Death, Narcissism, and Celebrity

This past week three famous people died. Two were film actors and the third was a person who was only famous because they had been on a reality TV show. I have never understood the general obsession people have with celebrities, especially the celebrities who are famous for nothing more than being one. I have known people and seen people who are so into themselves that they want to be famous but I have never understood why. What I do know is the obsession with celebrity is not healthy and not discriminating in this obsession is even worse. It can get plain silly at times.

I remember when I was kid delivering newspapers. On my route was this one house where they worshiped Elvis. There was every kind of Elvis item in the known universe both inside and outside the house. They also had a mini-alter in their car. I thought that was overdoing it.

This past week showed what happens when that house with the Elvis shrine gets blown up in the media.

Ron Silver and Natasha Richardson passed away. Silver was a good character actor who could move effortlessly between drama and comedy. Richardson came from a family of great actors in the UK and she carried on the family ability. Her passing was due to a tragic accident and I did feel bad for her family just as I did for Silver’s friends and family.

The third celebrity to pass away was well known in the UK for appearing on a reality TV show. She died from cancer which is never a good way to die since it is causes such pain and suffering. The reaction to her death, however was on par to the one when Silver and Richardson passed, which just didn’t seem right to me.

The prime minister said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“The whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.

“She will be remembered fondly by all who knew her and her family can be extremely proud of the work she has done to raise awareness of cervical cancer, which will benefit thousands of women across the UK.”

PM leads tributes to Jade Goody

This was the same woman who caused a fire storm when she was on the reality show that made her famous by making nasty racist comments about another “player”. Yes, the woman’s death was tragic but the Prime Minister gave a statement? That’s like if President Obama gave a statement of condolences if the Naked Cowboy had passed away.

But Doug, what about the media frenzy when that guy landed the plane in the Hudson River.

You see, I think there is at least 3 levels of celebrity.

Level 1 are those people who pay their dues through some skill or job that is mainly for public consumption. For them fame comes to them for doing a good job. These people are actors, writers, sports figures etc…..

Level 2 are those people where they happen to be in the right time and right place and fame happens. They aren’t seeking it and after a period of time it fades. The pilot who landed in the Hudson is one of these people. The soldiers who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II are others of this level.

Level 3 are people who have really nothing to offer in defense of their fame other than the media focusing on them for whatever reason. They haven’t worked and paid dues to earn it. They seek it out or play along with it or think they deserve it. Paris Hilton comes to mind as does the woman who died in the UK I mentioned earlier. Some other recent ones are a majority of the people who tried out for American Idol and won’t accept they have no real talent. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe The Plumber) is another of this level.

There is nothing wrong with being famous per se. If you want it and work for it and it comes to you – great. If you take short cuts or think you deserve it then there is a problem. I think we have way too much of this media created celebrity.

I was one of four or five people who spoke at my high school graduation and in my speech I remember having a bit where I said you might see my picture on the back of a bestseller I write. At the time I did think I would write a bestseller and be famous. I have never thought that I deserved it and have not really worked hard enough to do it, so that idea is less likely to happen than it was twenty years ago when I made the statement.

Do we really need to spend time wondering if some level 3 celebrity is or is not on drugs or might be married or whatever happens to normal non-famous people.

If you think it is important then you may need to reconsider your priorities because as Bill Murray said in the film “Meatballs” – It just doesn’t matter.

It really doesn’t.

As I said I admired the work of Ron Silver and Natasha Richardson, but never once did I think their passing was on the same level as if one of my family had passed away.

That wouldn’t be healthy.