Tell me true stories of the intentionally famous
May 4, 2010 11:01 PM   Subscribe

Help me find true stories of the intentionally famous -- who are they and how did they get there?

Looking for the names of extremely successful self-promoters. I've seen the Wikipedia page for "famous for being famous", but I'm looking for additional examples.

People who deliberately set out to become famous, and did so, on a grand scale.

People like:

Andy Warhol
Julia Allison
Marilyn Monroe
Paris Hilton
The Club Kids (Michael Alig, RuPaul, etc.) (please ignore, of course, their inevitable fall)
Lady Gaga

I'm looking for biographies/articles/films/links or other works that detail their rise to the top, not just books about how amazing they are or how iconic they are.

** Bonus points for people who are not artists or entertainers for a living, so Club Kids > Marilyn Monroe

** Bonus points for people who were not born extremely wealthy (Nancy Mitford, famous socialites)

** Also looking for people who became famous in a field where stardom is unusual (professors, lawyers, etc.): Stephen Hawking, Gerry Spence, etc.
posted by metametababe to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of those club kids is Cuddy from House. Lisa Edelstein. I can't offer anything else.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:16 PM on May 4, 2010

Cato was an inveterate self-promoter.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:20 PM on May 4, 2010

Kurt Cobain. Pick your biographical medium.

I don't get any bonus points.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:21 PM on May 4, 2010

your list makes little sense. anyone who signs a contract with a major label/studio are trying to become famous. you don't just end up in an office being offered money to sign on the dotted line.

your list is populated by those famous for an art (acting, visual arts, music) and those with no discernible talent except for showing up at parties.

i suppose on the club kid list you could put chloe sevigny - but to hear her tell it - it just sort of happened to her. those are the most brilliant, i think, those who can convince people it was just happenstance.
posted by nadawi at 11:27 PM on May 4, 2010

J. Edgar Hoover self-promoted himself and the FBI into power and notoriety, and he's been incredibly well covered as a public historical figure.

I'd argue Jim Jones also fits your criteria in a rather terrible way.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:08 AM on May 5, 2010

Herostratus would be an ancient, infamous example. He set fire the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of World, so he would become famous. It worked.
posted by ValentineMaynard at 12:37 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The benchmark, in the UK at least, is former glamor model Katie Price, aka Jordan.

The central theme of her career management is aggressive control of her own brand and expansion into a range of media and programs - documentaries, biographies, fiction, mainstream reality TV, a near constant stream of exclusive interviews to tittle tattle magazines, use of romances and pregnancy not just as a catalyst for promotion but as a core strategy.

There are parallels to Paris Hilton in that she has become, in her own right, a reality TV brand. The difference is arguably the intensity with which Price uses her own life as the foundation for her media appearances and the speed of erosion of her private and public personas.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:07 AM on May 5, 2010

Have you read this article about Julia Allison? (and is she actually famous, outside of Gawker circles?)
posted by oinopaponton at 4:36 AM on May 5, 2010

Jade Goody
Simon Cowell
Richard Dawkins
posted by Bodd at 4:40 AM on May 5, 2010

Well, Madonna, I think meets the list. She totally set out to be famous at all costs. Some people argue her having talent v.s her having an uncanny sense of how to change to keep up with the market.

Seems she's taken a downfall in popularity with anything in the last ten years or so, but she ruled the 80s and a good part of the 90s.

I don't have the time at the moment to find links, but as far as self-promotion goes, she's incredible at it.
posted by zizzle at 5:52 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joe Arpaio
posted by The Potate at 5:56 AM on May 5, 2010

I don't have a specific answer to your question, but I'd like to note that there seem to be at least two distinct categories of people here, and it seems that they're being confusingly conflated:

(1) People who are famous despite not having accomplished anything significant that would seem to merit their fame. These would be Paris Hilton, most of the people on Wikipedia's "famous for being famous" list (Kevin Federline), etc.

(2) People who may have made significant contributions to society in the conventional sense (for instance, by making great/popular art/music), but who have an additional dimension to their persona that causes people to reflect on the very concepts of celebrity and mass media and pop culture. These include Madonna, Lady Gaga, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain ... and I'll throw in Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Barack Obama.

And neither of those lists is necessarily about people who intentionally became famous. You'd need to look at their specific biographies for that. Did Marilyn Monroe decide in advance to achieve her level of iconic fame, or was she just trying to get ahead as an actress/model, the way millions of people do all the time, and happened to not just do very well but resonate with the culture? I don't know, and I wouldn't assume it's the former rather than the latter.

(I would note that Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain both apparently committed suicide. I don't think they were thrilled were the level of fame they achieved -- it was the masses who chose to thrust fame onto them.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:23 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suppose Mark Webber would qualify. He started off from the bottom of Australian racing leagues and signed a sponsorship contract with Yellow Pages with the goal of being in the Formula One. It's quite difficult for an Aussie or American to make it into the F-1 because it's so largely dominated by Europeans and Euro tracks. But he made it and has been in the f1 for like 8 years now. Not famous in America though... so I don't know if that counts as 'grand'.
posted by Submiqent at 8:25 AM on May 5, 2010

Kim Kardashian (and her sisters).
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:32 AM on May 5, 2010

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fascinating character, and a talent for self promotion was definitely a part of his success. I haven't read it, but this book looks interesting.
posted by tomcooke at 8:41 AM on May 5, 2010

Richard Branson!
posted by divabat at 1:05 AM on May 7, 2010

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