Coffee House

Human beings aren’t built to handle ‘celebrity’

13 August 2014

10:39 PM

13 August 2014

10:39 PM

When Robin Williams killed himself, his spokesman revealed that he’d been suffering from depression. Cue well-meaning advice about this mysterious and deadly condition – the need to seek help, etc. Then the media caught up with his addiction: he was a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict who’d been with John Belushi on the night Belushi died (‘comedian Robin Williams popped in and snorted a few lines of coke,’ says one account). Now we learn that Williams was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Depression, addiction, money worries: that’s a cocktail familiar to anyone in Hollywood or the music industry. And once the ingredients are shaken they can’t be separated out. For vast numbers of performers – many more than we’ll ever know about – it’s the price of celebrity.

Not fame, note, but celebrity. Senior politicians are famous, and shoulder far more complex responsibilities than actors, comedians and singers, but few of them check in and out of rehab. Their struggles with booze (usually) and depression tend to stay below the radar.

‘Celebrity’, in contrast, is monstrously dangerous. Even low-grade celebs are constantly on show for as long as they have a career. To the stress of performance are added promotional appearances and ‘events’ where they must embrace the party spirit without disgracing themselves. The temptations of drugs, alcohol and sex never go away, no matter how loudly they insist that they’ve cleaned up and will just have a Diet Coke, thanks.


A working life that hypes you up until the early hours of the morning is not a safe environment for people whose natural inclination is to show off. It’s exhausting but also offers instant fixes for exhaustion. Cocaine, for example is a devious manipulator of mood in an industry where moods cry out to be adjusted.

The human body isn’t built to deal with the over-supply of pleasure-generating substances. Hence our obesity crisis. Ordinary people gorge on mood-lifting sugar – often without realising they’re doing so. In developing countries, where sweet treats are suddenly everywhere, diabetes is out of control.

In my book The Fix, I argue that addiction isn’t a disease but a supply-driven ‘impulse control disorder’. (I wrote about this in The Spectator here.) Not everyone is vulnerable, but there’s lots of evidence that those of us with impulsive personalities are massively at risk from alcohol, illegal drugs and, increasingly, prescription drugs.

In the entertainment industry, impulsive people are pushed to take insane gambles with their health in order to succeed. Cocaine doesn’t just promise a high that will carry them through nerve-racking social events: it can also give an edge to their performances. In the first flush of his success, Robin Williams’s jabbering improvisations were fuelled by ‘Bolivian marching powder’: they may have been touched by genius but they also had the wearing quality of cokehead soliloquies.

Coming down from these highs can be scary. For some celebrities – Philip Seymour Hoffman and Peaches Geldof, who God knows didn’t have much else in common – only the opiate bath of heroin is soothing enough. For others, highly addictive tranquillisers do the job.

These tragedies will become more frequent as the culture of celebrity trickles down. Impulsive consumers have moved beyond maxing out their credit cards buying luxury goods associated with film stars; now they reach for chemical mood enhancers at parties modelled on the celeb lifestyle. What is the solution? There probably isn’t one, but as a former alcoholic and drug addict I’m the wrong person to ask.

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Show comments
  • mahatmacoatmabag

    Why am I not surprised that Damian Thompson , himself a person with more than a passing acquaintance of the dark world of addiction , would write a tribute to the brilliant & sorely missed Robin Williams and sneak into the article a plug for his woeful book the Fix

  • Mark McIntyre

    Moi ? – never an alcoholic, druggie or even spendthrift – can not afford to be ! Nor a celebrity – never want to be. Famous ? – nope – but, if tha had the choice – that would be our choice. Faraday, Newton, Einstein; Dickens, Shakespeare, Turner – people who made a lasting impression upon mankind – their immortality be the kind to seek.
    Schardenfraude – one cannot help but enjoy it – these celebrities give the impression of having everything a person could ever wish for, and even then, plenty of other things no one would ever wish for.
    Their grass always appears to be that bit greener – and indeed it is – they all too often end up taking it !

  • HookesLaw
  • Smithersjones2013

    The human body isn’t built to deal with the over-supply of
    pleasure-generating substances. Hence our obesity crisis. Ordinary
    people gorge on mood-lifting sugar – often without realising they’re
    doing so. In developing countries, where sweet treats are suddenly
    everywhere, diabetes is out of control.

    And there it is. The sanctimonious whining of the urban liberal elitist journalist / commentator . How convenient that Thompson fails to mention that other fatal ingredient to the woes of celebrities. That being the mean spirited, self-serving hypocritical headline seeking parasitic media who condemn and cheer on wayward celebrities simultaneously at every opportunity.

