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



Beauty and Aging:  Can the Two Go Together?


A common cliché is that “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”  But have you ever stopped and asked yourself “What is beauty?”  Can you give a definition of beauty?  Would your definition be like mine?  Would old people have the same definition as young people?  Would Blacks and Latinos and Asians and Indians have the same definition as Whites?  Are some definitions more fitting or more powerful than others?

“Outer beauty pleases the EYE. Inner beauty captivates the HEART.” — Mandy Hale

people magazine

You can have your own definitions of beauty, but the world also sets standards.  We have lists of beautiful people all around us.  Magazines, TV and the media hype the “beautiful people” almost daily.  People magazine, Maxim and many others regularly maxim hot womenpublish their lists of the most beautiful people in the world.  Beautiful people marry other beautiful people and are constantly in the news.  The Kardashians would seem to have few talents except their almost incredible beauty.  Rich men marry beautiful women.  Beautiful actresses marry NFL football players.  Beautiful heiresses marry rock stars while beautiful rock stars marry record producers.

beauty and the beast

One common cliché is that true beauty lies beneath the skin.  We see the classic “Beauty and the Beast” movie wherein love becomes blind since the Beast is so kind and thoughtful.  It should surprise no one however that in the end, the ugly Beast turns into a handsome dashing the handsome prince

young Prince and they live happily ever after.  I am still waiting to see one beauty contest or pageant based on the “true beauty” that lies within.  Can you imagine the “Annual Miss Beautiful Beneath the Skin Beauty Pageant?”  Or the Top Ten People with the Most Beauty Inside?

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”  —Kahlil Gibran

sexist men in the worldI once asked my MBA students whether they would rather be smart or beautiful.  They almost unanimously selected beautiful.  I was very surprised but the more I have observed about life, the more it would seem that beauty will get you further than brains.  Brains can get you some things but being nerdy is not one of the things that most people aspire to.  Anti-intellectualism is a fact of American life as noted by Richard Hofstadter in his famous book: “Anti-intellectualism in American Life, 1963.

“Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser.” — Richard Hofstadter

I have many women friends on Facebook whom I regard as strong intelligent women.  They are smart independent and hard working.  They would never depend on a man for their lives or careers.  Nevertheless, let any woman publish a picture of her young daughter and everybody, women as well as men, will fall all over themselves to provide compliments such as “beautiful, pretty, attractive, gorgeous, etc.”  Even among women who should know better, a young girl is defined first by her looks.


I once wondered how aging would affect my idea of beauty.  I wondered if I could grow old with a wife who would eventually look like any other “old” woman.  I am now 71 years old and my spouse is 73.  I always thought my spouse Karen was beautiful.  I had a harder time convincing her of this fact since one must accept their own beauty or no one can convince them otherwise.  Karen simply never saw herself as beautiful.  I confess I was not really attracted to her the first time we met.  However, I fell in love with her the second time when I watched her smile and laugh while we talked.  Her smile and laughter and kindness towards others have always held the secret to my attractiveness to Karen.

“How beautiful a woman can be if kindness is her true beauty.” Debasish Mridha

180107182313-14-golden-globes-red-carpet-2018-super-916As we both have aged, the process of deterioration taking place in our bodies is clear in the more wrinkled, wizened and paunchy body shapes we now exhibit.  While neither of us was ever beautiful by societies standards, we never had any chance of making any top ten beautiful lists before and certainly not today.  Nevertheless, when I see my spouse in her pajamas or in the shower or when she cuddles up in bed with me, I can’t help but think how beautiful she is and how much I love her.  While I still see the shades of societies standards of beauty in the many young models punctuating my daily life, the beauty I see in my wife is something I cannot describe.  It is a beauty that comes from who she is and not how she looks.  I only know she is more beautiful to me today than she was 35 years ago when we first started dating.

“True beauty radiates not from outer cosmetics, but from the simple joy of making a difference for those that need your voice, passion, and time without expecting or wanting anything in return…”  ― Deborah Barnes

six packYou can claim as you grow older that you either have regrets or you have no regrets.  I have had at least one friend who on his deathbed made the claim that he had no regrets.  I admired his attitude very much.  I wanted to emulate this attitude as I grew older, but try as I might it has escaped me.  I can tell you I have no regrets, but it would be a big lie.  I have enough regrets to write a book about.  One of my regrets is that I am shorter than my father was.  He was six feet four inches paul newmantall and I barely make five feet eight inches.  Mostly though, I wonder what it would have been like to have been born handsome.  To have had the looks of Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Brad Pitt or Robert Redford.  Would I have used my looks to achieve fame and fortune or would I have simply squandered it away on wine, women and song? How much different would my life have been if I had been a “beautiful” person?

“Instead of waiting for beauty to show up at your doorstep, create so much beauty within you that it will inevitably overflow in all directions.”  — Nityananda Das

Golden-Globes-2018-1200x675I understand and fully believe that like ingratitude, (Please read my blog on Ingratitude) wanting external beauty is another trap.  It is too easy to see all the glamorous people and wonder what our lives would be like if we had their looks.  But letting go of the standards of beauty that surround us every day is not easy.  No one believes that simply being beautiful makes anyone a beautiful person.  A very famous saying is that “beauty is as beauty does.”  I was taught that by my parents and I still believe it.


A few weeks ago, a man I admired as much for his talent as his great looks passed away.  I have always said that if I could be born again, I would want to come back as an opera singer.  My father loved opera and I grew up in Brooklyn NY in an Italian neighborhood that also loved opera.  On a Saturday evening, you could hear arias up and down the block from people singing Verdi and Puccini on their doorsteps.

“I go to Topman at lunchtime and stare at these beautiful, beautiful people who work there and who are so well-dressed.  And I think: Oh! I want to look like that! They’re amazing, how well-dressed they are!” — Nicholas Haslam

Dmitri Hvorostovsky was one of the greatest male baritones to ever grace an opera stage.  Add to this his ruggedly masculine looks, his wonderful shock of white hair and his six-foot four-inch frame and he had everything I could have dreamed of.  Should I add that his stage presence and charisma was incomparable.  He had a smile that you would not believe.  He always looked like he was having the most fun of anyone in the opera house when he sang.  Dmitri died on November 22, 2017 of brain cancer.  He was only 55 years old.  Would I change places with Dmitri?  No, I would not swap everything he had for the chance to grow older with my spouse Karen.  Be careful they say of what you wish for because you just might get it.

“The mortals never understand. They only see the prize. They never think that the price of getting what you want is having what you once wanted.”MorpheusThe Sandman

Time for Questions:

See my opening paragraph.  Try to answer these questions and leave comments please.  I would love to hear what you think.

Life is just beginning.

I use this byline not because I think I will die and go to heaven or even because I believe in a hereafter.  It simply reminds me of the saying that: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”  So, with that in mind, I try to wake up each day taking the responsibility that today is a fresh start and that my life is truly beginning right this moment.  I do not know what (if anything) comes next, but I do know that I want to live the best I can and do the best I can each day to help make a difference in the world.

Each day that I get up, I have a certain amount of fear that I must overcome.  I fear being useless.  I fear failure.  I fear ignominy.  I fear my friends and family getting older and dying.  I fear not making a difference.  I fear giving up.  I fear the thought that I will get sick and die long after everyone I love is gone.  Some days, it is easy to forget these fears and other days, the process of aging wears me down and I question the value of going on.  On these bad days, living seems to take more courage than I have.  I want to have the strength to go raging into the dark.  If life is just beginning, it is also just ending, and I need to face that as well.  I will continue to do the best I can, hopefully taking two steps forward and only one back most weeks.


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