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The experience of being famous was investigated through interviews with 15 well-known American celebrities. The interviews detail the existential parameters of being famous in contemporary culture. Research participants were celebrities in various societal categories: government, law, business, publishing, sports, music, film, television news and entertainment. Phenomenological analysis was used to examine textural and structural relationship-to-world themes of fame and celebrity. The study found that in relation to self, being famous leads to loss of privacy, entitization, demanding expectations, gratification of ego needs, and symbolic immortality. In relation to other, or world, being famous leads to wealth, access, temptations, and concerns about family impact. Areas of psychological concern for celebrity mental health include character-splitting, mistrust, isolation, and an unwillingness to give up fame. Being-in-the-world of celebrity is a process involving four temporal phases: love/hate, addiction, acceptance, and adaptation. Findings are presented in the form of a Composite Textural Description and two Individual Structural Descriptions.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/004726609X12482630041889
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009
Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame
Donna Rockwell
Michigan School of Professional Psychology
David C. Giles
University of Winchester
e experience of being famous was investigated through interviews with 15 well-
known American celebrities.  e interviews detail the existential parameters of
being famous in contemporary culture. Research participants were celebrities in
various societal categories: government, law, business, publishing, sports, music,
lm, television news and entertainment. Phenomenological analysis was used to
examine textural and structural relationship-to-world themes of fame and celebrity.
e study found that in relation to self, being famous leads to loss of privacy,
entitization, demanding expectations, gratifi cation of ego needs, and symbolic
immortality. In relation to other, or world, being famous leads to wealth, access,
temptations, and concerns about family impact. Areas of psychological concern
for celebrity mental health include character-splitting, mistrust, isolation, and an
unwillingness to give up fame. Being-in-the-world of celebrity is a process
involving four temporal phases: love/hate, addiction, acceptance, and adaptation.
Findings are presented in the form of a Composite Textural Description and two
Individual Structural Descriptions.
fame, celebrity, media psychology, pop culture, phenomenology
Most everybody secretly imagines themselves in show business and everyday
on their way to work, they’re a little bit depressed because they’re not . . . Peo-
ple are sad they’re not famous in America. (Waters, 2004)
Movie producer John Waters’s quotation may not only apply to the United
States. Over the last century the mass media have glorifi ed the exploits of
famous people to all corners of the globe, so that being recognized and
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 179
talked about by millions of people has become a desirable goal for many
individuals in contemporary society. But what of the lucky few who actu-
ally attain that goal? In this paper we describe the experience of fame for
those who have achieved it at some point in their lifetime.
e psychology of fame and celebrity has been a very restricted academic
eld thus far. Apart from a small body of largely speculative work (e.g., Evans
& Wilson, 1999; Giles, 2000; Griffi ths & Joinson, 1998) and a handful of
studies examining popularity (Adler & Adler, 1989; Schaller, 1997), con-
temporary psychologists have preferred to study audience relationships with
celebrities under the banners of “parasocial interaction” (Giles, 2002) and
“celebrity worship” (Maltby, Giles, Barber & McCutcheon, 2005; Maltby,
Houran & McCutcheon, 2003; McCutcheon, Lange, & Houran, 2002).
e strongest academic research on fame and celebrity has been con-
ducted largely in sociology and the humanities (e.g., Braudy, 1997; Gam-
son, 1994; Holmes & Redmond, 2006; Marshall, 1997). Although this
work is illuminating from a theoretical perspective, it lacks an empirical
contribution, largely because famous individuals are diffi cult to recruit as
research participants.  e study reported in this paper involved conduct-
ing in-depth interviews with a number of individuals who have attained
some degree of celebrity in the United States.
e purpose of the present study was to investigate the experience of
fame, eff ectively asking the question: what is it like to be famous? What
means of coping do individuals adopt for such situations? Are paparazzi
and fan encounters experienced as problematic for famous people? Are the
benefi ts of the celebrity experience worth the loss of privacy and anonym-
ity, meeting cherished expectations of “the big time?”  roughout, it must
be borne in mind that retrospective accounts bear a gloss that may refl ect
a reconfi guring of the life narrative (Bruner, 2002), but within this con-
ne, this study captures the experience of being famous as told to the
researcher by contemporary American celebrities.
A distinction between fame and celebrity is made by a number of authors
(e.g., Braudy, 1997; Gamson, 1994). Fame is considered a long-standing
phenomenon largely deriving from mass society, typically urban, in which
individuals are glorifi ed for their deeds. Braudy (1997) traces this process
to Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. Celebrity, in contrast, is
viewed as a modern phenomenon related to mass media, brought about by
newspaper, magazine, television, the Internet, and such technologically
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
180 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
sophisticated art forms as cinema and pop music (Gamson, 1994). Boorstin
(1961) is succinct in his defi nition: “ e celebrity is a person who is known
for his well-knowness” (p. 57).
e two phenomena—fame as a condition “of being glorifi ed” and
celebrity as a process of media exposure—coincide in contemporary cul-
ture, so that a local television personality is accorded the same kind of fame
bestowed on Shakespeare. Fame may be experienced in various ways
according to its domain.  e experiences of a star athlete, for example,
may be very diff erent from those of a pop star, whose “greatness” is reliant
on fast-changing aesthetic and cultural values.  e focus of this investiga-
tion is on the lived-experience of celebrities from diverse walks of Ameri-
can life as they move through the world of fame.
Methodological Issues
e data were collected and analyzed according to the phenomenological
approach outlined by Moustakas (1994).  is method reveals “the rhythm
and relationship between phenomena and self” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 90),
the defi ning characteristics of one’s being-in-the-world. In part, it derives
from the work of Husserl (1913/1963, p. 39), who developed methods for
grasping essences through the eidetic analysis of empirical examples. It is
not the individual’s account of phenomena that is the object of inquiry,
but rather the essential meanings of the phenomena that the account
describes.  e researcher’s role, then, is to understand the invariant inten-
tions and meanings that constitute the phenomena.
In accordance with phenomenological principles, scientifi c investigation is
valid when the knowledge sought is arrived at through descriptions that make
possible an understanding of the meanings and essences of experience . . .
(T)he fi lling in or completion of the nature and meaning of the experience
becomes the challenge. (Moustakas, 1994, p. 84/ 90)
Each interview (or “narrative”) is organized by means of textural themes
broadly similar to the superordinate themes in Interpretive Phenomenoloical
Analysis (IPA) (Smith & Osborn, 2004) which are grasped through the
sample as an overarching set common to the individuals in the study and
freely imagined variants.  ese themes are further interrogated in accordance
with the seven universal phenomenological givens or structures (Moustakas,
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 181
1994): temporality, spatiality, bodyhood, causality, materiality, relationship
to self, and relationship to other.  e researcher thereby develops universal
structural descriptions, which are integrated into an overall unifi ed narrative
that captures the experience under investigation.  e goal of this study was
to present an authentic account of what it is like to be famous.
Interviews were conducted with 15 adults who have at some stage in their
lives attained celebrity status in the United States.  e sample consisted of
11 males and four females between the ages of 35 and 86. Of the two selec-
tion criteria, the main one was public recognition—that the individual
was readily identifi able when in the “public eye.” As pointed out by Mitch-
ell & Cronson (1987), celebrity families “live under a distinct set of rules
dictated by their social status and high public visibility” (p. 236).  is vis-
ibility involves face recognition and name recall.  e second criterion was
that the individual had been written about in the public press, which con-
tributed to his or her garnering attention.
We selected celebrities from a spectrum of categories that refl ect Ameri-
can culture: government, law, business, publishing, sports, music, fi lm,
television news and entertainment (including morning, daytime, prime-
time, and late night television personalities).  e pool of participants
included national and local celebrities. Age and gender were not factors in
our selection process. Participants included a TV star, a TV news personal-
ity, a state governor, a Hollywood actor, a local TV sportscaster, NHL
hockey and NBA basketball athletes, a famous CEO, a celebrity lawyer, a
former Rhythm & Blues superstar, and a former child star. Face-to-face
interviews lasted from 1 to 1½ hours. Two of the 15 interviews were con-
ducted by telephone due to geographic considerations. A letter of intent
was mailed to potential participants, explaining the nature, questions, and
aims of the research. A participation-release agreement was signed. Partici-
pants’ names and identifying information were changed (replacement text
in brackets) in order to maintain confi dentiality.
