But unlike other wealthy or powerful people, celebrities are easy to identify, especially in culture saturated by social-media updates. The combination of a star’s wealth and public platform can make them an ideal mark for people looking to make quick money or find a vector for spreading their beliefs and practices. In some cases, this ruins celebrities’ lives and empties their bank accounts. Others can transform enlightenment or alternative healing into part of their own brand, says Rockwell: “Celebrities also use this paradigm to extend their own wealth and expand in the marketplace.” Gwyneth Paltrow has been frequently accused of doing just that through her company, Goop. (In response, Paltrow has has asserted that Goop tries its best, and that her critics are attention-seeking in their own right.)
Rockwell says stars constantly have to be on the lookout, not only for sycophants and long-con grifters, but also for people who might be on the hunt for a one-time cash-out. During her research, she interviewed a major Hollywood and Broadway star who described needing to be on guard at all times. (Rockwell doesn’t disclose her research subjects’ identities.) “He would go to a sporting event and be sitting there with his kids, and people would come down the aisle and try to trip next to him or be hurt by him in some way or provoke him into an altercation so that they could sue him,” Rockwell explains. “He said his entire life was pretty much figuring out when that was coming, from which quarter, and how to protect against it.”
That paranoia is isolating. Combined with the diminished discernment and exacerbated need for admiration that can coincide with fame, it might actually contribute to a heightened susceptibility to scammers that take a softer, psychologically reassuring approach to cultivating their marks. Rockwell found that to be especially true once a celebrity has passed the height of their fame. “They have a beginning and a middle, and the rest of life is just this grasping on to what once was, and what can’t be anymore, because nothing lasts forever,” she says.
It can be difficult to feel bad for famous people. They have money and access to resources that most people could never dream of. They’re often preternaturally beautiful, and being a rockstar or Oscar-winner isn’t exactly digging ditches. But Rockwell says that she has come away from her research feeling thankful she’s not famous after seeing how brutal it can be. And although she says there are ways to stave off some of fame’s ill effects—therapy, meditation, devoting their lives to charity—most people don’t arrive at celebrity with the necessary coping skills for its psychological effects.
“It’s very difficult. There’s mistrust, no privacy in public places, isolation, loneliness,” Rockwell says. “Fame makes you feel like a doll in a shop window.”
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