How did celebrities become larger-than-life, nearly deified? They’re famous (obviously), and usually wealthy. Royalty counts, but few ordinary politicians make the cut. Glamour is the defining characteristic, above notability, money, or power.
They’re just people, but in public perception, they’re nearly Olympians. Their lives are familiar. Even those who don’t worship the celebrity pantheon often can name movie stars who’ve been strung out on drugs, joined an oddball cult, poached someone’s boyfriend, are perverts, etc. Even minor tantrums are documented in supermarket tabloids. Still, their misdeeds excite the public, and consequences are far less than for mere mortals. They’re not “beyond good and evil,” but pretty close.
A pro athlete begins learning a sport during early youth, then plays in high school, later joins a college team, and finally gets drafted by a professional league. It requires tremendous dedication (commendably), some genetic good luck, and no career-ending injuries. Even so, only a tiny fraction of kids dreaming of going pro will succeed. This is mainly a male pursuit; female athletes generally get bourgeois-level salaries, not multimillion dollar contracts.
Performance-enhancing drugs are a dirty little secret. However, it’s an addition to (rather than a substitute for) years of workouts and practice. Despite this limited exception, there are no shortcuts for success like the other celebrity tracks.
Foremost cardinal sin: Wrath
Some are serious knuckleheads. “Roid rage” doesn’t help either.
For male musicians, it’s a long road for the lucky few who make it to the top. Generally this begins with mastering their instruments in a garage band as teenagers, and later playing gigs in smoky dive bars. With lots of talent—and even more luck—they might release a single that gets air play. If they follow it up with a hit album, then they’re in the running for the big time. That’s how it worked for the Beatles, and countless other bands.
Female musicians have the option of jumping the queue. This means sleeping their way to the top with industry figures who can get their songs in stores and on the air. Still, a minimum baseline of talent is required. It’s hard to sell CDs if a would-be diva’s music is beneath mediocre. Visual appeal and autotune only go so far.
There’s another form of queue-jumping. A manager might encourage an adolescent musician with a wholesome reputation to sexy up her act. The “Lolita appeal” does sell tickets and CDs. Unfortunately, often they spiral out of control during young adulthood. They must keep upping the ante to build on previous success. They’re in an arms race with other scantily-dressed divas. They don’t realize when to tone it down, and their personal boundaries are just a bit distorted by then.
Foremost cardinal sin: Lust
Rock stars are well-known for their carnal appetites, obviously. For female stars, their music and public image can affect the girls who idolize them.
Countless young people dream of success in Hollyweird. Many attempt it, and strike out—one of several reasons for California’s homeless problem. However, a lucky few will make it. The traditional road to success involves being cast as extras, later getting occasional bit parts, and then making an outstanding performance. Following that, a lucky few will attain stardom.
Time is limited; they either make it by young adulthood, or probably never. Obviously, the casting couch enables queue-jumping. That can happen for male actors too, though the specifics are pretty grim. Not everybody does it (just as not all athletes inject steroid doses suitable for beefing up cattle), but it happens.
In ancient times, actors had the same social status as prostitutes. During the rise of British theater, the profession still had a disreputable air, despite Shakespeare’s tremendous cultural contributions. This former lumpenproletariat occupation is one of today’s most glamorous. Acting really is a craft, though reciting lines convincingly isn’t exactly rocket science.
Foremost cardinal sin: Pride
Sometimes it really goes to their heads, and it shows.
Famous for being famous
The strangest of the celebrity tracks often is attained riding someone else’s coattails. That’s usually via dating someone already famous, or occasionally an elderly rich guy. Some are mediocre artists or wannabe celebs with little to no talent. Some others might begin as strippers. Rarely, the toy boy of an actress can become “famous for being famous”.
Another avenue is reality TV. Someone’s cringeworthy eccentricities actually could be a ticket to fame. Unlike movie stars, they might not be able to method-act their way out of a wet paper bag. They’re simply filmed being goofballs, and the public eats up their antics like candy. Finally, a sex tape that goes viral might work too.
Foremost cardinal sin: Sloth
They do basically nothing. Some might lend their names to products, but that’s marketing, not business acumen.
Their life cycle
These demigods are expendable. Usually, a celebrity’s glory days are during youth; then it’s downhill fast. (Sounds familiar?) However, child stars have it the worst. Besides factors mentioned previously, they don’t get a normal upbringing or sense of self, and are under tremendous pressure to perform. Thus, the burnout rate for former child actors is pretty high. That got to Michael Jackson too.
For athletes, age and injuries take their toll pretty quickly. Investing wisely, or at least a backup career, will ease the difficult transition to ordinary life. Those who blow their millions will probably burn out. The top male musicians are mainly unscathed; some 1970s bands are still touring. However, middle-aged female musicians won’t be able to sell tickets like before, even the genuinely great vocalists. Male actors can have decent longevity, but it’s not pretty if they get washed up. Actresses can keep going too, but must adjust. Airbrushing, makeup, favorable cinematography, and digital postproduction only go so far. Today’s sex kitten eventually will be Miss Daisy. The burnout rate for the “famous for being famous” is extreme, even before they become forgotten has-beens.
Many fading actors and musicians attempt to prop up their relevance through ridiculous displays of virtue signaling. (Why do they think celebrity status makes them wise and knowledgeable?) They’ll warn the public about global warming, yet tour the world in private jets. Some adopt children from faraway locales, competing to get the most exotic brood. Faux-compassion would be funnier if the media weren’t trying to make it fashionable (and for pretty obvious reasons). Fortunately, political posturing by athletes is less common. The “famous for being famous” usually don’t bother to pretend to care about anything except themselves, though their lifestyle choices are a bad enough example already.
Other cardinal sins
Only linebackers and the bulimic can get away with chowing down like there’s no tomorrow. Gluttony also includes drunkenness and drug abuse, pretty common in all celebrity categories, and fairly universal for the “famous for being famous”. It’s likely worse than the public imagines; not everybody gets caught. Things can get pretty bad with a nearly unlimited dope budget.
Then there’s greed. I can’t really fault them for wanting to make lots of money. Still, a truck driver, construction worker, or pipefitter is more productive—yet gets microscopically less pay and recognition—than someone who recites lines on a movie set, sings on stage, or plays sportsball. That’s just how it rolls; entertainment is big business.
Envy is generally by the public toward them, understandably. I’ll be honest. If time machines existed, I’d give my fourteen year old self an electric guitar, an amp, and a lecture about corporate bullshit. Also, I really should’ve tried out for the high school football team. (Even if I never went further, my teenage years would’ve been improved enormously.) If I could avoid the perils of excess, having my life plastered on the tabloids would be tolerable.
Fame is often a mixed blessing. Celebrities escape the common man’s struggles, but may acquire another set of problems. Unfortunately, getting a big ego is all too often the first.