Five core questions were used to guide the open-ended interviews:
1) When considering celebrity and your being-in-the-world, what is the
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
182 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
experience of being famous? 2) What is your fi rst memory of being famous?
3) Have you lost or gained anything as a result of being famous? 4) What
was your life like before and then after you became famous? 5) Do you
have anything else you would like to add?
Analytic Procedure
rough the epoché, the researcher attempted to suspend a priori beliefs
that relate to the experience being investigated.  rough descriptions
off ered in non-directive interviews with research participants, the researcher
senses the essential color, the bouquet, the sound, the feel, the fl avor, and
the unique meanings of experience. Empathic presence allowed the
researcher to take in the words and the silences, the intensifi ed gazes and
eyes that drift to nearby windows, the movement of body and posture
shifts that indicate nuances of the narrative that do not fi nd expression in
spoken language. Intuitive awareness was gained through felt sense.  e
job of the researcher was to enter that personal domain through the con-
tent of the interview as well as through tacit understanding of its processes.
e essence of experience is a Gestalt whose moments point to an inte-
grated existential portrait. Qualitative scientists attempt to elucidate the
essential themes and meanings of intentional experience by studying the
reports of participants’ lived worlds. Without analysis and abstaining from
what Moustakas (1994) calls “the natural attitude” (p. 58) but instead with
“open viewings, of returning to things and being with them” (p. 58), the
data tells a story. Moustakas (1994) explains:
Phenomenology is committed to descriptions of experiences, not explana-
tions or analyses. Descriptions retain, as close as possible, the original texture
of things, the phenomenal qualities and material properties. Descriptions
keep a phenomenon alive, illuminate its presence, accentuate its underlying
meanings, enable the phenomenon to linger, retain its spirit, as near to its
actual nature as possible. (pp. 58–59)
Moustakas (1994) describes the role of the qualitative researcher:
And so it is “I,” the person among other persons, alone yet inseparable from
the community of others, who sees as if for the fi rst time and who refl ectively
comes to know the meanings that awaken in my consciousness. (p. 58)
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 183
Such an amplifi cation of experience is accomplished through examining
the textural content and structural processes of the celebrity’s encounter
with self and world. Being a celebrity necessitates navigating the encounter
with fame much as a foreign resident comes to know the roads and byways
of a new land. Life, as one knew it pre-fame, is changed, as the world
responds to the celebrity in novel and unexpected ways.
e process of data reduction followed the guidelines described by
Moustakas (1994):
regard every statement as having equal value (Horizontalization)
eliminate repetitive text and highlight qualities of the experience that
stand out (Delimiting Horizons or Meanings)
cluster similar text into themes (Invariant Qualities and  emes)
write an integration of the individual research participant’s being-in-
the-world based on his or her textural descriptions (Individual Tex-
tural Descriptions)
write a composite textural description integrating the experiences of
all research participants into a unifi ed narrative (Composite Textural
write an integration of the individual research participant’s being-in-
the-world based on his or her structural descriptions (Individual Struc-
tural Descriptions)
write a composite structural description integrating the experiences of
all research participants into a unifi ed narrative (Composite Struc-
tural Description)
write a composite Textural-Structural Description
From this procedure we were able to produce a comprehensive description
of the fame process as experienced by the individuals in the study.  e
results of this study are presented through textural and structural themes,
in the form of a Composite Textural Description and Two Individual
Structural Descriptions, highlighting essential elements that may help to
defi ne the unique as well as universal nature of fame.
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
184 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
Fame as Four-Phase Temporal Design
It is important to look at the way fame is experienced by the celebrity
over time. Within the structural theme of temporality, a developmental
design emerged from the data showing that fame was generally experi-
enced as a progression through four phases: a period of love/hate towards
the experience; an addiction phase where behavior is directed solely
towards the goal of remaining famous; an acceptance phase, requiring a
permanent change in everyday life routines; and fi nally an adaptation
phase, where new behaviors are developed in response to life changes
involved in being famous. Participants described this temporal aspect as
unfolding from the fi rst moment of being famous throughout the rest of
the lifespan.
Love/Hate. Relationship-to-world themes are revealed as participants
seek eff ective ways of acclimating to being a famous person. At fi rst, the
experience of becoming famous provides much ego stroking. Newly
famous people fi nd themselves warmly embraced.  ere is a guilty pleasure
associated with the thrill of being admired in that participants both love
the attention and adoration while they question the gratifi cation they
experience from fame. “I enjoy parts of it, but I hate parts of it, too,” was
a generally reported theme.
Addiction.  e lure of adoration is attractive, and it becomes diffi cult
for the person to imagine living without fame. One participant said, “It is
somewhat of a high,” and another, “I kind of get off on it.” One said, “I’ve
been addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or
another, and the most addicting of them all is fame.” Where does the celeb-
rity go when fame passes; having become dependent on fame, how does
one adjust to being less famous over time? “As the sun sets on my fame,
one celebrity said, “I’m going to have to learn how to put it in its proper
place.”  e adjustment can be a diffi cult one.
Acceptance. As the attention becomes overwhelming and expectations,
temptations, mistrust, and familial concerns come to the fore, the celebrity
resolves to accept fame, including its threatening phenomenal aspects.
“You learn to accept it,” one celebrity said. After a while, celebrities report
that they come to see that fame is “just so much the will-o’-the-wisp, and
you just can’t build a house on that kind of stuff .”
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 185
Adaptation. Only after accepting that “it comes with the territory” can
the celebrity adaptively navigate fame’s choppy waters. “Once you’re famous,
a participant said, “you dont make eye contact or you keep walking . . . and
you just don’t hear [people calling your name].” Adaptive patterns can
include reclusiveness, which gives rise in turn to mistrust and isolation. “I
don’t want to go out if I dont feel good about looking forward to meeting
anybody or just being nice to people,” another celebrity reported.
e Experience of Being Famous: A Composite Textual Description
e experience of being famous is something for which no one is prepared.
It is a world described as bizarre, surreal, scary, lonely, creepy, daunting,
embarrassing, confusing, and invasive.  e celebrity life is also described as
providing fl attery, warmth, ego gratifi cation, adoration, unlimited access,
enormous wealth, and membership in an exclusive club in which one is
surrounded by other famous people.
Loss of privacy and Entitization. Many celebrities reported fi nding
themselves ill-equipped for and struggling with the deluge of attention
that comes with fame.
Fame 101 is needed to teach people what’s coming: the swell of people, the
requests, the letters, the e-mails, the greetings on the street, the people in cars,
the honking of the horns, the screaming of your name. A whole world comes
to you that you have no idea is there. It just comes from nowhere. And it starts
to build and build like a small tornado, and it’s coming at you, and coming at
you, and by the time it gets to you, it’s huge and can sweep you off your feet
and take you away and put you in a world that has no reality whatsoever
because all the people are judging you on what you do for a living, not for
who you are.
e individual is left to fi nd his or her way through an unfamiliar
labyrinth-like world. From an initial desire to become successful, the celeb-
rity experiences personal confusion and a loss of ownership of life in a
depersonalizing “entitization” process, in which participants reported feel-
ing like a thing rather than a person of unique character. Immediately
upon entering the sphere of fame, relationships with “self ” and “other” are
profoundly aff ected.  e public wants a piece of them, to touch them, to
get an autograph, to have their picture taken with the star. All the while
hearing one’s name screamed out, the famous person feels as if he or she is
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186 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
not even there. Participants fi nd themselves at a loss when members of the
public can “hardly contain themselves” at the sight of them and “make you
larger than life.” It is lonely at the top for persons who fi nd themselves
alone and isolated on an island of recognition, where “there’s a loneliness
that happens because you are separate.
For the former child star at the age of ten, the experience of going from
a “neighborhood kid” to a famous TV personality overnight was life-alter-
ing. Cast on a hit TV series, he recalls the reaction after the show’s debut.
“When I went outside the next day, my life was diff erent . . . And the rst
thing that I knew, ‘Holy Toledo, I’m famous!’.”  e experience of being
recognized comes with a persons celebritization. Celebrities become accus-
tomed to looking into a crowd and seeing the adoration “in their eyes.
