Special to JohnFMurray.com – By John F. Murray – The recent loss of Michael Jackson is another tragic episode in the history of stardom, and perhaps our biggest loss to date. That Jackson was a musical genius is obvious. His fame as a performer is on par with or superior to Elvis, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. His influence on music and pop culture is immense and will continue to grow. While I never had the honor to meet him, I admired his music and was really amazed by his “Thriller” album in the 80s.
As a psychologist, I am aware that both negative and positive stress will kill if it is not managed effectively. We all know the game by now. We build up stars so that they rise in our eyes to an almost God-like status only to let them drop in a grotesque manner to the lowest point possible. Why do we enjoy promoting this tragic fall from grace in our culture? What does it say about our culture to desire these strange extremes?
The stress on the exhalted and then depreciated celebrity is usually unbearable. This is why they often turn to drugs or other dangerous escapes, and we all know countless stories of other musical geniuses cut short in their youth. Jackson making it to age 50 from this view is probably a long life, but since 50 is the new 30, Jackson still died way before he should have.
I have worked with incredibly wealthy and famous individuals who have no peace at all, and who ultimately succumb to their personal stress through any number of unhealthy activities. These super stars usually need psychological care even more than the rest of us mortals in society. Jackson liked children because he found that they were the only ones who told him the truth rather than what he wanted to hear. I have no way to know whether allegations of child abuse were true, but I choose to think they were false as he was not convicted, and because I would see the positive in people first before rushing to judgment. My friend in London, Uri Geller, was a close friend of Jackson for many years and served as his Best Man. Geller believes very strongly that Jackson was innocent. Here is a YouTube of Geller talking about Michael after shortly after his death.
In addition to being sad about this loss, I think we all need to learn from his death and maybe rush to judgment much less often when we are dealing with celebrities and stars who we assume are bulletproof. Being rich or famous does not mean you need less support, and often you need a lot more. My sense is that Jackson had a very sensitive personality and was ultra-vulnerable to stress.
Being a star rarely correlates with being “happy,” and it might even correlate negatively. Sorry, I am currently teaching a graduate psychology class that introduced statistics. It would be interesting to hear from some researchers who have looked into the personal cost of fame and may have reviewed the literature in this area. Extremes in either direction of total fame/celebrity or total poverty/loss are probably both equally stressful. So rejoice if you are just a normal member of society without those burdens.
The take home message today is that megastars need help too, and probably even more than the rest of us. Jackson appeared to have a wonderful heart, but that heart may have failed from the accumulated stress of what he had been through and what he was about to embark on with his new tour. Maybe that stress led to some kind of drug use or other self-injurious behavior that we will find out about after the autopsy reports.
In closing, I wouldn’t wish Michael Jackson-like celebrity on anyone close to me. Stars, if you are listening, take care of yourself and seek proper psychological care to survive in this crazy world. Normal people, take it a little easier on our gifted ones. Media, be a little more careful in who you raise up, only to drop down later. While I cannot speak of extreme fame or celebrity from personal experience, being around some of the rich and famous tells me that it is not all it is cracked up to be. It usually cracks a person. Long live Michael Jackson’s legacy. When it’s all said and done, he was a shining star whose light will continue brightly for another 100 years and probably more.