Thursday, June 12, 2014

How Fame Kills

[Photo: Shep Gordon, Supermensch]
Before signing a contract, Agent Shep Gordon will warn his client, "If I do my job exactly right, I'll probably kill you."  I've heard his warning now in a couple of NPR interviews this week pertaining to the documentary about Gordon called Supermensch, directed by Mike Myers.  Since the late 1960s, Gordon has made celebrities of his clients, so he should know how fame is toxic.  But why?  His story gives us a couple of reasons.

While Gordon's name is new to me, I knew his clients' names when I was in 7th grade, and I longed to join their pantheon of celebrities.  My 7th graders today wouldn't know anything of his clients Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Raquel Welch, and Teddy Pendergrass.   So, reason 1:  Fame is fleeting.  In fact, it doesn't even leave you with  savings.  For example, Pendergrass was a top name in R&B, and died broke. 

But interviewer Terri Gross drew a more unexpected reason out of Gordon and Myers on her program Fresh Air this week.  She asked, now that this film is making his name and face known, how has he experienced fame?

He answered with an anecdote.  Heading  through his hotel's lobby to a dinner meeting,  he was wrapped in his private thoughts when a young lady interrupted.  She called his name, said she'd just seen the film, and wanted to tell him about problems in her life that she shares with him.  He saw how sincerely she wanted to connect and felt the kind of dilemma that his clients feel.  He told how, any time he's out with Alice Cooper, someone wants to tell Cooper about "the time I snuck out of the house and went to your concert and it changed my life."  Gordon admitted that he'd never known understood til now how torn up a famous person must feel.  Gordon asked, "When you feel so much love from people that you can't return, what does that do to you?"  

It so happens that I've just run into another view of that same question, in a book by Father Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire (New York: Image, 2014).   In a discussion of how our spirit affects our body, Rolheiser reminds us of all the famous or publicly adored people -- stars, religious leaders, sports figures - who have shamed themselves by some sex-related folly.  "So much adulation, if not grounded in some healthy way, will invariably overstimulate a person's grandiosity and, with that, his or her sexuality" (Rolheiser 72).  It's how idols become punchlines.  

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