“You know they know who you are.”  e right to be anonymous is
exchanged for all that fame has to off er. e famous person feels exposed,
with very few places to experience privacy.  ere is a tendency to get “peo-
pled out” when approached by those who engage the celebrity “24/7.
ere is a feeling that “I can’t be left alone,” with a lingering fear of tabloid
paparazzi around any corner. It can be “a drag,” and “a pain in the butt to
have to worry about that.” Moments of anonymity are relished, moments
with family, “with good friends who I knew before I was famous.” Privacy
becomes a coveted luxury. If the celebrity is not feeling “100%” on a par-
ticular day, staying home may be preferable to facing the crowd. If “I’m not
feeling all that sociable, I have to put that aside.”
is public visibility engenders the celebrity’s sense that, “I become a
target.” When walking down the street, dining at a restaurant, or “sitting
alone in a highly public place in America, someone will eventually come
up and say, ‘Arent you . . . ?’.”  e famous person’s being-in-the-world is
impinged on, in that he or she “cant just go anywhere.”  e celebrity suf-
fers a loss of personal freedom in relation to the world and develops a
heightened capacity to scan his or her environment in a state of alerted
attention in order to assess the possibilities of advance or the need to
retreat.  e experience of being a celebrity compromises the individual’s
personal space, which was taken for granted before fame hit.
It changes my whole persona and way of being when I am out in public . . .
when I am walking into the building, into my offi ce, people are like, “Oh my
God!  ere’s Patty!”. I used to want to turn and wave and say ‘hi’ to people,
but now sometimes it gets too much, and intrusive.
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 187
I’ve had guys coming up to me while I was using the restroom, standing
there wanting to shake my hand. “Could you wait a minute? Could you please
wait?” Just the crudeness. Completely impolite.
Mistrust. Eventually, the very others who adore the celebrity evoke mis-
trust. “ ere is always a part of you that wonders why they are becoming
friendly with you.” In an everyday environment, the celebrity wonders,
“Do people like me because of who I am or because of what I do? You fi nd
out there are millions of people who like you for what you do.  ey couldnt
care less who you are.” With the development of this operating belief sys-
tem, the conditions are set for grave mistrust and problems in interper-
sonal relating. “In the process of losing trust, I’ve lost some of the innocence
I’ve had about life, about the world and about people . . .”  e famous per-
son seeks to discern the true intentions of others. “I just think with time
and a trained eye, for the most part, I’ve learned about certain parasites
who want to take advantage of me for whatever reason, whether it’s money
or simply the association of hanging out with somebody who’s . . . famous.
e diffi culties of such discernment may leave the celebrity feeling con-
fused and alienated. He or she may then seek refuge in physical and/or
emotional isolation by becoming more detached.
at trust thing is important. I don’t think you trust anybody the same way
when you become well-known, because you don’t trust being well-known. It
is an intrinsically untrustworthy dance partner—it could leave you at any
time . . . so it’s a very mysterious thing. Anyone who comes through that dance
partner to you is also mysterious. Why? Why do they want me? Why are they
interested in me? Are they laughing at my jokes because they think I am
funny or because it is me saying them? And you start double guessing your-
self. I fi nd I put up a kind of a wall around me, and I just deal with people up
to that wall but not inside of it.
Demanding expectations.  e celebrity must renegotiate his or her rela-
tionship-to-world in order to carve out a new operative awareness and set
of strategies for living in the spotlight’s penetrating glare.  e celebrity
copes with intense public scrutiny through character-splitting. He or
she divides into two identities by contriving a celebrity entity, a new self-
presentation in the “public sphere.”  is “individuating construction of
the public personality” (Marshall, 1997, pp. 70–71) allows the famous
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188 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
person to hold his or her more personal “true self ” in abeyance, seques-
tered from all but a trusted inner circle of confi dants. “ e only way I
think you can really handle it is to say, ‘ at’s not really me . . . it’s this
working part of me, or the celebrity part of me.’. . . So, I am a toy in a
shop window.”
Participants report that being a famous person “is a full time job.” Liv-
ing up to others’ expectations becomes a vicious cycle, in which the celeb-
rity, like a hamster on a wheel, works to satisfy a hungry and demanding
public.  e famous person feels the need to always “be on.” “ ere’s no
going out in sweats and sunglasses and a baseball cap and expecting I’ll get
out and not have to see anybody or say anything, ’cause that usually doesn’t
happen anymore.”  ere is an obligation to be “nice to everyone, and that
becomes exhausting.” Famous people worry, while playing the celebrity
role, “I’m probably going to disappoint them,” so celebrities have “two dif-
ferent dialogues—the one that I’m thinking and the one I’m saying,” so
one is “not necessarily as authentic as I’d like to be.”  ere is not enough
time to “show my true self.”
e celebrity experiences being put on a pedestal, “and there are people
who love to knock us off the pedestal.” Paradoxically, along with all the
adulation—gratuitous and genuine, no matter what the celebrity does,
someone, somewhere, will be disappointed. In order to create a balanced
life, famous persons struggle to maintain their own perspective.
[Fame makes you] extremely vulnerable. And you can really take it to heart
and get your feelings tremendously hurt. I stopped reading e-mail very quickly
because I couldn’t take some of the negative stuff . I wanted to write and say,
“You don’t know who I am. Why are you doing this?” And it was all about
who they thought I was . . . You have to be very thick-skinned.
Gratifi cation and loss. Celebrities, as they take in the adoration, say that
they are “aware of how dangerous it can be” to witness themselves “through
the eyes of many watchers.” “I mean, the more famous you get in Holly-
wood, the more close you get to Caligula or Nero.”
You try to put [fame] in its place because otherwise it will swallow up every-
thing else. It will be totally out of control. It could destroy everything you
have or it could make you into a monster. We’ve all heard, and I’ve seen,
people who believe that they are better or bigger or more important than the
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 189
person next to them . . .  ere are famous people who believe: “Do you know
who I am? You are treating me this way, and do you know who I am?”
While public admiration is an apparent validation of personal worth, it
can evoke self-consciousness and engender a self-serving way of life. “A lot
now I am focused on the other peoples’ reaction, rather than my reaction
to the world. . . I think a lot of my attention is focused on myself.” “ is
whole fame stuff is fraught with problems and pitfalls and I can easily lose
perspective on myself, and that’s very scary. You can buy into it and think,
‘I really am the best thing since sliced bread . . .’.” One celebrity describes
the tight wire act of balancing narcissistic gratifi cation with interest in and
empathy for others.
My life is diff erent in that people kiss my ass, and that’s not always a good
thing because then you start believing that your ass is worthy of being kissed.
You have to constantly stay on guard for that. And I think it’s very hard.  ere
are times when I exploit that. I take advantage of people sucking up to me, or
the power that I wield.
In a world where the celebrity is hardly ever told “no,” a predominantly self-
centered orientation can occur.  is kind of self-absorbed posture is under-
written by positive feedback from the world.  e new relational patterns of
fame have the potential to unsteady even the most grounded individuals.
Isolation and false entitlement make it easier for the celebrity to start ratio-
nalizing choices he or she makes. After all, fame changes the way the world
responds to the celebrity, who is no longer hearing intimately related others’
honest appraisals “because whether you want to be or not—and there are
those who very much want to be, you are larger than life.” Flying high on
the rush of celebrity, some participants reported that, blinded by fame’s sud-
den fl ash, they lost sight of “the truly important things.”
I began to forget my family, I began to forget my children, I began to forget
my wife. I knew it was me, and it was just bad and I didn’t care, and however
I needed to comfort myself I was going to comfort myself. I was going to get
there and I was going to get it done: the fame, the work, the TV station.
e biggest problem was that I had forgotten those who were the closest to
me. So I had to bring them back into the fold, reattach, and have a better
understanding of what they went through. And then I had to build myself up
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190 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
again, but, in conjunction with all of them, not in spite of all of them. For me
it was a harsh lesson and a tough lesson.
Symbolic immortality.  ose participants who fare best in the world of
celebrity assume their position as an opportunity to “give back,” “inspire,
“role model,” or “make a diff erence” in the lives of others. “You’ve got to
realize that you’re just wearing the suit, that someone else wore it before
you, that someone will wear it behind you, and that it’s only a suit.” “If you
really think about fame, it should be less about what you get as opposed to
what you give.
