Singer Amy Winehouse died today. While tragic, this event speaks to the pressures and temptations celebrities face. Moreover, it's a warning to would-be influencers and others seeking fame.
What concerns me is that our culture — our world, even — glorifies celebrities, when in actuality their lives often seem empty. We should see the unfortunate death of Ms. Winehouse as a clarion call to those of us seeking influence to be cautious.
Fame is seductive
Any influencer or communicator will tell you:
It's tempting to want to be famous.
The opportunity to have more influence, to talk to more people, to increase your followers, is sexy.
Fame is a seductress. It draws us in with one tempting thought: the allure of more. Thousands of screaming fans. The thrill of an audience. It hits us right where we're weakest, right where so many of us fall, where evil itself originates — our pride.
All the while, we don't realize we're being led to the slaughter.
Every day, we see actors and musicians rise to fame too quickly and pay the price. And yet, we're blind when we face these same temptations in our own lives.
Fame is addictive
The problem with any kind of influence is that once you build it, you have to maintain it. If you cut ethical corners to get to where you are, you'll have to continue those patterns to continue having influence.
While there's nothing wrong with having a platform, the requirements of it can be costly.
Standing in front of an adoring audience is exhilarating. Receiving a standing ovation in a crowded auditorium is exciting. Getting a hundred people to retweet you on Twitter feels good. It gives you a rush.
This is the thrill of fame.
But the problem is that the feeling eventually goes away. And next time, you need a little more. And then a little bit more…
You keep trying to top your last performance. You may even start performing solely for the cheers. But at some point, even that doesn't feel that good anymore. And you start looking for exhilaration elsewhere.
Winehouse's bout with alcoholism (and many other artists' struggles with drugs) tells us that one addiction naturally leads to another. And an addiction is something that you have to keep feeding to feel normal.
Fame is consuming
Anyone who knows what it means to be addicted knows that these obsessions ultimately consume you. Every thought, every craving, every waking moment becomes captive to the addiction.
The irony is that you worked so hard to build an audience — to influence people with your words, your music, your art — and now it owns you.
What, at one time, was a vocation now consumes your identity.
You become what you do.
Fame is dangerous
Why are there so many Hollywood divorces? So many rock stars in rehab? Why are mega pastors prone to moral failure?
Once it hooks you with its seductive claws and addicts with its compulsive nature, fame begins to sink its teeth into you. Slowly, it takes over until you are no longer yourself.
You are only your public persona.
This is, of course, not inevitable. But it is unfortunately common. No wonder many celebrities choose to take their own lives.
For some, it seems like the only escape.
How do you break the fame addiction?
The cure to this dangerous cycle is this:
Live with integrity. Tell the truth (even when it makes you look like a human being).
For many influencers, this is scary. Because it's vulnerable. And they've made a profession out of being someone else. Sometimes, they'd rather destroy themselves than face who they really are.
Those of us who aspire to have more influence should take heed. When we see an influencer fall or when a celebrity dies, we should consider the lives they were leading.
Fame is dangerous, because ultimately, it can destroy you.
So is all influence bad?
Of course not. It all depends on your motivation.
Are you seeking influence to merely be famous? You may find yourself on a path that leads to destruction.
But if you seek to influence others for the sake of making their lives better, you would do well to be a person of integrity — the same onstage and off.
As your influence grows, be cognizant of the temptations you face. Beware of the “performance mentality” and the thrill-seeking addictions of fame.
Alternatively, consider the possibility that may not actually need fame to do your life's work. If, however, you do, be careful in how you attain it. Remember: whatever you build, you will have to maintain.
Do you think fame is dangerous? Why or why not? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: Fionn Kidney (Creative Commons)