I remember when I was younger and my mom would be saddened because a movie star died. It is not that she ever knew them or they were friends or anything, but yet she always had a brief sadness at their passing. “Sexy Rock Hudson died. I cannot believe he was gay.” “Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were the best dancers of my era, I cannot believe he is gone.” “Judy Garland had so much ahead of her; dying at just 47. I cannot believe she took her own life.” She would say after each new passing was announced by the media. In my childlike way I did not completely understand it. Everyone dies. And we go through stages of grief when our loved ones leave us. But what about someone we did not know?
Now that I have grown beyond the age of my mother when she lamented these deaths, I understand her brief sadness each time it happened and her desire to relive those movies. It transports us back in time. 2016 seems like a long year of losing too many iconic artists…Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fischer, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and many more entertainers.
Most of these stars were pop cultural figures in my coming-of-age era and, in their way, helped form who I am today. I loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I remember my teacher in grade school reading this story out loud to the class. I would fantasize that this chocolate factory really existed. I would have given anything to find a golden ticket in my chocolate bar. Gene Wilder played a perfect eccentric chocolate factory owner. And who didn’t want Mrs. Brady to be their mom? She was so “groovy”! I never missed an episode of the Brady Bunch. And any young girl who saw the original Star Wars series wanted to be Princess Leia. She was a role model as a female science fiction superhero.
However, is was the musicians who forced me to reach into the depths of my soul to find the outrageous part of me. When we are in our teens, coming of age, we tend to question everything about tradition and reach out to new ideas. Trying to find who we are; experimenting. I cannot think of a better trio of gender-bending, sexually charged men than Prince, David Bowie and George Michael. We were young, the next generation, and these musicians helped create much of pop music for the next several decades. The Fred Astaires and Glen Millers of the Depression era kids and the hippie icons of the baby boomers had morphed into make-up wearing, costumed men who tackled all kinds of taboo subjects with their music and lifestyles…steamy sex…drugs…homosexuality…. bisexuality. All the while sending a message that is was okay for this experimentation. Some radio stations would not play certain songs. And that simply fueled fans like me to want more.
Each time a new death of a musical icon was announced this year, I consumed their art in a VH-1 marathon music bender. All so young. Taken from this earth long before their story was complete. Lives marred by drugs, disorders, secrets and fame. And it got me to musing. How lonely is fame? I am not talking 15 minutes of fame from some viral video. I am not talking about a local TV anchor posing for a few pics with viewers when out to dinner. I am not even talking reality star fame.
What do you do with adoration beyond comprehension? One which imprisons you? Lady Gaga said in a recent interview, “I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous.” The kind of fame that haunted(s) icons in their height like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Shahrukh Khan (yes, it is Bollywood, but trust me he is big-time) and the list goes on. The paparazzi get bolder and the gossip magazines will pay more for photos and the fans demand more news. It is vicious cycle. One which creates so much isolation for the person living it.
Sure, everything is a trade-off. Fame has it perks. For one, anything money can buy. Jets, mansions, golden toilets, drugs. Whatever your heart desires. But can you imagine the pressure? You are only as famous as your last great (fill in the blank….song, movie, photo, painting, performance, stage show, game winning goal, etc.). So once you are on the pinnacle, it takes even more creative genius to top your last fantastic piece. Add to that the people who want to be your “friend” but are only in it to ride your coattails. Your entourage of sorts. Ready to take your money or expose you in some way. After a while, it may difficult to trust anyone. And not know if any one is actually a “friend” anymore,
But wait, there is more to this fantastic ride of fame. You can’t leave your house without a flood of flashes and cell phones in your face. Casual undisturbed dinner at your favorite restaurant down the street? Shopping for a pair of shoes? Going to a festival? No, forget it. All these normal things most people enjoy with anonymity just do not exist in a famous person’s world. I have seen fans who are so bold, they will crush towards stars grabbing at them, even cutting pieces of clothing or hair, if their body-guard is not close by. I can sympathize as to how frightening that must be.
It is no wonder famous people turn to drugs (legal and illegal) and alcohol and isolationist behavior to cope. These struggles are real. It can bring out the best of creativity, but also the worst in mental health. It makes me ponder the age-old question. Do you want to be rich and famous or have enough income to live on and be inconspicuous?
Holiday Musings. Have a fantastic future ahead, wherever your path takes you.