First Michael, now Whitney. In just three years, two of the most iconic, talented and famed artists in history, dead before their time. They join the ranks of many others -- Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Billie Holiday, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, John Belushi, Janis Joplin, etc. etc. etc. All idolized almost as gods, envied by the entire planet, and dead of their own devices. We want what they have, but perhaps we should consider being grateful that we don't.
Some would assume that extreme financial wealth has the power to protect the wealthy to the kind of dissatisfaction that lends itself to drug abuse, escapism and even suicide. That is not the case. Clearly, there is very little that money can't buy, and happiness is one of them.
Jib Fowles, professor of media studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and author of Star Stuck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public found in a study of 100 stars from all fields -- Hollywood entertainers, sports stars, musicians -- that celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American. And, the average celebrity death is 58, compared with 72 for the general public.
He makes the obvious but under-appreciated argument that the incomparable pressures experienced by celebrities are the culprits. Constant public scrutiny, the unrelenting pressure to be beautiful, perfect, and flawless; the absence of a private life, constant criticism and judgment, a job that depends entirely on public approval, a life that is by no means normal -- it all takes a profound toll.
"Being a celebrity means you have more than the usual assaults on one's ego." Charles Figley, PhD, says.
In my opinion, there is something more profound going on here. Beyond the abundant celebrity-specific pressures, I see a failure to live up to the general consensus that they are already perfect, that their lives are somehow better than. How dare they not be totally, unquestionably, blissfully happy?
It seems to me that the further you get from an understanding of your mortality -- from the basic need to survive -- the easier it is to lose sight of one simple truth. Of our lives, our relationships, and our health: nothing is guaranteed.
The normal person has the ability to dream, to fantasize about a better life. If you never learned the laborious art of gratitude and you're already living the dream, what else is there? You reach a point where there is nowhere else to climb and nothing left to desire.
Ultimately, we can learn a major life lesson from those who have it all. Without a healthy dose of gratitude and something larger than ourselves to live for, we either face chronic dissatisfaction or succumb to existential meltdown. Yes, I can afford the most qualified, quality rehab on the planet -- but what for?
Our most loved celebrities self-destructed right before our eyes, proving that no amount of money or fame can protect you from the human condition. Lets take solace in that, and stop fantasizing about a better life. If we're not satisfied right now, we won't be satisfied when we have "it all," whatever that is.
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