Reflections on celebrity

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 13, 2014 11:08 PM

In the first two days of this week, we lost two big names, one tragically, one normally. I was saddened by both but for different reasons. I don’t often react to celebrity deaths. I make note of them, I mention it to my husband, I say that’s too bad or oh, how sad. Then I move on. I don’t know them, most of us don’t, and ultimately their passing doesn’t change my life. I don’t mean to sound callous, unfeeling. It’s just how it is.

Living in Los Angeles, celebrities are everywhere. When I first moved there, I was often surprised to find someone I recognized sitting at the stop light next to me on Pacific Coast Highway, or at the next table in a restaurant on Melrose or in Santa Monica. I worked at an entertainment public relations firm in Beverly Hills. At first, I thought it was going to be interesting but I hated it. Most of the celebrities I met I was terribly unimpressed with. Most seemed to believe in all of their hype, acting like they were better than everyone because they lived their lives on big screens, treating we mere mortals as servants. The only one I remember liking instantly was Dolly Parton. Believe it or not, she was the most down to earth.

I’ve worked with celebrities who want to create their own skin care lines. I’ve sat in meetings with them, I’ve been on phone calls. They are almost universally not very nice. And often not very smart.

I’ve stopped watching many in interviews because even that disappoints me. Without scripts, without someone telling them what to say, many having nothing to say.

I long ago stopped paying attention.

I really don’t mean to diss on celebrities. After all, they’re people, too. Or at least they once were. It’s just that it’s all part of the culture that we create and that they happily, or in some cases, unhappily supply.

On one hand I feel very badly for celebrities and how they’re hounded by the press. They’re idolized by millions of people they’ll never meet and don’t want to. But they make millions of dollars, usually to repeat the words that another has written for them. There are some stars I like and enjoy. They get fewer and fewer as I grow older.

I was not a big fan of Robin Williams though I am a big fan of several of his films, some of the same ones everyone likes. Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, Dead Again.

Bobbi met Robin Williams many years ago, probably more than 30 years ago, and had dinner with him as well as the Unknown Comic at a long closed restaurant called the Moustache Café. He was, of course, hysterically funny. Diane and Gene are very close with Eric and Tanya Idle. Eric was one of the founding members of Monty Python. I’ve only met them once; they seem lovely. Diane met Robin at a dinner party, I believe at their house, last year.

Lauren Bacall passed away yesterday at the age of 89 from a massive stroke. I’ve always know who Lauren Bacall is probably because I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood and old movies. I haven’t seen very many of her films even though she was part of that era of glamour and wonder, the beginnings of the movies. I respect that time. I’m not saying there weren’t nasty celebrities then, but because there wasn’t the constant media saturation, they weren’t under constant surveillance. They were untouchable. Lauren Bacall and her first husband Humphrey Bogart were untouchable. They were stars. Her passing is the end of an era.

Robin Williams took his own life and though I was not a big fan, his death has touched me more than I would have thought, more than most. I’m heartbroken for him, for his family. He was a constellation.

These two stars were completely different and yet strangely the same. They were photographed, speculated about, in the spotlight. They both chose to live away from that spotlight, Mr. Williams in a gated community in Northern California, Ms. Bacall at the Dakota in New York on Central Park. It makes life a little more real to live away from the constant microscope.

Both were also writers, Robin Williams writing his comedy material and Lauren Bacall penning three books. She said in an interview: “Writing a book is the most complete experience I’ve ever had.

Celebrities who write seem somehow a little less vacuous. Maybe it’s because good writing takes introspection, it requires pulling from deep within. Years ago I did some work with Rob Lowe and his wife. It was not a good experience and while I had never been a huge fan of Rob Lowe’s it tarnished how I viewed him. I’ve read excerpts from his most recent book and I respect his writing. He’s actually, surprisingly, very good.

Maybe I’m too hard on celebrity and should focus more on the star. Maybe the difference between a celebrity and a star is that one is simply famous, while the other seems to be from another world, out of this world. Stars transcend. Sometimes they write about it and make us care. That’s true talent.


live out loud

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