Whether you’ve earned it or not earned it, I think that you have an obligation
to use it wisely, to give back, to not have it be just one more situation of take,
take, take, take, take, which I think a lot of famous people do. But there are
just as many who use it for good and see it as a way to make a diff erence. So
it’s weird. [Fame] can fuck you up or it can elevate you, or a little bit of both,
depending on your own perspective. And I think you constantly have to reas-
sess who you are, take [the fame] off of you and make sure that you are cen-
tered as a person.
is orientation of “giving back,” making a lasting mark on humanity, can
entail a symbolic meaning of immortality. Most research participants
pointed to such in, for instance, the roles they played and in the creative
expressions of their professional work, as noted by Loy—“symbolic immor-
tality through reputation” (2002, p. 220).  is symbolic sense of self as
larger than life was emphasized over and above their interpersonal roles as
mother, father, husband, wife, daughter or son. As such ordinary family-
oriented roles went unmentioned, the celebrity-self was described as a
luminous fi gure against the ground of “everyman.” One way that famous
people see themselves making a lasting mark after “the mortal shell is
husked” is by eff ecting change in the world that continues after their death.
Although aspiring to immortality appears to rob death anxiety of some of
its power, it is experienced as relatively diffi cult and tenuous.
Fame while you’re alive will probably get you good seats at restaurants. But
the only possible way to make your life signifi cantly meaningful is—there are
two ways: to positively aff ect the people around you with love and caring, and
to eff ectuate some change that lives on after you, which is very diffi cult. Very
few people do that.
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. . . Fame is . . . one of the mechanisms by which you can obtain immortal-
ity, not by virtue of the fame, but by virtue of the achievement.
Wealth. Wealth, as a by-product of fame, provides immediate, tangible
evidence of celebrity’s distinction and staying power. Fame’s windfall goes
a long way in lifting fi nancial burdens, opening the celebrity to experiences
that are special. Money is no longer a “worry,” and provides “the glory side,
the fi nancial side of being famous.” Some celebrities go from “not being
able to aff ord a home,” to multi-million dollar contracts. “ ey are our
royalty.” Famous people model conspicuous consumption for an attentive
public. “I’ve gained so many material things. I could look around and start
naming stuff , ‘Ooh. A video camera, a bunch of cars,’ but they all fall
under the umbrella of money.” “Having that extra money enabled me to
dabble in real estate. So it enabled me to pursue other business ventures.
at’s exciting to me.” Money may also buy the privacy famous people
need, as some celebrities reported choosing to rent houses rather than stay
at hotels and secure their homes with iron gates.
Access. Although famous people try to keep the public out of their per-
sonal domain, they are invited freely and openly into an exclusive social
world of celebrity. “ e fabulous people,” as a New York doorman recently
referred to celebrities, are ushered into rarefi ed air where Dustin Hoff man
is on the phone, George Steinbrenner is taking the call, or Warren Beatty
is free for dinner. Fame is a private club, and famous people are automatic
members. “ e access is unbelievable.” “Suddenly, you’re worth something.
You’re important.” In the world of ordinary people, it becomes common-
place for famous people to receive preferential treatment from almost
everyone with whom they interact.
When I get stopped by the police, if I am going too fast, I roll the window
down. I give them my license.  ey say, “Oh. Could you give me an auto-
graph for my son?” I say, “Absolutely,” sign the autograph, they just say, “Be
careful,” and I go on my way.
“You can drop the name and get the table at the restaurant. You can get
seats at the sporting event.” One research participant noted that, “when
you reach a stage fi nancially when you don’t need freebies, that’s when
freebies are thrown to you.” Famous people grow accustomed to the privi-
leged world of celebrity.
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192 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
Temptations.  e lure of life’s temptations may be the most secret side
of celebrity experience, introduced by only a few participants as an unex-
pected side benefi t and also a danger in the world of fame. “We live faster . . .
e involvement with diff erent things . . . I know it has to do with fame.
Being famous opens up a larger than life world for the larger than life
celebrity. Tempting opportunities materialize in the wake left by fame.
I live in Hollywood and I’m a middle-aged man, and Miss September keeps
throwing herself at me.  at wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t famous. Believe
me . . . e average guy turning down Miss September is a tough day.  at
would show intestinal fortitude that I don’t know that I have. I’ve been to that
Playboy Mansion. . . Youd have to be a fairly strong man to not let that kind
of thing interfere with your life . . . you could let it abuse your family.
A star athlete describes the off -court world:
I’ve seen too many guys outside of fame willing to sacrifi ce and do anything
to be a part of it. I’ve seen too many girls disrespect themselves to be a part of
it. I’ve seen too many celebrities completely abuse it, use it, and abuse any-
body in their path.
Concerns about family impact.  e situations conjured by celebrity life
become grist for additional concerns about how fame aff ects the celebrity’s
family. Can the celebrity protect his or her spouse and children from the
darker side of the celebrity experience? For example, anti-abortion demon-
strators make the governor “want to move everybody to the back of the
house. . . I want to shield my child’s eyes from some of the horrible and
violent imagery that is presented.” Several research participants bemoaned
the fate, beyond their control, of family members living in the shadow of
fame. One research participant tearfully gazed out a Manhattan window,
concerned with the legacy of his fame on his 15-year-old son.
I worry about my son, because I don’t want him to think of me, because I’m
famous, as being any more special than he is. And I wonder sometimes if he’s
going to confuse fame with worthiness or value as a person, that if he doesn’t
grow up to be someone who has celebrity or fame, he is somehow not recog-
nized or not worthy of people’s respect or admiration. I think a lot of people
confuse it. In our whole culture, people confuse it. To be rich and famous—
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 193
the two words go together.  ere are a lot of challenges; the family dynamic
is complicated by fame.
Celebrity families often cannot go out together in public and enjoy unin-
terrupted time without strangers entering the family circle.  e famous
person’s child, baffl ed by the celebrity social world, may begin to feel anger,
guilt, and resentment.
I think he . . . doesn’t like sharing me in public and feeling like other people
know me and can come up and talk to me. I think he kind of wanted me for
himself and for Mommy. You’re ours. You’re not the public’s.
Whether it is a fan’s friendly slap on the child’s back, a question asking a
son if he is planning on following in his father’s footsteps, or a daughter’s
concern that she will never equal her mother’s achievements, fame’s impact
on children worries celebrity parents. However, there is only so much that
parents can do to protect their children from these inevitabilities.
is is what happens when I go out: I am scanning, I’m looking, I’m trying to
evaluate what kind of place this is, what’s going on. I am trying to laugh and
talk with my daughter and my son, but I am looking the whole time, too.
Because too many times I have gone out and it has become something that it
shouldn’t for my kids and my wife, the intrusion upon them.
“I think that can eat children up . . . I try to keep the family separate [from
fame] as much as I can. I want to share it and keep it separate. Sometimes
those lines are unfair.”
e experience of being famous comes with wealth, unlimited access,
and gratifying opportunities to contribute something lasting to the world.
Learning to contend with being “entitized,” a loss of privacy, unrealistic
expectations, temptations, mistrust toward others, a falsely infl ated self,
and impact on the celebrity’s family delineates the great challenges in the
experience of being famous.  e celebrity encounters a world forever
changed and must navigate a new course through the unforeseen realities
of a famous life.
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194 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
e Experience of Being Famous: Individual Structural Descriptions
e following Individual Structural Descriptions are presented as case
studies.  ey highlight the temporality, spatiality, relationship to self, and
relationship to other in the lives of two persons. Although these two
vignettes cannot be generalized to all celebrity experience, they dramati-
cally illustrate the general fi ndings elaborated above.
Richard: Stage and Screen Star
Spatiality: Isolation
Richard, an A-list actor, remembers the moment he knew he was famous.
He was in an off -Broadway show, playing the gay lover of the lead charac-
ter.  e play was in the sixth month of its run when a group of gay men
started waiting at the stage door. One night, as he left the theater, Richard
asked them, “Did you see the show?” “For the sixth time!” one excitedly
shouted back. “Terrifi c,” Richard laughed to himself.  ese were his fi rst
fans. When it strikes, the eff ect of becoming famous is immediate and
e rst thing that happens is that everything and everybody around you
changes . . . And you can feel it fi lter down to whatever your inner circle of
friends is . . . For someone like me who doesn’t want to be larger than life, who
just was given this gift, who can do this thing that I do called acting—I’ve
chased it up the ladder of levels, and now I’m at the highest level. But in doing
that comes this adoration you can see in [everyone’s] eyes.
