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Celebrity and Its Discontents

A Diagnosis


Our celebrities are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. They’re on a dangerous rampage, and no one is safe. Christian Slater grabbed a woman’s bottom outside an Upper East Side deli, and Russell Crowe had a tantrum lengthy enough for him to rip a phone out of the wall, take it down the elevator, and throw it into the face of a clerk at the city’s most exclusive hotel. Dave Chappelle beat a quick path from his final Comedy Central tapings to South Africa, explaining he needed to go visit a friend, and Brad Pitt dyed his hair platinum (he got it done by Jen’s hairdresser!), played public footsie with Angelina Jolie, and paid the price with viral meningitis. Courtney Love, the patron saint of celebrity craziness, has been quiet lately, but getting larger. Who knows when she may erupt again. This summer, all outbreaks are only sideshows to the concurrent breakdown of Michael Jackson during his trial and the more recent mania of Tom Cruise, two of the biggest and most mysterious stars in the world unmasked as stark-raving lunatics. (The reeducation of Katie Holmes, the Manchurian Fiancée, continues apace.) Attack or be attacked: The other week, Leonardo DiCaprio was hanging out at a house party in the Hollywood Hills when one of the female guests hit him in the face with a bottle.

This is a country of big, of mega, and these are megastars having megabreakdowns, and we are megainterested. Something is wrong with Chris Tucker too—caught speeding at 109 miles per hour, he recently led cops on a ten-mile chase, later explaining he was late for church. It seems that celebrity egos have gotten out of control. It seems that the celebrity system has gotten out of control. The $20 million against 20 percent of the gross, the sponsorship money, the lava of free stuff. The freedom, the immortality, the fact that you will never be found guilty in a jury trial. Mariah Carey becomes a star at 18, and she never has to think about the weather for her entire adult life.

It seems there are so many more images of celebrities these days that there cannot help but be more out-of-control images, the curtain blasted to bits by the surveillance hive-mind that extends from paparazzi to stylist’s assistant tipped out by Us Weekly to neighboring Delano cabana guests. Then it seems the craziness might be happening because the increase in watching is the very thing creating the craziness. Then it seems that the beginning, middle, and end of the celebrity life story is finding a way to get people to keep watching and loving the star forever, so at a time when they are more watched and more loved than at any other point in history, they should not be going so crazy.

But they are.

The celebrity houses stretch along the Malibu shore, one after another, like a string of diamonds. From these three- (Courteney Cox Arquette) or four- (Julia Roberts) or five- (Ray Romano) bedroom modernist boxes by Richard Meier’s contemporaries, you can see the world clearly. From these soaring windows, the water is fine. They are built close to each other as in a city on their moss-covered stilts. Ten million dollars does not even secure a backyard, but the Pacific induces a state of Zen, and you even get a frisson of excitement that only the barest sliver of land separates you, George Clooney, from Halle Berry, or Mel Gibson from Britney and Kevin. Inside the glass bubble, you feel all alone. The only comfort is the wide-open ocean.

But here, in the middle of the Pacific, is Frank Griffin, 55, British co-owner of an L.A.-based photo agency, separated father of an 8-year-old son, and not one of the worst kinds of stalkerazzi but not one of the best either. He stands on the bow of the Full Moon, the new 41-foot Cranchi boat he purchased with his spoils from the first Tom and Katie shot in Rome, the first Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony shot, one of the first Britney Spears bumps that later turned out to be not a bump, or, in a gruesome side effect of newfangled tabloid reportage, the first photo of a bump that might have been a bump that didn’t last. Britney hates the paparazzi, especially now that she’s huge, like huge huge: “On a Britney car chase,” says a shooter for another agency, Splash, “you’re thirteenth in a line of cars following this racing madwoman: There’s nothing to do but close your eyes and hang on. It’s so dangerous! It’s my favorite part of the job.”

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