“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” One of many famous quotes by Marilyn Monroe, an iconic sex symbol and talented actress. She has become the paragon of celebrity and she, along with many others, have experienced all sides of fame and have become irremovable subjects of pop culture.

The painting entitled “Marilyn” by Andy Warhol is a famous piece of pop art created in 1962. Pop Art developed in the mid-1950s and draws on recognisable images from popular culture. Pop artists elevated commonplace objects to fine art. Andy Warhol’s work usually commented on the condition of society. He was fascinated with society’s obsession with fame and noted that this obsession was almost religious.

Marilyn, however, was treated by society in a similar way as an everyday object: used then thrown away. Maybe this was one of the comments Warhol was making. Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926 in Los Angeles. In 1946 Monroe had her break and signed her first film contract, changing her name to Marilyn Monroe and dyeing her hair blonde. Within a decade she had become a coveted international star despite her insecurities as an actress.

Fame was something Monroe had to deal with on a daily basis. She found it difficult to deal with strangers obsessing over her.  Fame placed a magnifying glass to her life but she did, however, realise that fame is fickle. Fame also contributed to the failure of her three marriages.

In the end she shocked the world when she was found dead in 1962 at her Los Angeles home. Speculation began that she was murdered but official reports claimed it was a suicide caused by barbiturate poisoning, a drug used for treating depression. It is believed that twelve people killed themselves within one day of hearing their favourite star was dead. One victim even wrote the note, “If the most wonderful and the most beautiful soul in the world thinks she has nothing to live for, then what do I have?”

So what makes so many people obsessed with fame? An American psychologist discovered that in the 1950s 12% of children agreed with the statement “I am an important person”. By the end of the 1980s that figure changed to 80%.

People constantly aspire towards fame. They do not realise that fame can control an individual and can manifest self-doubt. Fame can corrupt and destroy.  Stars are humans too and also have problems. They are chewed up by the public and either swallowed or spat out – constantly judged and evaluated.

Lady Gaga, pop superstar, has many references to fame in her work. Last year she released a fragrance called Fame. It is the first ever black perfume. One of its components is the belladonna flower, which is poisonous. Lady Gaga explained the fragrance saying, “It’s black like the soul of fame, but invisible once airborne.” She is making a comment on the darker side of fame.

Not everyone deals with fame in the same way, take Princess Diana. She was born Diana Spencer in 1961 and became a Lady in 1975. She married Prince Charles, heir to the British throne and had two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. She was a favoured member of the British royal family. Diana used her fame to serve the people. She supported many charities and worked with people in need.

She divorced Prince Charles in 1996 but  continued to support charities and help raise awareness. She used her celebrity status to help contribute to a more compassionate world. She also had her insecurities – suffering from bulimia and depression. While in Paris on the night of 30 August 1997 her car was trying to evade the pursuing paparazzi. The car crashed. She died a few hours later in a Parisian hospital. Had it not been for her fame and the world’s obsession with her, she might have still been alive today.

Quite interestingly Elton John wrote a song called “Candle in the Wind” in 1973 in honour of Marilyn Monroe. He rewrote the song in 1997 as a tribute to Princess Diana. In this version he calls her “England’s rose” and says, “Now you belong to heaven and the stars spell out your name.”

Fame gives one an exceptional amount of power. They can choose to use it for the betterment of the world or they can manipulate it for personal gain. Fame is like a drug, it seems to provide brief euphoria but in the long run it can be very damaging. As Andy Warhol once predicted quite succinctly, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” What will you do with your fame?

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