The recent, untimely death of Prince shocked many of us. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I did sing along to some of his more popular songs. I admired his talent, his versatility, his generosity, and his commitment to keeping some (or many) parts of his life private.
As of this writing, the cause of death has not been made public, but an addiction to painkillers is widely considered to be a likely cause.
I remember a similar shock with the death of Michael Jackson. Again, the misuse of prescription drugs (albeit administered by corrupt medical professionals) snatched another gifted artist from this earth much too soon.
In 1977, Elvis Presley died in the same constellation of circumstances. these deaths can leave a collective hole in our cultural consciousness, a sadness that comes over us and stays for indefinite periods of time. It’s not logical: we didn’t know these celebrities. But so many of us grew up with their music. As artists have done since the beginning of time, they spoke for us. They articulated our dreams, hopes, and fears. They triumphed on stage, and we, the audience, triumphed with them, if only for the duration of the concert.
The price these three men paid for their celebrity was a steep one. Beyond simply not being able to go out of the street or take a walk in the park, their isolation was comprehensive. Could they really confide in anyone? Were their friends sincere? Were all of their family members subtly or overtly angling for a royal benefit that comes to be expected when you’re fame-adjacent? Could anyone criticize or correct the star and still be in good graces the next day? Or would they be distanced or dismissed by a massive ego that had grown (some would say by necessity) up and around the artist who had defied the odds and succeeded beyond measure?
Very few of us will ever have any idea what the lives of these three men were like on a daily basis. But there is one thing that was missing through most, and certainly at the end, of each of their lives: a partner they could trust.
It’s obvious that, when you’re working to become successful, having a husband or a wife who believes in you and is there for you can be critically important. What people sometimes forget is that, when you become successful, that person is even more important.
Why? Because, in all likelihood, that is the one person who knows you most completely and cares for you most sincerely. They know the best of you, and they’ll encourage you to preserve those sterling traits. They know the worst of you, and they’ll read you the riot act without hesitation if you start to misbehave.
Yes, they may not be immune to the corrupting influences that come with fame and wealth, but together, as a married couple, you are both better off having each other to moderate the excesses and minimize the hazards of worldly success.
David Bowie, another famous singer we lost this year, married his wife Iman in 1992. They were married until the day he died. Also famously private, and also no stranger to excess, the flamboyant and outrageous performer may have known the quiet, tender value of having someone there, and of being there for someone.
He didn’t allow the isolation to overwhelm him. He didn’t let fame get the better of him. He managed it, by all accounts, with no small measure of grace. He was a husband and father. He seemed to have known the importance of an enduring, intimate, personal relationship. He didn’t die young, but by all accounts, he seemed to have lived well.
I would have loved to have given him a copy of The Old Money Guide To Marriage, but I suspect he had many of the principles in it well in hand.
4 thoughts on “Celebrity, Marriage, and The Price You Pay”
Bowie’s wife, Iman, said “I never loved David Bowie. I loved David Jones.” (David Jones was David Bowie’s real name.) In other words, she loved the man, not the celebrity persona. He liked to walk around his neighborhood in lower Manhattan, and when he wasn’t dressed up as “David Bowie” very few people recognized him. There were a couple of eateries a few blocks from his apartment where he regularly stopped in for a sandwich or a salad, almost always by himself. Usually, nobody bothered him.
Of the people you mentioned (MJ, Elvis, Prince) Bowie is the only one I would call an artist. The others were entertainers. Bowie famously said “I’m not rock and roll. I’m a performance artist who uses rock and roll as a platform.” None of the people you mentioned came from an Old Money background, but perhaps the fact that Bowie aimed for something a little higher than the pedestrian, escapist idyll of “sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll” has something to do with why he handled fame better than the others. That, and the fact that he had a good wife.
Well said, Amy. Thank you. – BGT
I have often been grateful for my quiet, plain, “boring” life. The calm familiarity of everyday routine, living life quietly. Having fame and notoriety bring nothing but shallow relationships and no loyalty. Everyone in my life is here because they want to be, not because I have anything to offer them in terms of money, etc. Most importantly, my husband loves me for me.
Good call, Holly. It’s a very authentic way to live. – BGT