Ultimate stardom came after the huge success of a $120 million motion
picture in which Richard starred. His celebrity reached global proportions,
making him recognized almost everywhere. “No matter where I go, cer-
tainly in the States and maybe most of Europe, they know my name.
Celebrity alters a person’s way of life, aff ecting the interpersonal space in
which the famous person lives, works, and plays.  e celebrity starts to lose
the important boundary of personal privacy.
You are an animal in a cage. If you’re sitting at a sporting event in a seat and
you’re on the aisle . . . all of a sudden you have someone on your left arm
kneeling in the aisle. [He or she asks,] “What’s [another actor] like?” And you
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want to push them down the stairs.  ere are many people who know what’s
appropriate and what isn’t, but there are some that want their piece of you.
Richard’s way of coping with this invasion is through behavioral adapta-
tions in which he shuts out others and retreats as much as possible from
public spaces.  is choice shrinks his world and his ability to move freely.
“You can’t just go anywhere . . . You walk into [a place], and somebody
slapped a sign on your back [that says], ‘I’m famous.’  at’s what it’s like.
e constant recognition from a glaring public can become tiring. In
the hope of avoiding interaction, Richard adjusts by acting like “a busy guy
on his way somewhere.”
One of the fi rst things you learn once you’re famous is that you don’t make
eye contact and you keep walking. Whether you’re down a street or down a
hallway, you can feel the heads [turn] . . . so you just don’t make eye contact.
You steal from [President] Reagan. You suddenly become deaf. You isolate
yourself.  e more obvious [fans yell things like]: “Oh my God! Who’s that?”
when you’re just three feet away.  ose are the ones you literally go, “Fuck!
Okay, keep going. Just keep going.
When in public, he feels like a sitting duck. Constant recognition becomes
a barrier to being able to enjoy the normal events in everyday life.
e goal of [acting career success] reached also includes the guy that’s going
to lean across you at a [hockey] game, drunk, with your 8-year-old boy there,
and say, “I hate the fuckin’ [hockey team]” into your kid’s face, because he
wants you—and this is where you get smart—he wants you to shove him or
push him so that he can fall down the stairs and call his lawyer. . . . I can’t go
into bars, because [someone] will pick a fi ght with me, and they’ve got a wit-
ness that’ll back them up. I can go to court, or I can settle. Did I have any-
thing to do with the fi ght? No. But to make it go away, here’s $100,000, here’s
$50,000. I’ll go to a game . . . but once I’m recognized . . . it bursts the bubble
of the experience of just trying to see the game with your family or friends.
Richard can never escape fame completely. In this inner confl ict of want-
ing fame while longing for anonymity, Richard creates a new, second iden-
tity—his “celebrity self.” He protects his authentic self by what he calls
“putting up the vibe.
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196 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
It’s the look . . . the look I give [the public] that says, “Not now.” And I get in
trouble with [my wife] a little bit sometimes, but I don’t care. . . . You try to do
the best you can, being nice to people when they approach you, but some-
times it’s, “No! Not right now,” and the wall goes up.
Temporality: Fame, a life changing moment
Fame is Hollywood’s currency, where people make “fi restorms around
themselves that translate into power and money and importance and
fame.”  is shifts the balance of power in all the celebrity’s interactions,
personal as well as professional, and over time fame fundamentally changes
the celebrity’s relationships with friends, family, and business associates.
e experience of living life as “the star,” separates one from the norm,
and begins to weigh on these relationship bonds.  is diff erence from
others insinuates emotional distance and contributes to isolation. Fame
becomes “baggage.” When he is socializing with friends, Richard’s celeb-
rity lies between them, “like a bloated cod, just sitting there.” Fame chases
old friends away at the same time that strangers are fl ocking toward him.
Over the years, fame itself informs all the celebrity’s encounters; being
“a celebrity” comes to defi ne much of the persons identity, sometimes
more signifi cant than the particular talent, artistry or craft for which he or
she became famous. Richard’s larger-than-life persona interferes with the
development of desirable relationships.
Some friends can handle [my fame], and I’ve lost friends because of it . . . just
by all this adoration that comes whenever you’re in public, they feel less.  ey
feel inferior . . . You’re special and they aren’t. You’re extraordinary and they’re
ordinary. All of a sudden, they aren’t calling you back and they arent around.
And the next thing you know, they’d really rather not have anything to do
with you. And you understand them. You have to.
ere is a tendency for famous people to see themselves as celebrities fi rst
and authentic selves second.  e person adapts to fame by crafting, servic-
ing, and protecting the celebrity self. Every move must be considered. A
duality between the celebrity’s public persona and private self is experi-
enced as a necessary adaptation. While welcoming its monetary riches,
Richard rejects fame’s more negative trappings. His trust diminishes, his
private space shrinks, character-splitting increases, and resentment of per-
sonal losses intensifi es.
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e irreversible life-alterations of fame are experienced as an existential
transformation, “probably a lot like death.”  e comparison of fame’s spot-
light and the proverbial bright white light of death highlights the existen-
tial metaphor representing fame in Richard’s life. Once a person has
transitioned into fame, as in death, there is no turning back. Celebrity
becomes sackcloth that is never shed, a suit of clothing worn at all times.
Richard tolerates the glare of fame by returning to his comfort zone, his
acting. Work is a refuge where his celebrity status recedes, and he regains a
sense of agency in his life. “ e only thing I can control is what happens
between action and cut.  at’s what I’ve been taught.  at’s the school I
went to, the school of acting. I didn’t go to star school.
Relationship to self and other: Fame, the sequel
Fame does not last; it is temporary, ephemeral. Fame is fl eeting. Richard
knows that celebrity is a “fl avor of the minute today, not week or month.
Look at Bennifer. You look at those guys and you just go, ‘ e clock’s tick-
ing.’ ” Richard tries not to think of himself as a celebrity in order to protect
himself from being entirely consumed by fame. “I’m guilty of trying to
lead an ordinary life and think of myself as ordinary—simple. Not
In order to put fame in its proper place, Richard has decided to use his
fame and wealth for “good works” and community-based causes, creating
something that will live on beyond him. In the small town where he and
his family live, Richard has paid for the building of high school sports
stadiums that are “premiere facilities.”  ese fi elds exist “because I’m
famous,” he says. He also supports a local music school. “We can . . . leave
the place better than we found it . . . It’s a great use of the fame. It’s like
turning a negative into a positive, I guess. Turning the negative of fame
into a positive allows Richard to tolerate the loss of privacy and isolation
he faces as a result of being a celebrity.
Sophia: Former Rhythm & Blues Superstar
Temporality: Mistrust
Sophia is a former Rhythm & Blues superstar whose name is known
around the world. Her story is told to showcase fame’s impact on an indi-
vidual after the spotlight has dimmed. When a person becomes a celebrity,
he or she is famous for life, for even when celebrity subsides, the individual
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198 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
remains someone who “used to be famous.” Transitioning from white-hot
stardom to a “has-been,” however, can be a source of great stress.
A beautiful voice and an ambitious mother destined Sophia to be a star
from an early age.
I actually knew at the age of three, when my mom was so elated that I remem-
bered the words she taught me, when I sang with my two brothers . . . She
made me dresses on the little Singer sewing machine, and she made me real
pretty. She was so proud. She would take me to other people’s houses, put me
on the table and tell me to sing songs. My mom made me famous.
Some years later, when Sophia was singing in a high school concert, she
had a defi ning moment that set in motion an expectation of fame that
would forever shape Sophias world. “When I heard 4,500 people applaud,
I guess I was turned out. I guess that psyched me.” Sophia went on to
become an international sensation, a front-line member of one of the
greatest singing groups of her time. Having come from meagre beginnings,
in her heyday Sophia relished fame’s trappings of wealth and privilege. “I
remember having furriers come to the house and show me furs as opposed
to going into a store and not being given credit.
