Fame is not #Happiness
February 16, 2012
— fame, spirituality, Whitney Houston
It was late Saturday afternoon, not long after Whitney Houston had been declared dead in her Beverly Hilton hotel room, when a young man of my acquaintance sat in a south-side restaurant, sharing his ambition in life.
Actually, he didn’t know the diva was dead at that time, and the 17-year-old’s life goal was more detailed than one word.
“I want to be a famous actor,” he remarked.
Of course he wants to be famous. It seems to be the ambition of every kid, and worse — because they should know better — every kid’s parent.
Fame has become the opiate of the youth masses. The metaphoric drug that is supposed to deliver the ultimate highs — from riches and adulation to that elusive thing called happiness.
All in an Internet instant.
For the true believer in the “Church” of YouTube, fame is the promise of heaven on Earth. But for those who actually achieve it on a universal level, fame can become a toxic byproduct of all their talent brings. Being able to get a table at a crowded restaurant might be a plus, but having the TMZ gang ambush you on the way out isn’t.
Of course, you won’t find fame listed as a cause of death, or even a contributing factor, when the coroner finally determines how Whitney Houston died. Nothing could fully fill whatever created the bottomless hole in her soul, but clearly the recognition she found because of her awe-inspiring, God-given voice — and the riches and adulation it brought — didn’t make her life happy.
Any more than the drugs she was addicted to. Any more than it could rescue Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland or Billie Holiday.
And then there’s George Harrison.
The synopsis to the brilliant Martin Scorsese-produced HBO documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, sums up what the late Beatle learned, sooner and more completely than many in the entertainment industry. By the age of 22, Harrison realized what he was achieving with the band wasn’t what he wanted most.
“We had lots of material things at quite an early age,” Harrison says in the documentary, “and we learned that wasn’t it; we still lacked something.”
Harrison found that something — that natural high — in a friendship with Ravi Shankar that led to travels to India and his immersion in the music and philosophy of that land.
“Meditation and spiritual practice,” the documentary’s synopsis concluded, “became central to the rest of his life.”
Searching for and finding solace through spirituality, in whatever form, is one way of surviving fame and all that goes with it. But if people on Harrison’s level don’t reach for the heavens for an answer, they’d better have their feet planted on terra firma.
Take the YouTube generation’s answer to Whitney Houston’s voice, for example. In a CBS 60 Minutes interview preceding the Grammys Sunday night, 23-year-old British diva Adele spoke with American broadcaster Anderson Cooper.
“The kind of level of fame that I’m dealing with now, it’s obviously gotten bigger over the year,” Adele said, “but it was overnight. Literally on a flight to New York. I landed and I seemed to be the most talked-about artist in the world that day.
“What’s that moment like?” asked Cooper, who’s famous in his own right.
“I thought it was hilarious,” Adele said in her cockney way. “I thought it was funny. I wanted to be a singer forever. But it’s not really my cup of tea, having the whole world know who you are.”
“It’s not your cup of tea?” Cooper repeated.
“No. I find it quite difficult to think that there’s, you know, about 20 million people listening to my album that I wrote very selfishly to get over a breakup. I didn’t write it being that it’s going to be a hit. So the fact that so many people are interested in that and want to cry to it or want to feel strong to it or whatever, I find really — it’s just little old me.”
— — —
Back at the restaurant Sunday, I was still lecturing my young friend.
“You shouldn’t want to be a ‘famous’ actor,” I said in a fatherly way. “You should want to be a ‘great’ actor.”
It should be whatever you’re passionate about that drives you, I suggested, not the need to be known and idolized.
It’s a difference, and an attitude, best exemplified by Adele.
Fame, if I may remind you, isn’t her cup of tea. And, by the sound of her, it won’t be her line of cocaine, either.