Another One Bites The Dust

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: We wonder who’ll be next to succumb to Hollywood tragedy.

'Cocaine Kate' Scandal 2009 Anna Nicole Smith Brittany Murphy Cavalli Celebrity Deaths Grazia Harper's Bazaar Heath Ledger kate moss The Noughties The Priory

So, Brittany Murphy is the latest celebrity to be found face down in a pile of her own vomit, the main constituent of which was prescription drugs. All you need is a divorce, an eating disorder and an intriguing yet ultimately meaningless reoccurring figure and you’ve got the plot for a bad B-movie.

It makes great headlines of course, but whilst reading a Grazia article about a whole host of celebrity deaths in the past decade (instead of doing my vacation work), I couldn’t help but think that something is very wrong when beautiful, bright, twenty-somethings are dropping like flies. Now no one is saying that Brittany Murphy’s estate should anxiously await a posthumous ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar nomination, but equally, she was well known enough for her death to make the national press. And in the precipitous world of acting, that signifies that she had done pretty well for herself, even if 90% of her show reel comprised American high school movies. She was apparently happily married, had a pretty face and a successful career to boot. So what went wrong?

‘The pressures of fame’ can only be used as an excuse for so long before it all just becomes faintly ridiculous. Maybe actors are just ‘creative people’, a little bit crazier, a little bit more neurotic than the rest of the world. Whilst a career in the public eye is understandably cruel if you are more on the insecure side, the intense scrutiny celebrities are placed under day after day on internet blogs and gossip magazines inevitably affects them. Possibly to the point where they need something extra to cope. Enter Vicodin. Or Ritalin. Or plain old fashioned alcohol. Cocaine if you’re feeling retro.

Increasingly relying on pills has become acceptable for ordinary people. Lily Allen even wrote a song about it, and chances are you know someone who’s open about being on antidepressants. Hollywood is an exaggerated version of reality. If we’re upping our Prozac prescriptions, then celebrities are going much further. Taking drugs – both legal and illegal – is now socially acceptable. The only condition is that you keep a lid on the fact that you’re falling apart and keep up the album tour, the adorable talk show interviews and the red carpet appearances. Why is it that there were no public rumours about Amy Winehouse and drugs until she was spotted clad in blood-stained ballet pumps looking like she would fit in nicely at the women’s penitentiary? And how come Kate Moss is back modelling for Cavalli, designing for Topshop and doing very well thank you very much, despite those infamous cocaine revelations, images sporting ‘Cocaine Kate’, and her subsequent high-profile trip to The Priory?

These days, it’s all about keeping up appearances. As long as the ‘image’ is still intact, it doesn’t matter if celebrities are falling apart. Daily cocktails of prescription drugs, eating disorders, alcohol abuse…all accepted as long as it’s kept on the down-low.

There’s a certain glamour to the crash-course of therapy and Harper’s Bazaar interview revelation, when the recovering actress details her spiral into depression and then revels in the success of her rehabilitation. That is, of course, until they’re found cold in a hotel room a couple of weeks later; when the facts come out and the contents of their fridge is made public. For Anna Nicole Smith that was methadone (the drug that had previously killed her son), Slimfast Shakes, vials of medicine and supplements for ‘an active lifestyle’. Shocking, yes, but once the news storm had died down we all forgot about it. Then along came Health Ledger. Then Michael Jackson.  And now Brittany Murphy.

The question becomes not, ‘how did this happen’, but ‘who’s next’? Lindsay Lohan appears to be a time bomb waiting to self-destruct. Kerry Katona makes her addictions public property, so she’s got a good chance of spiralling out of control one final time in the near future. The thing that really grates is that nothing is being done to change things. Our culture, and in particular our celebrity obsession, is still one based on greed. The desire to have it all. To be the best. To work the hardest, be the most productive. The means always justify the ends. And our love affair with pushing ourselves to our limits will continue long after the next starlet drops down dead.

We’ll be shocked. We’ll read the magazines, the exclusive reports. We’ll watch those documentaries revealing secret diary entries and continuous ‘cries for help’, and add them to the list of the victims. And we’ll wait for the next one to fall.