Jetting off with her singing group to perform in concerts all over the
world and living the life of a celebrity separated Sophia from those most
important to her. She decided to sign guardianship of her infant son over
to her mother in order to focus on her career.
I think the hardest thing in my life has been leaving my son [now in his 30s].
It left scars in my heart as well as his when I had to leave him at two months
old and go way across the water, the Atlantic Ocean, and perform in England.
I cried every night, my breasts still needing my baby. I’m sure he needed my
milk as well.
In fanning the fl ames of her new life, Sophia “put all of my thoughts and
dreams of a personal life on the back burner. I said, ‘One day, I could be
happy with personal things. Right now, show business is the thing.’ And I
lived for it.”
Living in the limelight became the primary lure for Sophia. “When
you’re actually being fl attered by the world, your ego is all out of propor-
tion.” Lacking intimate fulfi lment with those closest to her, Sophia started
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 199
treating her fans like friends and family members. Amidst the world of
fame, she saw the love she longed for in her fans’ eyes.
It makes you feel real good. It’s like seeing relatives. It’s like getting a letter
from home.  ey’re coming to show you that they still love you.  ey send
you birthday cards. I’ve had some fans I’ve had for 40 years. I even had a fan
change his name to [my last name].  ey love you so much . . .  e fans make
the diff erence.  e fans keep you alive.
However, while experiencing a pseudo-intimacy with her fans, an insidi-
ous mistrust in others took hold. Sophia realized that many people sought
her out with the sole interest of being close to fame, which made them
famous, too.  emes of exploitation and examples of being used and taken
advantage of, are evident from Sophias data.
You have to be careful with the ones who come just because they know you’re
famous. I married two guys, two gigolos that were trying to marry [my group]
and found out it was just me, and [they both] didn’t last very long before
Fame negatively aff ects not only the celebrity but close ones, who often
pay a hefty price for their relative’s public recognition. Sophias son was not
able to “have any peace” during his childhood. Sophia also lost two broth-
ers to “substances.” Being a “celebrity’s brother” led them “to do certain
things . . . Everybody’s lost a loved one or a son or a cousin or something
because they live too fast a life.” Fame’s rarefi ed air enables excess, which in
the case of Sophia’s brothers became a lethal combination. One of fame’s
untold stories is the deadly consequences it can have on family members
who live in the sphere of “celebrity life.
Having basked in public acclaim from an early age, treating fans as her
friends and family, and engaging with men who used her to enjoy the ben-
efi t of her fame, Sophia soon found herself drowning in the heady world.
Unfairly remunerated by the music industry, suff ering from broken rela-
tionships, and being left unable to adequately care for herself in middle
age, the best things in life seem to have passed Sophia by. Her deepest
disappointment is with the music industry itself, which she feels neglected
her personal interests while exploiting her talent and taking her money.
She idealistically followed the dictates of others to the detriment of her
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200 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
own long-term fi nancial security. Although her name is known around the
world even today, Sophia struggles to survive. “If you could actually be
compensated for your fame or the work that it takes to become famous, it
would be an easier place to be. . . . It’s not good to be in a position where
you can’t accommodate the Internal Revenue or make ends meet.  at’s
been a big problem.”
Embittered in her sixties, Sophia feels like a forgotten star.
I discovered that I’d been shown the apple, but I wasnt allowed to taste it or
touch it or bite it. It was just about being famous but not being compensated,
and it continues . . . I never thought it would be like this. I always thought that
there would be an abundance.
Sophia regrets her earlier naiveté:
When you’re known all over the world and you have [songs] that are played
all over the world every day, you feel that there should be some kind of stabil-
ity there, but there is none . . . Stability should be [considered] when making
a person famous.  at was not even mentioned. It was all about “Go here and
do this;” “Put your name here;” and “Show up there.”
Relationship to self and other: Fame, the sequel
As Sophia’s material wealth has diminished over the years, her conviction
that fame itself was the cause of her troubles has grown. Sophia cried dur-
ing the interview when she delved into her memory and rediscovered some
thoughts she “had kept hidden.”
People dont realize that [fame is] a diffi cult hat to wear. Fame is good. It’s
happy. But all your life, you’ll be famous. If you do something wrong, you
really get in the paper . . . I mean, there’s vicious people out there.
Sophia experiences herself as a victim of fame. However, her deep belief in
God and her born-again evangelism counter her despair. “Even when
things look dark and gray, there’s always hope, and that’s what I have to
dwell on now—hope and faith, which is my password in my computer.”
After years of disorientation in the vacuum left by her stardom, Sophia
discovered a much-needed lifeline.
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 201
e voice of God came through my meditation and said, “You don’t have to
go around the corner to get to me. Come directly to me. You don’t have to
speak in any other language because I’m here with you all the time. I’ve always
been with you and I will never leave you.” So, after that happened, I was
straight onto the rebirth, straight onto the prayer retreat . . . straight onto my
bible study, reading my bible every day and constantly praying and trying to
keep the gospel in my mouth, keep His promises in my mouth, and that’s
how I’m living. And that’s what keeps me—I’m able to handle the fame, the
famine, the depression that comes.
Sophia’s reliance on religion has helped her through the more diffi cult
manifestations of fame and its aftermath, including her escape into drugs.
“ ere was a time I didn’t really like me, and I almost self-destructed . . . I
won’t say that I abused drugs. I could say that drugs abused me.” Unwilling
to bear responsibility for her choices, Sophia blames fame. “It’s a happy
place to be when you’re in the midst of the crowd and a very lonely place
to be when the lights are out and you’re left on your own.”
Despite the litany of problems that Sophia has experienced as a result
of being famous, and even as she witnesses the waning of her celebrity, she
nonetheless expresses an undeniable, deep-seated pride in her accom-
plishments. Sophia has left behind a fi tting and substantial legacy. “If
you go within yourself, you’ve got dreams and aspirations,” Sophia says.
“I’ve satisfi ed a lot of things and made a lot of good. I’ve gotten several
awards, been commended for a lot of things, and fi nd a reason to wake up
Even as she leaves her glory days behind, Sophia aims to use her fame
for a greater good. By honing new, young talent, she is passing something
meaningful onto the next generation. She works one-on-one with aspiring
singers, is very active in her city’s cultural scene, and is helping build a local
music school.  ough nancially uncompensated for these eff orts, Sophia
nds meaning in nurturing up-and-coming stars. “I’m a good role model.
I encourage other girls, especially if they think they’ve got something
going . . . I really encourage them. I inspire them, and I like that position.”
Re-envisioning her purpose in life as someone who inspires others, Sophia
also looks backward to recapture times gone by, sifting through the sands
of a past era seeking a more palatable version of a self with whom she can
identify. Sophia consoles herself now with memories of the pop diva she
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202 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
used to be. “I actually ask for some pity, some help and some grace for our
divas, because we have a hard way to go.
e ndings in this study confi rm many of the results found in the psy-
chological literature on fame and celebrity, such as the “entitizing” of the
famous person and the signifi cant loss of personal privacy and anonymity.
Marshall (1997) points out that being famous comes with a not altogether
pleasant connotation of being “thronged” by society (p. 6).  is claustro-
phobic sense of being-in-the-world was confi rmed by this research. As our
participants waded through a “sea of eyes,” they felt “swarmed” and “locked
in a bubble,” through which they were constantly watched. Braudy (1997)
warns of the “contract of eyes and attention” (p. 18) for which few are
adequately prepared.
e transition from a taken for granted belonging and solidarity with
others to being separated as famous is an experiential turning point in the
Each person experiences a number of critical turning points that move the
person increasingly toward a unique and incomparable selfhood. Turning
points are often times of crisis and challenge, times of upheaval that signifi -
cantly alter the world in which the person lives. (Moustakas, 1977, p. 3)
After fame, life is never the same.  e celebrity’s private world is sacrifi ced
as a rush of new acquaintances enters the stream of daily life. Overnight,
the celebrity is introduced to a diff erent world, where people express a
“faux intimacy” (Gitlin, 1998, pp. 81–83), a “pseudo intimacy” (P. A.
