Tuesday a talented young actor was found dead in a New York City apartment. Speculation abounds as to the cause of death which is yet to be determined. Chief among the causes being investigated are an accidental drug overdose and intentional suicide, or perhaps pneumonia. Never to be left in the dust the media is competing to uncover gossipy news that might titillate its readers as to the personal life of this young man. Station after station and newspaper after newspaper offer up their pundits who without any firsthand knowledge proffer their “expert” opinion on what might have happened.
What has prompted our society’s insatiable need to know in regards to our celebrity figures? Acting is a job; a craft. It is just like any other profession that someone studies and aspires to and achieves. Albeit their “audience” is often larger and in order to achieve success critically, artistically, and financially they need to attract a paying audience, but does that warrant depriving them of any small amount of private life? Isn’t everyone entitled to some private unguarded moments?
In my lifetime my family and I have been the acquaintances, close friends, and even business partners of some very big name artists. They all had different paths to their success and yet they all shared a common despair. Each has said they were not prepared for celebrity. Our friends were gracious, some quite humble, and all acknowledged the debt they owed the public for being their loyal fans. But how far does that gratitude need to extend? Should they have to “run” from the paparazzi in order to go out to dinner with their family? Must they hide behind disguises to partake of the activities that others enjoy? How do they raise a family if they can’t send their children to summer camp unless it is under an assumed name? How do children have a normal upbringing if they must always have a bodyguard? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to run to the grocery story without getting dressed as though they were going to a celebrity event? When candid pictures are grabbed, and today they are taken not only by the media but by passersby on the street and sold to the media, why must the papers and magazines print the most unattractive? Why do they print it at all? Because you and I are reading it and they are selling us their their wares. Isn’t it time we lived our lives and let our “heroes” live theirs? Isn’t it better that we judge our artists on their performances on the stage and screen? There is enough pressure in honing the craft for acceptance in a sterling performance without placing the additional burden on them of having to present a “perfect” personal life 24/7.
I don’t know what demons were troubling Heath Ledger but I do know I would prefer to remember him for his great performance in Brokeback Mountain than to find out what dirt there might be in his personal life.