’t been my choice. I can’t understand why men are so intimidated. There must be someone wonderful out there. But I’m certainly finding him hard to find.”
Ah, the press. The Fourth Estate, defender of the First Amendment, the No. 1 source of celebrity stress.
The tabloids, both print and TV, lead the pack, certainly. But even the mainstream press has incredible leeway when it comes to reporting on public figure. Where a private person must prove only negligence to claim libel, public figures (such as celebrities, politicians, and others who have sought the spotlight) must claim actual malice or knowledge that the statement is false.
The creative-expression defense goes a long way with courts intent on upholding the freedom of the press. When Hustler magazine discussed Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse, the Supreme Court ruled it satire.
But those on the receiving end say the press can be relentless in trying to capture, then condemn, their celebrity prey.
“I was walking down, the street to go and get a newspaper and I was followed by this van, and this man with a video camera was filming me,” Julia Roberts said in a recent interview. “This popped up on TV a few days later. I mean, I’m going to get the paper, and it’s early in the morning and I have my hair pulled back and I have on some little dress or whatever. This woman on the television had the nerve to be completely obsessed by how I looked.
“Now, I don’t have a clue what she looks like when she’s going to get the paper,” Roberts continued, “but I doubt it is the same as she does on television. She was saying, Julia, I have the name of a great hair-dresser’ I thought, well, why should I do my hair to go and get a paper on the off-chance that somebody is going to videotape it and put it on TV?”
Being constantly judged and evaluated by their appearance, whether attending the Academy Awards or stepping out to get a newspaper, denies celebrities any part of their life that is truly and exclusively their own. Therein lies madness…or, at least, resentment. Does buying a movie ticket, owning a television, or subscribing to a magazine give us automatic rights to 24-hour surveillance?
We build ’em up, just to knock ’em down.
The late Tony Perkins, said his wife, Berry, never gloried in his cinematic successes. “He was very strong, and very intelligent, but I don’t think he thought he really contributed a hell of a lot to this world, Which is really sad.”
“I’ve always felt…that it was a very exposable myth that I was somebody,” Perkins told the Saturday Evening Post in 1960. “I’ve felt this was an absurd dishonesty and that if I were close to people, it would be instantly evident and that they would say, `Well, gee, he’s nothing at all. What do we want to see him for?'”
Many celebrities suffer from this “impostor phenomenon,” says Harway, and attribute their successes to good luck rather than hard work.
Just as we have created celebrities, we have created the hall of mirrors in which they so precariously exist. For the famous today, said Lasch, self-approval depends on public recognition and acclaim.
“The good friends and neighbors, which formerly informed a man that he had lived a useful life, rested on appreciation of his accomplishments.
“Today, men seek the kind of approval that applauds not their actions, but their personal attributes,” Lasch continued. “They wish to be not so much esteemed as admired. They crave not fame, but the glamour and excitement of celebrity. They want to be envied rather than respected. Pride and acquisitiveness…have given way to vanity.”
The Last Word
Sure. But some celebrities refuse to give in to the sanctimonious seriousness of it all. Wisdom can be found in the most unlikely places. MTV VJ Karen Duffy says that her newfound recognition is really no big deal.
“I still live in the same neighborhood. I still spend a lot of time with my family in New Jersey. I still volunteer at a nursing home when I can,” Duffy says. “I’d rather have a good life than a good career. So I treat my career like a rental car. I take chances, and have a lot of fun with it.”
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COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group