Celebrity culture and tragedy.
February 12, 2012 3:43 PM   Subscribe

In the wake of Whitney Houston's death, I find myself thinking about the grotesque confluence of celebrity, addiction, mental illness and (frequently but not necessarily) death. I'd like to understand it better. Who has explored this thoughtfully, whether in essay, book, film, television, whatever?
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You might like The Thirsty Muse, though it focuses on writers.
posted by vrakatar at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2012

Chuck Klosterman sort of pretends to explore it in Killing Yourself to Live, although as I recall he actually spends most of the book talking about ex-girlfriends he still wants to sleep with.

Lester Bangs can be pretty good on this sort of thing.
posted by brennen at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2012

HBO's Entourage! Though I may have dreamed the part where they all died.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:02 PM on February 12, 2012

Do you want to deal only with very modern celebrities? If not, Touched With Fire gets into the mental illness/gifted artist thing.
posted by SMPA at 5:02 PM on February 12, 2012

My Week with Marilyn is a pretty awesome exploration of these themes.
posted by spunweb at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2012

Gus Van Sant's movie Last Days deals with the final moments leading up to the suicide of a troubled rock star (basically, Kurt Cobain).

Also, I'll second Entourage as a recommendation. For such a light-hearted show, they really surprised me with the plot line in season 6 - Vincent the movie star has a near death experience on set, and slowly spirals into alcohol and coke addiction.
posted by mannequito at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2012

George Cukor's great 1954 film A Star Is Born explores this...ironically, the leading lady was fighting all sorts of demons of her own.

Speaking of which, here's an interesting film biography of Judy Garland herself--I've only seen an excerpt, but I understand it was very well done. Judy Davis won several awards for her portrayal of Garland.
posted by tully_monster at 5:36 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This Judy Garland bio (which I'm pretty sure is the one I read) and this Janis Joplin bio have a lot of food for thought on these issues. I also admired Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life which, among other themes, explores the frequent coupling of creativity with addiction. Films? Try "The Rose" with Bette Midler, although I think if you read that Judy Garland bio, you'll get as good a picture of a troubled creative soul as you ever will.

Sooner or later you may find yourself going down an intellectual rabbit hole if you are looking for any clarity in these works as to cause and effect. However, certain themes will come up again and again, like a set of chemical signatures.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:54 PM on February 12, 2012

Oh man, mentioning Garland brings to mind this MeFi post about her lost audio tapes, which are pretty responsive to your inquiry. Follow the yellow brick road . . . to hell.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:00 PM on February 12, 2012

I wonder if celebrity/artist autobiographies might explore this in a way you'd find interesting. Mike Doughty has a new book out called Book of Drugs that purports to be a memoir about his struggles with addiction and (I think) depression during his time in Soul Coughing and after.

I can think of other autobiographies, like Levon Helm's This Wheel's on Fire that explore artists' and their bandmates' struggles with addiction, depression, and mental illness.
posted by elmer benson at 6:07 PM on February 12, 2012

A Star is Born was based on What Price Hollywood. The silent era was full of talented people who were exploited byt themselves and others. Clara Bow, for one.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:44 PM on February 12, 2012

If you've got 13 minutes, Craig Ferguson has a monologue where he discusses this topic.
posted by yaymukund at 7:04 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Outlaw Vern's incredible review of "I Know Who Killed Me" covers this (directly relevant stuff starts at the 10th paragraph).
posted by The Lamplighter at 8:58 PM on February 12, 2012

HBO's Entourage!

Adrian Grenier has an especially interesting perspective on celebrity and culture, as he became a breakout star while playing the part a breakout star. He directed a documentary called Teenage Paparazzo about a boy paparazzo who himself becomes something of a celebrity, and how this begins to negatively impact his life.

It doesn't go down the road of addiction, mental illness, or death, but it's a well done documentary that gives some insight into how these things start to get out of hand.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:35 PM on February 12, 2012

You might enjoy Anne Helen Petersen's writing. She has a column on The Hairpin called "Scandals of Classic Hollywood," which touches on some of these themes.
posted by angels in the architecture at 7:30 AM on February 13, 2012

Taking a chance that a song might interest you. Obviously not the deepest analysis, but I would say it counts as thoughtful as the lyrics are metaphorical and open to interpretation. This is the best version I can find online.

Jellyfish - The Ghost at Number One
posted by cali59 at 12:45 PM on February 13, 2012

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