07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Can Famous People Be Normal? Yes ... If We Let Them

Fame can happen to anyone -- actors, musicians, politicians, corporate CEOs and even the mom next door (with the right reality show to help). But is fame all it's cracked up to be? The late Beatles member George Harrison once said that he always wanted to be successful without being famous. What a telling statement.

So what's the problem with fame? And why is it so difficult to have a "normal" life as a famous person?
Maybe the answer depends on how you define "normal."

For the average person, normal means not breaking any laws, being a good and loving person, and yes, screwing up occasionally. After all, no one is perfect. But when you're famous, that description of normal goes down the drain. If you have a drug problem, cheat on your spouse and do a stint in rehab you're considered hip. At the same time, another famous person with a squeaky-clean image can make that inevitable slip up and lose everything. What's going on?

Throwing Stones
We all know that when you're famous, you don't have the privacy to deal with your own problems. People, especially the media, want to build you up and then knock you down. And the fact is, if you're a male, you get more leeway and forgiveness than a female. Think about it ... Winona Ryder shoplifted and her career went down the drain for 10 years. Brittney Spears had a nervous breakdown (a completely "normal" medical condition) and was harassed and mocked for it. In contrast, Robert Downey Jr. went down a road of destruction with alcohol and drugs and today is on top of the world.

Yes, it's difficult to live your life when you know you're continuously under the spotlight. And in fact, those who are not famous and who are doing the judging have done the exact same things the famous people have done. But when fame is part of the equation, either you get away with murder (sometimes literally) or you're chastised for a common mistake.

The recent Tiger Woods happening is a case in point. While infidelity is wrong and often destroys marriages, having an affair (or two or three) should not wreck your professional life (it wouldn't for a non-famous person). But after the news about Tiger Woods broke, he lost endorsement deals, was the butt of late night talk show hosts and his credibility diminished.

Setting Expectations
Perhaps part of the problem has to do with how the celebrity brands him or herself. Tiger branded himself as a family man -- someone seemingly perfect and completely respectful. As a result, he had to live up to that image. But being perfect is difficult if not impossible, so in order to survive, he had to have a secret life. Imagine not being able to be rude, upset, have a bad day, or simply show your feelings. For Tiger (and others like him), his frustrations had to come out in some other way.

However, if Tiger had branded himself as a "bad boy," like Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Dennis Rodman and many others, his story would likely have played out very differently. Keifer Sutherland abused women and used drugs, yet he's one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.

Even women can get away with a lot more when they're known as the "bad girl." Look at Madonna. She can marry a younger man, write a sex book, mock religion, and do a host of other things, yet the public simply says, "That's just her." Her antics are expected. Granted, she's not doing anything illegal or that harms another person, but she can easily go against the grain because that's the expectation she's set up.

So branding plays a large role in how fame affects someone's personal life. When you brand yourself as "holier than thou" the attacks get stronger compared to those who show off their flaws.

Come Clean
But what if a celebrity can't brand him or herself in an edgy, risky or "bad" sort of way? That's when being open and honest come into play. Alec Baldwin is an example of this. He yelled some harsh remarks at his daughter and talked very badly about his ex-wife Kim Bassinger. The media had a field day with the recorded voicemail message that showed his frenzy. Yet today Alec Baldwin is on a hit TV show and is an in-demand actor. His approach: He wrote a book and defended himself in it (and defended all men who have been betrayed by their women). That's how he combated the ugliness and got around being seen as the evil father.

When celebrities address the topic or situation head on, the public forgives. Tiger Woods' team did a very bad job of not addressing what happened, and each day that passed, Tiger's credibility slipped another notch.

Live and Let Live
Finally, the public needs to realize once and for all that the characters we see people playing on TV, in the movies, and even when giving political addresses are not always representative of who those people really are. When people are famous, we only know them from the persona they put out to the world, either through portraying a fictional character or showing only one side of themselves (such as their business acumen). We can't possibly know the real person -- the one who only comes out behind closed doors. As a result, when the real personality shows -- even if just for a moment -- we judge.

Too many people just see someone's performance and then associate that with the person's life. But it's not fair or right to place that perception on them and then keep them accountable for living up to some unattainable standard. The public puts celebrities on a fragile pedestal and then feels free to knock that pedestal down at the slightest mishap.

So take some time today and imagine if your life was an open book for people. You'd probably criticize yourself for some of the things you do. Therefore, it's time to stop criticizing others and passing judgments. After all, we're all human and we all have our flaws. And just because someone is famous doesn't mean they lose the privilege to mess up occasionally. From this day forward, let's let people live their real life in peace, without the unrealistic expectations and judgments, whether good or bad. As George Harrison would have said, "Let it be."

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