THE BLOG
01/24/2008 01:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Toxic Hollywood

Young guy, handsome, rugged, athletic, breaks into movies, wherever he goes people know his name and face. Has genuine talent, got the world on a string, everything an actor could want. A family. A future.

And then he's dead. Too young. Too soon. Standard story.

From early silent film star Wallace Reid to Heath Ledger, to every lionized athlete, politician, musician, actor, media phenomenon or lottery winner, all have been exposed to potentially lethal doses of a drug which was once available only to entertainers and statesmen but that has now become easily attainable to any and all who crave escape from stultifying anonymity, who would rather flame out quickly than face dull, dusty years in mundane obscurity.

It can be used alone or in a cocktail.

It can make you tipsy or knock you on your ass.

The drug is Fame.

While it is never fully acknowledged as having any ill effects, the hunger for Fame has reached epidemic levels and has replaced art, education, politics, medicine and civil service as an acceptable career objective for today's youth. Because once under its spell, the pursuit of Fame can become an obsession on the order of chasing the dragon, making one all too willing to sacrifice anything in order to obtain its fleeting and instantly addictive high. More intoxicating than nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol and virtually inseparable from Power (making it the ultimate aphrodisiac by any other name), Fame has been the elusive phantom nudging the vulnerable headlong from common sense into utter insensibility. Fame can warp the perception of the person swept up in the eye of the vortex, and its whirling force impacts even those loitering at its edges. It bends the air and light, a cracked prism through which reality is projected onto our screens and into our lives.

Fame does not occur in the animal kingdom, although the famous often exhibit variations of atavistic animal behavior. The media's fixation with celebrity reflects a sick cycle of cannibalism; the young, ripe celebrity is flattered and fattened for his or her inevitable downfall and ritual slaughter.

Heath Ledger's body is wrapped in a black bag, strapped to a gurney and wheeled out under a hailstorm of flashbulbs and a clash of jostling elbows and mourned by the very people who regularly dine on such a meal. Witness the cruelty surrounding the predictable, Hindenbergesque combustion of Anna Nicole. Her life had death written all over it the second she struck a pose and the cameras were aimed at her, waiting for the inevitable.

As each celebrity preens and pouts on red carpets suggesting a regal path to immortality, and each smitten consumer seeks to emulate their hollowed-out heroes, the mad truth is that the public is buying into the illusion and scrapping the reality. Fame is now an end justifying any means necessary. Because if the public is gonna use and the companies pushing the glittering hallucinogens are way too profitable to be in any way responsible, then celebrities should have mandatory labels delineating their nutrition and possible side effects, how they should be handled and what the minimum age should be for their consumption. And before taking on the burden of celebrity themselves, the young, the talented, the handsome, the beautiful and the just plain ambitious should know whether it's better to burn out than to fade away.