    They hack their phones, They employ paparazzi to spy on their every breath, they invade every orifice of their lives and then from their excrement stained ivory towers cast down their sanctimonious and scathing judgement on their behaviour. In no other business could someone bite the hand that feeds them and get away with it as the media does!

    Then when some poor celebrity makes the most tragic of choices there sit the very same media pontificating and procrastinating over their corpse (whilst cynically plugging their book of dubious worth). Is there a more unworthy caste than journalists? Are they not the ‘unclean’ of civilised society?

    Its enough to make one want to hang oneself!

  • Gwangi

    Fame has always existed – we humans have a need to idealise in a sort of mannerist way (look at Greek sculpture). That is why we have saints and gods. ‘Role models’ if you like BUT like the gods of Ancient Greece their glory and power can turn on them and lead to disaster. We are seeing the drama of celebrities in the exact same way the Ancient Greeks etc saw the dramas of their gods. We idealise the famous; then their fall seems all the more tragic. Plus ca change.

  • ohforheavensake

    Nope, Damian: he had depression: depression is an illness: sometimes people with depression kill themselves.

    Nothing to do with celebrity.

  • Gwangi

    Well, first – the one thing I have learnt is that NO-ONE can know why anyone kills themselves except that person. I was very annoyed after David Kelly’s suicide that all the usual suspects spouted the exact reasons why he went on a hillside and killed himself. How utterly pompous and callous – and stupid. We can speculate, but no more.

    Secondly, I find it a shame that what seems to have pushed Robin Williams over the edge was that, at the age of 63 he was facing losing everything because of his divorces. Just imagine if he’d never made the fatal mistake(s) of getting married. He would still own his property and probably still be alive. Time to change the alimony laws in the US and the UK – they are heavily punitive on men. Yep. Gender discrimination – institutionalised too – and bias always in women’s favour and BOY there are millions of women coining it because of divorce pay-offs – all those free houses eh?

    Thirdly, I don’t think the writer of this article understands the creative mind or personality. He stated: ‘Senior politicians are famous, and shoulder far more complex responsibilities than actors, comedians and singers, but few of them check in and out of rehab. Their struggles with booze (usually) and depression tend to stay below the radar.’ YES but senior politicians are the ultimate dullards – weird and vain, yes, but about as creative as a photostat’s farrt. They are born lawyers, accountants, penpushers. No creative minds in those sanctimonious skulls, for sure.
    Alcohol and other stimulants do 1) make you feel great in the short term (though the down can be hard); 2) assist creativity (whereas caffeine helps you get stuff done AFTE|R you have been out of it and come up with your freewheeling ideas); 3) give creative people a break from thinking sometimes too.

  • CharlietheChump

    It would be refreshing to have a single 24 hour period with zero mentions to the C word. If that could be extended to 7 days I would be at peace.

    • Gwangi

      The C word? Cucumber? Cartoon? Cunny-lingus? What?

      • HookesLaw


        • Gwangi

          Sleb begins will an S though, not a C…

  • english_pensioner

    The initial addiction is due to the modern celebrity lifestyle and the need to be in the media every day. They also “earn” far too much money and have no real ideas what to do with it with the result that they think that they can do what they like. The stress of this leads to drugs.
    The stars of the old days didn’t have this problem, they got their publicity because they did a good job, and got well, but not excessively, paid. They had private lives and didn’t feel a need to constantly seek publicity. Looking at the cinema stars of my younger days, none had the current problems, Lauren Bacall has been mentioned, but there was was also those like John Wayne and Ronald Reagan , not to forget our own Vera Lynn who didn’t have problems. Money is the root of all evil!

  • alabenn

    He committed suicide because he was driven to it by the venal greed of his ex wives and their divorce lawyers.
    Worthless women getting rich on their backs off his back is a straightforward way to put it.

  • swatnan

    No, its just more evidence that human beings can’t handle drugs. And, I’ve noticed that nowhere in all the footage on Williams there hasn’t been the slightest crticism on the taking of drugs and the harm they can do to your lives. The Media continure to use the term ‘recreational drugs’ as though they are a plaything, and no real condemnation of celebs that take drugs.

    • Drabble

      Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

      SORCERY comes from a Greek word, PHARMAKIA – used as a noun, it “signifies a sorcerer,” one who uses drugs, potions, spells, enchantments
      The english word for drugs, pharmacy, comes from this same root. Consider that drugs and potions have traditionally been used in witchcraft and satanic rituals

      • swatnan

        … well, let that be a lesson to us all.
        Thompson makes an important point: in exchange for celeb status they make deals with the devil and the dark forces, so lets not spend too much time on expressing our sympathies; instead we should be giving more attention to the innocent civilians in Gaza and Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, the worst perpetrator as the proucer of opium along with coke from Colombia.

