My Week with Marilyn Spotlights Fan Obsessions

by on July 7th, 2014
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Nearly a half-century after her death, a new film about Marilyn Monroe is filling theaters once more. My Week with Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis based on the book by Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier. The movie documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

From James Dean to Michael Jackson, there is a curiously morbid obsession in America with celebrities who have passed on before their time. Whenever a celebrity dies, particularly at an early age or by disturbing circumstances, there is always a surge in public interest and a wave of increased commercialization surrounding the individual’s work or persona.

Fans and the general public seem to react to these deaths differently, depending on the level of celebrity the person commanded. Some admirers carry a general interest in the star’s career, history, life and so on, while others are captivated by the circumstances surrounding their demise.

Struggling with their overall disbelief of the star’s passing, some fans also have difficulty with the idea that a celebrity is human and had flaws leading to suicidal tendencies, drug overdose or other dangerous behavior. Marilyn’s untimely death, for example, was reportedly from a drug overdose but her noted involvement with President John F. Kennedy combines with the mystery surrounding the incident to excite conspiracy nuts on every level.

Grasping to hang on to their lost obsession, fans spend millions of dollars annually on memorabilia, often earning the celebrity more money in death than they earned in life. John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980, earned more than $17 million last year. Jimi Hendrix and Steve McQueen each made $6 million in 2010.

Still another level of fandom refuses to believe the object of their adorations has died. For many years, speculation and conspiracy theories over Elvis Presley’s death captured the imaginations of fans that simply could not except that The King was gone.

Even today, devoted fans stage annual pilgrimages to his grave, which was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis until someone tried to steal his remains. His body was then moved to the meditation garden at his Graceland estate where he is still idolized by thousands of visitors every year.

While Elvis passed away in the 1970’s, the modern equivalent would have to be Michael Jackson. Already a strange individual whose very existence was shrouded in controversy and mystery, Jackson died as he lived, in a fury of bizarre circumstances surrounded by flunkies and coattail riders.

Years of plastic surgery and medical problems led to drug abuse and illness, compounded by a doctor who apparently barely deserved the title. The King of Pop had it all at one point, but rode a long, degrading wave to his own end.

Whether the drug overdose that killed him was intentional or accidental, self-induced or assisted, Jackson’s story is one of shady facts and unfortunate circumstances and it is unlikely anyone will ever know precisely what happened to him in his final hours.

Perhaps one of the most beloved celebrities to die in this generation was Princess Diana. Her story is even more tragic since she was not a Hollywood fame seeker, but a charming woman, thrust into the limelight of royalty. Diana’s passing is also more haunting because of the manner in which she died; chased by paparazzi until her car crashed.

Relatively young, vibrant and attractive people die every day from a myriad of causes and no one gives them a second thought. But when the person is famous, it captures the hearts and imaginations of the public, even of those who were never fans of the celebrity.

What fans need to understand, however, is that, shockingly enough, celebrities are only human. Sometimes they make bad choices, sometimes fate is just unkind.

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