Adler & P. Adler, 1989, pp. 299–300), which research participants say
breeds “inappropriate closeness.” Celebrities admit that much of this aspect
of fame feels “fake.” Some report worrying about never feeling completely
secure in public again. With Celebrity Worship Syndrome aff ecting ⅓ of
the population (Maltby, Houran & McCutcheon, 2003), and parasocial
relationships developing with members of the public, maintaining a pri-
vate life becomes virtually impossible and requires a certain surrender.
Many famous people take some comfort in the notion that it comes with
the territory.
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Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 203
In order to deal with the intense attention, many celebrities report creat-
ing two selves, one an image to off er to the public and the other reserved
for moments of privacy and intimacy. Goldsmith (1983) calls it, “public
posture as distinguished from . . . private person” (p. 80). Gertrude Stein
pointed to “the disparity between . . . internal and external selves . . . the
public identity [that] does not accurately represent the inner ‘I’” (Curnutt,
1999/2000, p. 5).  e present study similarly found that while attempting
to hold back the more authentic “I,” the famous person creates a “celebrity
self,” an “other self,” to emotionally survive the experience of being famous.
e celebrity, left to reconcile self as “image” and self as “person,” fi nds that
being-in-the-world is an existential juggling act.
Celebrity adulation can lead to depersonalization, and famous people
may seek protection by isolating themselves from the world. Many reported
a sense of loneliness at the center of the fanfare of fame. Some reported put-
ting up a wall beyond which others are not welcome. P. A. Adler & P. Adler
(1989) point out that celebrities, as a result of “the conception of their
selves held by others” and the refl ection of their image as a “glorifi ed self,”
begin “objectifying their selves to themselves” (pp. 299–300). Since the
image is the gateway through which the public voyeuristically enters the
celebrity domain, it is a fait accompli that the image will be devoured by a
hungering public. At the moment they are famous, celebrities have become
a commodity, and their job it is now to sell their “image” to contemporary,
celebrity-making media outlets.  ey are left alone to sort out the diff er-
ence between image and self, between media creation and authentic being.
Celebrities report they turn inward and adopt avoidant behaviors in
order to protect themselves in the public sphere from the unavoidable del-
uge of attention. Some celebrities avoid eye contact, send the vibe, use
body language, or play deaf. Celebrities emotionally prepare to go out in
public, scan the environment once there, and retreat if not suffi ciently
comfortable interacting with people. In the moment, the “cognitive stress-
ors associated with distinctiveness” (Schaller, 1997, p. 292) feel like a life-
long complication. Image, after all, supersedes reality (Goldsmith, 1983,
p. 120).  e celebrity, as one participant put it, “is sort of helpless, sur-
renders, and becomes this other being that people perceive; You no longer
control it.” Celebrities feel as though they have lost the exclusive rights to
their own face. Research participants report that they feel owned by the
public, for the public pays the bills, and the public is the boss.
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204 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
As the confrontation between “image” and “self” becomes a daily battle,
the situation is established for what Millman (2003) calls Acquired Situa-
tional Narcissism (ASN), a tendency to focus inordinately on the self.
Millman says that those around the celebrity, and the public, are complicit
in the celebrity’s self-absorption.  is can pose a problem for adult devel-
opment, dependent as it is on honest appraisals, critical feedback from
understanding others. Bruce Springsteen (2002) professes to know how
important it is for celebrities to monitor the “big ego. . . and self-involve-
ment.” Research participants were equally aware that fame can “swallow up
everything else” and become a narcissistic way of living. As movie star
Gwenyth Paltrow admits, without the usual obstacles that most people
face, famous people “dont have real perspective” on the issues in their lives
(Shales & Miller, 2002, p. 519). Research participants described being
famous as feeling like “everyday is your wedding day; everyday is your
prom.” Celebrities say it is easy to start thinking “you are the greatest thing
in the world,” and continuously seek “private justifi cation through public
acclaim” (Braudy, 1997, p. 13). One may enter a cycle of addiction; hap-
piness becomes synonymous with celebrity, and one incessantly strives to
remain the center of adoring attention.
Another aspect of fame is contending with its temptations. Although
some celebrities boast that fame garners sexual conquests, others say that
fame has destroyed their families. Leading to clouded vision, the intoxica-
tion of fame can have catastrophic results, as spouses and children take a
back seat to the famous person’s desires. In Kaslow’s (1992) study of polit-
ical families, she identifi es threats to marital fi delity and feelings of being
“expendable” and “not a high priority” by family members as a by-product
of being in the public eye (pp. 106–107).
Questions of inauthenticity arise, as the celebrity tries to regain a sense
of what Bugental (1987) calls a relationship to “our true being” (p. 246).
Research participants say it is challenging to maintain an awareness of
one’s “true self ” and to work on “getting back to who you really are” in the
sycophantic environment of fame. One participant off ered that, “You con-
stantly have to reassess who you are, take [the fame] off of you and make
sure that you are centered as a person.
One result of this study that is not adequately refl ected in the literature
review is the grave mistrust of others that takes root in the consciousness
of the celebrity. Questions arise as to what people really want. When “many
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 205
acquaintances seemed interested primarily in celebrity by association
(Collins, 1985, p. C14), the others’ intentions are no longer trusted.  is
shift is responsible for fundamental changes from a general sense of others’
trustworthiness until proven otherwise to a mistrust of aff ections. Fame
itself is considered untrustworthy, and thus anything associated with fame
may be equally distrusted.  is can lead to emotional isolation.
Heightened expectations leave the celebrity feeling like a marketing
product who is responsible for symbolic shaping of the “public sphere”
(Marshall, 1997, p. 7). Research participants describe this pressure as over-
whelming, as they try to “play the person people expect to see” and “be
everything they think I am.”
Closely related to freedom and individuality is the value of authenticity. A
person is either present. . . or is role-playing and engaging in stereotyped
modes of behaving. Nobody is more aware of this than the person who sud-
denly realizes that the activities and actions of everyday living have no real
meaning when they are based on others’ preferences, expectations, and stan-
dards. (Moustakas, 1977, p. 91)
e public demands that celebrities live up to their own images and satisfy
“star watchers” who expect stars to be “20–feet high” (Baker, 1982, p. 10).
Celebrity has come to represent the power of “the individual” and the
heart of capitalist culture as a money generator. Celebrity has become “a
metaphor for value in modern society” (Marshall, 1997, p. 7).
Wealth, access, and acclaim make the experience of fame alluring and
promise “liberation from powerless anonymity” (Braudy, 1997, p. 7).
Research participants report that not only are they rich, but doors are
opened to them and access is virtually unlimited. Although celebrities
mourn the loss of anonymity, they cherish the power fame brings. Politi-
cians rely on this kind of name-recognition for press attention and trade
personal and familial privacy for the wide platform off ered by being
e achievement of fame may also involve an attempt to quash underly-
ing death-anxiety engendered by a burgeoning awareness of life’s imper-
manent nature. Loy (2002) refers to “a morbid craving for fame.”
e desire to be famous is a good example of how something repressed (such
as death-terror) reappears in consciousness in distorted form (the passion for
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
206 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
symbolic immortality), which is therefore a symptom of our problem (if what
I really want is personal immortality, no amount of fame will ever be enough—
but that is usually experienced as “I am not yet famous enough”). (p. 220)
By “attaining some symbolic immortality through reputation” (Loy, 2002,
p. 220), the celebrity leaves a mark, albeit symbolic, cheating death by
creating an image that lives on. For example, Marilyn Monroe may have
died on August 5, 1962, but her image is still very much alive today.
Because the celebrities have “entered the language of the culture” (Mar-
shall, 1997, p. 17), they have the opportunity to create something that will
outlive them.  e research data reveal that some celebrities feel comforted
by this lasting quality of fame and undertake philanthropic projects which
promise a less self-serving symbolic immortality.  us, fame can be a way
to express generativity. As one research participant suggested:
[Fame] potentiates eff ect—it exponentiates eff ect actually.  e greater the
fame, the greater the chance of . . . having an eff ect. But the fame has to go
along with something inside.  e fame is just the shell. It’s ephemeral. It’s
meaningless in and of itself, unless there’s substance . . .  e fame is simply a
method to package, hopefully, what would be an important eff ect that con-
tinues to have an aff ect on people after.  at would be the only way you
obtain immortality.