        • Gwangi

          Innocent in Gaza? No they are not – these are murderous bstards firing rockets at Israel to kill children! They are useless and incompetent of course – because they are fired up on the drug of a nasty vile religion maybe?
          Meanwhile, let’s bomb the lot of em – all the Islamists. Wipe em out.

      • HookesLaw

        And Idiot is a word derived from the Greek and meaning “person lacking professional skill”.
        Thank you for demonstrating another word that has changed its meaning from its original Greek root.

    • Gwangi

      Religion is also a drug. So is spicy food because it releases dope in the human body to get people stoned. Exercise and running and working out in the gym do the same thing. Work is a drug for some people. Prayer for others.

      Your understanding of drugs and what they are is infant school level. What is a drug is a moot point; drugs – physical and psychological – and part of being human.

      Just to add: the biggest users of hard drugs in the world are all Muslim states like Iran…and other places where alcohol is banned.

  • RavenRandom

    How many celebrities are there? How many commit suicide? What’s the ratio? 1 in a 100, fewer? Then cause unproven, it seems humans can handle celebrity.

    • Drabble

      The sword of time will pierce our skin
      It doesn’t hurt when it begins
      But as it works its way on in
      The pain grows stronger, watch it burn
      That suicide is painless
      It brings on many changes
      And I can take or leave it if I please

      Well leave it then.

  • CraigStrachan

    Surely that “former” bit makes you the right person to ask?

  • Curnonsky

    From what I hear, Williams took cocaine to calm down…his manic on-stage personality was organic. Comedians are a special breed of celebrity.

  • Shenandoah

    No, this is yet more evidence that human beings aren’t built to handle drugs. Why does the headline belie the true substance of the article, which isn’t really ‘celebrity’ at all but the access that such people have to toxins?

    Lauren Bacall certainly could handle celebrity. So can Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Paul McCartney — four of the most ‘celebrated’ people on the planet. I don’t see them committing suicide next week: do you?

    I also wonder, as a sidelight, why no one seems to hold it against celebrity druggies that the drugs they take are illegal and they are breaking the law. Not exactly chief among the law-abiding, are they?

    You’re right about the sugar. But the implication, given the context of this article, is that people are being too stupidly impulsive with food, as well, against all the best advice. Yet the obesity crisis has vastly more to do with the pushing of vegetable oils instead of animal fats, and the elevating of carbohydrates, especially grains, instead of other whole foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy foods by the government-backed health institutions of the past 60-odd years (thank you not, Ancel Keys). In short, the people have been told exactly the wrong advice for nearly three generations. The true destructiveness of sugar has largely been ignored: it has mostly been characterized as ’empty calories’ — which doesn’t begin to state the truth. (Dr Atkins is an honourable but formerly much-maligned exception.) Despite the exercise craze and the explosion in gyms, fitness videos, and home workout machines, no one can burn off the massive refined carbohydrate infusion they regularly put into their bodies. We’re not lazier or more impulsive: we’re eating the wrong things. THAT is why so many people are fat now.

    • Kitty MLB

      An excellent post, S. There are those within the bubble of fame and fortune who believe themselves infallible and
      foolishly believe the harm that can happen to the rest of us
      will not happen to them.
      They believe that because of their priviledged lifestyles and
      the adoration they receive from fans that the usual rules
      of life don’t apply to them.With very sad consequencies
      more often then not.

      • Shenandoah

        Yes, very true. And thanks.

    • Smithersjones2013

      How ironic that you hold up Mick Jagger (who was forever in the news in the sixties for his drug fuelled antics) and Rod Stewart (who was the singer in one of the most notoriously drunken bands in music history) in one paragraph as icons of handling celebrity and then in the next wax lyrical wax lyrical about the sins of celebrities.

      • Shenandoah

        Fine: pick another lot of happily balanced celebrities. The point is that all of these people knew what’s important in life (for them, anyway) and never went too far — whatever postures the music struck!

  • Marie Louise Noonan

    No one is ‘built to handle’ an increasingly vicious, vindictive, self-righteous op-ed media. They hunt in packs and are quite terrifying.

  • justejudexultionis

    Williams’ ex-wives could have helped him out but it seems they didn’t. Do they share some of the responsibility for his death?

    • Holly


  • global city

    Many more people thrive on celebrity than are crushed by it. This is a silly article. Williams was always predisposed to these sorts of events. Who knows, his celebrity status may have delayed what was always an inevitable end?

  • English Majority

    Here’s the answer:

    Its no surprise that White people, including White celebrities, are increasingly commiting suicide.

    Look at what’s happening to us. Look at the savage invasion and humiliation of us by hordes of foreigners. Every single birthright our forefathers won for us have been stolen, and are been stolen, by masses of hostile immigrants. There’s even an hostile, anti-White African in charge of America.

