If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, what does sudden, absolute and powerful celebrity do to one’s psyche?
Ask ex-Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth. Soon after hitting it big, he and his band decreed that brown M&Ms be banned from Van Halen’s dressing rooms. When Roth found a dreaded brown offender fouling his colorful candy dish he went berserk, trashing the room and causing $85,000 in damage.
Right now Jeremy Lin is more famous than David Lee Roth was at his peak. We don’t know yet how he feels about brown M&Ms. What we do know is Lin is a polite, religious, Asian-American Harvard graduate who after starting a grand total of 10 games with basketball’s New York Knicks has gone from a total unknown to a national phenomenon.
A month ago Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch. Today he has a lavish apartment in a Trump palace in White Plains along with a suite reserved for him in Manhattan’s W Hotel on game days.
Women throw themselves at him. “I want you Linside me!” read a sign waved enthusiastically by a shameless young groupie at a Knick game last week.
Local restaurants serve “Linburgers” to their customers and pour “Lintinis” at the bar. Many sports bar customers have given up Buffalo wings in favor of “Lings,” Asian-spiced chicken wings.
Luxury car and other companies fight to sign Lin to rep their brands (the Linfiniti?).
Lin dominates the front and back pages of the tabloids, the NY Times features him on a daily basis and Sports Illustrated put him on its cover two straight weeks. Meanwhile Lin begs the media to stop stalking his family in Taiwan, including his bewildered grandmother.
Ten basketball games.
Remember Ted Williams? No, not the great baseball player, but the “man with the golden voice” who was the darling of the media a year ago. The homeless Williams was begging for loose change on the streets of Ohio when a local media outlet shot a video of him and his miraculous voice. What followed is similar to what Jeremy Lin is going through now.
Williams appeared on a host of top TV shows, including Today and Jay Leno. Companies fought to sign him to voiceover deals for their brands. The attention proved too much for Williams, who slipped back into substance abuse and obscurity.
But this man already had a drug problem, you say, while Roth was a wild, spoiled rock star, not the educated, thoughtful man Lin appears to be. He’d never let this go to his head.
Probably not. But I can’t help but think of the story I heard about Phil (“Dr. Phil”) McGraw, a double Phd who achieved sudden fame on Oprah and now makes a living on TV telling people to be nice to each other. Last year Dr Phil threw a major tantrum at a charity event in California sponsored by (at the time) state First Lady Maria Shriver. Why? Because there wasn’t a private bathroom made available to Dr Phil, and he’d have to relieve himself among the rabble. According to witnesses, Shriver screamed at him “My 7 year old doesn’t act the way you do!”
Why do so many celebrities go off the deep end? “If stardom has taken over a majority of their identity, then they start to buy into the ‘I’m better than other people’ belief, feeling more entitled than other mortals,” says L.A. therapist Yvonne Thomas, whose clientele includes many celebrities. “They start to believe they deserve to have special treatment, what I want when I want it–or else.”
While Lin seems quite grounded, will he eventually lose perspective or turn into a celebrity monster? I doubt it. But he’s only 23, and what Lin’s going through can be overwhelming.
Ten games. Let’s check back after 20.