Celebrity experience is the object of much public fascination and fantasy
ideation.  e ideal of becoming rich and famous has become intricately
woven into the cultural tapestry of not only the United States, but also
most of the Western world. Celebrities come to represent the hopes and
dreams of the average citizen.  erefore, the study of the world of fame,
its social relevance, and the role it plays in American culture helps defi ne
us as a people. From reality TV, to MTV, to movie star governors and
celebrity presidents, America is fascinated with fame. According to Amer-
ican Idol host, Simon Cowell (2003), “ ere is a fame epidemic!” If our
culture is in the midst of an epidemic of fame and a quest to celebrity, as
Cowell claims, it behoves the psychological establishment to research the
actual lived-experience of the celebrity to assess the emotional impact of
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 207
fame upon an individual. Most reality shows now routinely off er an
option of psychological counseling or psychological referrals to their con-
testants in an attempt to mitigate the mental health risk of becoming a
reality TV star.
e data collected in this study have given us insight into the experience
of fame through the eyes of celebrities themselves.  e set of textural
themes indicates that although fame is experienced as providing wealth,
access to a privileged world, gratifi cation and symbolic immortality, it also
robs the celebrity of privacy; leads to isolation; engenders mistrust of oth-
ers; introduces temptations; can lead to creating a character-split between
the “celebrity entity” and the “private self;” and heightens concern about
risks to other family members.
Perhaps some fi ndings of this study could have the unintended eff ect of
encouraging fame-seekers. All research participants claimed that despite its
negative elements, fame is worth it after all and they would not trade it
back.  e material rewards of fame confi rm the celebrity’s being-in-the-
world such that neither character-spitting, isolation, mistrust, nor fame’s
impact on family members, led to celebrity regret over becoming famous.
At the heart of the fame experience lies an intrinsic affi rmation of indi-
vidual uniqueness and “specialness” that spurs those who seek celebrity
status. Participants distinguished the self-affi rmative trajectory of fame
from the aspiration to make a diff erence and leave a mark on history that
benefi ts others, goals often cited by famous people like actor Paul Newman
and rock star, Bono, who have used their celebrity for philanthropic or
altruistic ends. However, inasmuch as fame itself makes possible such
impressive altruism, self-expansion and serving others are ambiguously
intertwined in the consequent symbolic immortality.
Applications of Research
is research has applications for counselors, psychotherapists and other
mental health professionals as well as teachers, managers, agents, adminis-
trators, coaches and others who work with and have a stake in the well
being of celebrities, celebrity family members, and others who fi nd them-
selves in the intense scrutiny of the public eye (from actors to trial lawyers
to chief-surgeons at a local hospital).  e ndings of this study can also
be used to improve rapport and increase empathic understanding of
the celebrity condition. Of prime importance is the fi nding of “emotional
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
208 Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210
agoraphobia” that isolates celebrities and their families from the world.
Also of practical note, in the face of fame’s confusing existential paradoxes,
is the importance of maintaining an authentically-centered self and of
discerning the opportunities for creating a lasting, generative legacy. Last
but not least, understanding the experiential world of celebrities and the
challenges of fame can help those who themselves seek leadership posi-
tions in politics, media, sports, law, or business, among other areas, pre-
pare to confront the overwhelming sensation of recognition in “the sea
of eyes.”
Limitations and Implications of Research
is study is limited by the degree to which participants felt free to self-
disclose to the researcher. With a deeply imbedded mistrust, there may be
yet deeper layers of celebrity being-in-the-world that were not revealed in
this study. As one of the fi rst research studies of its kind, there is ample
room for further scientifi c investigation of celebrity experience.  e results
of this study are also limited by the lack of attention to specifi c details of
participants’ childhoods and the role of past experience in participants
vulnerabilities and resources in coming to terms with the diffi culties of
fame. Finally, although the present research was able to shed light on
numerous general disturbances in the psychological lives of celebrities, it
did not assess ASN or the psychopathological processes involved.
is study into the psychology of fame and the aff ective and behavioral
responses to it is a beginning of what could be a larger body of research on
the subject. Although the celebrity structure that is so distinctive of our
society aff ects its leaders and populace profoundly, there are few studies on
record that discern the personal and social meanings and ramifi cations of
this phenomenon. Amidst all the adulation, the psychological health issues
related to fame and celebrity have been relatively ignored. Additional stud-
ies are required in order to explore therapeutic interventions that would be
helpful to this population whose vulnerabilities have been sorely over-
looked. If our society is bent on using the celebrity to affi rm and guide
itself, not only the psychopathology, but issues of the potential wellness
and self actualization of the celebrity requires further knowledge, in order
to off er practical guidance.  e great diffi culty in following up this kind of
research lies in the fact that famous individuals are so diffi cult to recruit for
research purposes. It may be that research on the psychology of fame and
D. Rockwell, D. C. Giles /
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40 (2009) 178–210 209
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Moving from "People" magazine to publicists' offices to tours of stars' homes, Joshua Gamson investigates the larger-than-life terrain of American celebrity culture. In the first major academic work since the early 1940s to seriously analyze the meaning of fame in American life, Gamson begins with the often-heard criticisms that today's heroes have been replaced by pseudoheroes, that notoriety has become detached from merit. He draws on literary and sociological theory, as well as interviews with celebrity-industry workers, to untangle the paradoxical nature of an American popular culture that is both obsessively invested in glamour and fantasy yet also aware of celebrity's transparency and commercialism. Gamson examines the contemporary 'dream machine' that publicists, tabloid newspapers, journalists, and TV interviewers use to create semi-fictional icons. He finds that celebrity watchers, for whom spotting celebrities becomes a spectator sport akin to watching football or fireworks, glean their own rewards in a game that turns as often on playing with inauthenticity as on identifying with stars. Gamson also looks at the 'celebritization' of politics and the complex questions it poses regarding image and reality. He makes clear that to understand American public culture, we must understand that strange, ubiquitous phenomenon, celebrity.
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Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) has become a popular methodological framework in qualitative psychology. Studies based in IPA focus on examining how individuals make meaning of their life experiences. A detailed analysis of personal accounts followed by presenting and discussing the generic experiential themes is typically paired with the researcher's own interpretation, which is an expression of double hermeneutics in practice. IPA draws upon phenomenology, hermeneutics, and idiography. This paper presents fundamental principles behind IPA and offers guidelines for doing a study based on this framework. For many decades, the mainstream experimental psy-chology relied on quantitative methodology based on a model which involved testing theories by deriving hypotheses from them, which could then be checked in practice via an experiment or observation. The researcher looked for disconfirmation (falsification) of theory and, by eliminating claims which were not true, he or she was believed to move closer to the truth. In contrast to this approach, we have observed a growing development of qualitative research methodologies.
This is a study of changes in the selves of college athletes that result from their entry into a world of celebrity and glory. Drawing of five years of participant-observation research with a college basketball team, we discuss athletes' experiences with fame. They undergo concomitant processes of self-aggrandizement and self-diminishment whereby some dimensions of their identities expand and infuse the whole self while others are cast aside or are moved to a more peripheral status. These data cast light on the characteristics of the gloried self, a previously unarticulated form of self-indentity, on the relationship between dramaturgical roles and real selves, and on the process whereby a "master status" is created and attains dominance.
This paper introduces interpretative phenomenological analysis (PA) and discusses the particular contribution it can make to health psychology. This is contextualized within current debates, particularly in social psychology, between social cognition and discourse analysis and the significance for health psychology of such debates is considered. The paper outlines the theoretical roots of PA in phenomenology and symbolic interactionism and argues the case for a role for PA within health psychology. Discussion then focuses on one area in the health field, the patient's conception of chronic illness and research in medical sociology from a similar methodological and epistemological orientation to PA is introduced. The paper concludes with an illustration of PA from the author's own work on the patient's perception of renal dialysis.
Based on families seen in treatment, the authors identify characteristics of the celebrity family, which include issues of confidentiality and trust, family boundaries, parenting roles, unrealistic expectations of and for the children, and family isolation. The family is described as entering into a tacit contract enabling the celebrity to pursue his/her career by relinquishing the parental role to the spouse. A symptomatic child enters a parentified or “spousified” role, providing emotional support to the mother in the absence of the father. The child's position serves the needs of the system yet interferes with the child's own developmental tasks. A composite case study is presented as an illustration, and treatment recommendations are delineated.