    We Whites, now only 8% of the global population, have to cope with watching our homelands fall to murderous, looting Third Worlders and sneering Muslims, whilst also knowing that they’re going to become the majority.

    Here in England, sneering foreigners have taken over our cities, whilst the true English people die and suffer in poverty and oppression.

    Are any of you really surprised that Whites are killing themselves as they watch this filth unfold?

    • stevetierney

      You, sir, are a nutter and a racist.

      • Alexsandr

        no – I think the outlook for democratic liberal (small L) whites is poor.
        the demographics are clear. People of a mysogenistic, paedophilic, violent intolerant creed will be the majority all too soon.

        and hating or fearing a religion is not racist. Racism is hating people because of their race, and race is defined as groups of people with specific characteristics, usually skeletal and pigmentation.

        so you sir are wrong and wrong.

        • English Majority

          Exactly, Alex.

          Plus, I don’t actually *hate* blacks and Muslims just for being black or Muslim.

          I just hate that they’ve destroyed my nation, America and Europe, and I want them mass deported as kindly (but firmly) as possible.

          • HookesLaw

            6% = colonisation? Get back under your dirty little stone.

            • English Majority

              Actually, 20% of Britain is now immigrant (non-White). And a bigger proportion for England. Plus, they’re concentrated in cities. Plus, in only 10 or 15 years, their huge young population will come of age and begin to overwhelm us in their Third World rape, murder, looting and violent anti-White activity.

              You should be ashamed of yourself, to be honest, Hooke. You’re probably from the Baby Boomer generation – the generation that allowed this entire filth to happen, and left my generation to suffer the consequences.

              EDIT: Plus, White Americans, the people who built America, are very soon going to be minority. And all the while, hordes of blacks loot and burn and cripple their cities.

      • English Majority

        Darude – Sandstorm

      • Gwangi

        Funnily enough, that is always how I think of Alec Salmond…

        • HookesLaw

          He is just like Farage in this respect. Salmond however only has to encourage the Enflish to hate the Scots whereas Farage has bitten of the whole world and his dog.

    • Matthew Stevens

      Can’t possibly see how this isn’t a troll account! But it is a funny one at least!

      • English Majority

        I realise that, as a LibTard, you lack the enlightenment and knowledge to understand the situation.

        Its not your fault. Well, it is really.

      • HookesLaw

        Abolut as funny as slipping in a pool of vomit. It takes a special kind of nujtjob to turn this article into yet another w#nkfest of a white supremacist rant.

  • Blindsideflanker

    I understand the Robin Williams might have had money troubles, and he had said divorce was like having your wallet extracted through your test1cales . So perhaps its that men aren’t built to handle divorce lawyers and ex wives who take them to the cleaners.

    • Emulous

      Of course.
      It is all the fault of we greedy grasping women.
      It just cannot be the fault of the spineless personalities, who when they get fed up of simple adulation turn to cocaine and worse.
      Suicide is the ultimate selfishness leaving misery and guilt in all with any personal connection to the perpetrator.
      We must deny these individuals the oxygen of publicity.
      In the Spectator for heavens sake.

      • Drabble

        We must first remember that God is the giver of all life. Each of us has been made in God’s image and likeness with both a body and a soul. Therefore, life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death, and no one can justify the intentional taking of an innocent human life.

        This teaching takes on even greater depth because our Lord entered this world and our own human condition. Our Lord knew the joy and pain, success and failure, pleasure and suffering, happiness and sorrow that come in this life; yet, He also showed us how to live this life in the love of God and trusting in His will. Moreover, Jesus suffered, died, and rose to free us from sin and give us the promise of everlasting life. Through our baptism, we share a new life in the Lord. St. Paul reminds us, “You have been purchased, and at a price. So glorify God in your body”

      • kyalami

        “It’s the ultimate selfishness”, is it?

        Your comment betrays your own ignorance.

        • Drabble

          And the guilt of those left behind?

          • Field Marshal

            Guilt that they drove him to it.

          • kyalami

            Families often feel remorse when a loved one dies. This is not limited to suicide by any means. The question is always “What could I have done?” and those consoling the bereaved need to reassure and support them.

      • Field Marshal

        Ay lad.
        Suicide is a sin.
        The wages of sin is death, I read somewhere.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Are soldiers suicides evidence that humans aren’t built to handle combat? Is the not uncommon phenomenon of teenage suicide evidence that humans aren’t built to handle adolescence? Is suicide bombing evidence that humans aren’t built to handle Islam? How about murder-suicides where an angry husband kills the wife and himself? Proof that humans aren’t built to handle marriage? Mothers killing their children proof that humans aren’t built to handle parenting?

    Anything for a soapbox.