Celebrities are the Ornaments of Modern Life


Celebrities, you feel like you know them, but you don’t.  You feel like they are your friends, but they are not.  You feel like you love them, but they don’t love you.  None of these facts matter though and we experience a level of pain and grief when they are gone that is as strong and often stronger than for the death of our own family and friends.

We manufacture celebrities.  We produce and consume celebrities just like we consume products and services.  Somewhere on Maslow’s hierarchy there must be a need for celebrities.  We are endlessly fascinated by their comings and goings.  We all dream of becoming a celebrity.  A Star is Born becomes an inner mantra for our yearnings.  Attention is the holy grail of modern society. 

“Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful, and famous more authority than they deserve.”  — Maureen Dowd

Yesterday, I found out that the actor and playwright Sam Shepard had died four years ago.  He was aged 73 when he passed away.  This morning I was watching reruns of the Rifleman when I heard that the son on the show, Johnny Crawford, had recently died (April 29, 2021) of the Corona Virus at the age of 75. 


No one called me to tell me that some of my favorite actors had passed.  Sometimes, as with Sam, we do not find out for several years.  In Johnny’s case, it was only 9 days after he died.  There are no hot lines to tell fans about the passing of our favorite celebrities.  We may hear something in the news if the death is tragic or unexpected but when it is merely due to natural causes, their deaths are usually not noteworthy enough to make the 5 o’clock news.  The exception is if they rank in the top tier of celebrities. 

But celebrity is a fleeting state for most who achieve stardom.  All it takes to become a celebrity is one great movie, one great song or one great performance and you may find yourself vaulted into stardom.  It can be a very heady feeling to suddenly be surrounded by throngs of reporters and fans who want to know everything you think and everything you plan on doing.  Being treated like this is a form of narcotic.  It can be addicting.  You begin to think that you are special.  You welcome the hoards of attention bestowed on you.  You start to expect that it will never end. 

Then one day, and that day does come for most, the news hounds stop coming around.  You have had no more hit songs or starring roles in popular movies.  Your performances were less than stellar.  You were traded out of the big leagues.  You have not recently been invited on the Jimmy Kimmel Show or any of the major media shows.  The fans start to disappear.  You are no longer a celebrity.  Your star rose and your star fell.  Maybe it was age.  Maybe it was lack of creativity.  Or maybe it was simply the fickleness of people who expect their idols to stay on pedestals.   

We are surprised when our idols take their lives.  For famous writers and famous musicians, suicide seems like an occupational hazard.  Why we wonder?  They have it all.  Fame, fortune, and power surround celebrities.  Some even get elected to the Presidency of the United States.  They are the royalty of America.  They are America’s aristocracy.    

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.” — Bill Murray

170731-sam-shepard-mn-1120_93f7a45307fd06eeb16c1a9e32fdd476.fit-760wAbout twenty years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Stillwater, Minnesota when a scruffy lanky tall guy walked in.  I had been involved in several motorcycle clubs during this time in my life and I thought that I recognized him from one of the clubs.  I got up and walked over to him.  I asked if we knew each other.  I then asked if he belonged to any local bike clubs?  He replied somewhat curtly that he did not know me and that he did not belong to any bike clubs in the area. 

I sat back down with my friend Bruce and kibbitzed about this situation for awhile as I was sure that I knew this guy from someplace.  Finally, I got back up and walked over to where he was standing.  He was still waiting for his expresso.  I asked him his name and he replied “Sam Shepard.”  I started to mention all the movies that I had seen him in and how much I admired his acting.  I stuttered for awhile and could not think of a single Sam Shepard movie that I had seen.  This despite the fact that I had just recently seen him in a movie called “Snow Falling On Cedars.”  I asked him if he wanted to join my friend and I for coffee.  He replied “No, he had to go.”  That was the first and last time I ever saw Sam Shepard in person. 

I have had several other encounters with celebrities, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Suffice it to say, I never was invited out with any.  I never became pals with any.  I never went to the Stork Club or any other place where the rich and famous hang-out.  I have continued to live my average life in average places with an average amount of money and an average amount of talent.  Sometimes, I think my “averageness” has been a blessing.  They say, “be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.” 

Think of the downsides of being a celebrity: 

  • Surrounded by sycophants
  • Afraid to go out in public for fear of being mobbed and importuned
  • Fearful that some nutcase might kidnap you or your family for ransom
  • Never knowing if people love you for your money or for yourself
  • Having to live up to unrealistic expectations of friends and fans
  • Dealing with people who want something from you

But perhaps the worse of all is the addiction that stardom creates.  You begin to need the adoration of your fans.  It is like needing a drug.  You get high on the cheers and applause.  But eventually things change.  You cannot deliver a number one hit song.  You can not hit the ball out of the ballpark.  You cannot write another great novel.  You begin to feel like a failure.  The narcotic of fame evaporates, and you are left alone surrounded by memories of the past.  You long to recreate the past but you soon find that you can never go back.  The past is over.  You must move on, but how?  You were “King of the Hill.” 

6985185-king of the hill

What can compare to being King or Queen?

“I was a common man, and I will always remain a common man. No amount of stardom will ever consume my soul. Money comes, money goes. Fame comes, fame goes. I believe every human being is a celebrity in their own right.” — A. R. Rahman



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