It used to be that that the highest mark of success in our society was a career in a potentially lucrative field with some ties to public service: Law, medicine, business, higher education. Then, entertainment and the creative arts were factored into the mix, if you had enough talent to succeed in a difficult career: Athletics, acting, music. And most people still defined success as a stable job, a loving family, and a happy life.
But at some point in the last decade, the age of working for what you've got gave way to the rise of reality television and the insta-celeb, and it became everyone's goal to grab 15 minutes of fame in front of the cameras, a surefire launch pad to a stellar career in the entertainment industry. Aimless young girls and guys with dreams of stardom in their heads but not an ounce of talent in their bones looked at attention-seekers like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and the entire cast of Jersey Shore and thought, "Why not me?"
And it worked for a while, for some of them. Until it didn't. Here are just three of the bottomless pitfalls that often wait just outside the pop and flash of the cameras, the long, dark drop that waits for everyone when their fifteen minutes of fame are up and the crash back to a normal life comes harder than was expected.
Suicide and early death
On August 14th of this year, bubbly reality star of The Bachelor fame, Gia Allemand, committed suicide by hanging. She was 29. By all outward appearances, Allemand had a happy, post-reality show life. She was dating New Orleans Pelicans player Ryan Anderson (the one who found her and called 911 in a frantic and heartbreaking call), she had a great job, and she was involved in multiple charities and giving back to her community. But there was obviously something lurking just under the surface that even those closest to the outwardly happy Allemand couldn't see, a fundamental malaise of the spirit that no amount of stability could touch. Was it a leftover mark from her former Bachelor contestant life, or were the cracks perhaps started in the sudden pressure cooker of becoming a celebrity and publicly scrutinized by millions overnight? There are still so many questions to be asked in the wake of her suicide, but all signs point to her sudden fame playing a part in her increasingly depressed thoughts.
In April, 21-year-old Shain Gandee of MTV's Buckwild was found dead in his SUV along with his uncle and a family friend after the three had gone out for a round of mudding. The result of the autopsy was that the men died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the truck they were in got stuck in a ditch and the tailpipe became blocked with mud, trapping the poisonous, odorless gas inside. The star of the show called the "redneck Jersey Shore", described as a good man with a big heart, nonetheless possibly felt he had to keep up appearances even when off-camera, such as the ill-advised bout of mudding that led to his tragic death. His girlfriend on and off the show, Cara Parrish, later Tweeted of his death, "this is the emptiest I've ever felt."
And most haven't yet forgotten the death of Jackass star and wild man , who was killed in the summer of 2011 when his Porsche 911 GT3 crashed headlong into a tree after drinking multiple beers and shots at a bar. He had been driving at speeds of upwards of 130mph when he lost control of his car and hit the tree, killing himself and the passenger in the car with him. So fast had he been driving, and so devastating was the wreck, that he had to be identified by his tattoos. Dunn had had a previously troubled life throughout his reality TV stardom, with substance abuse problems and a DUI arrest. The easy access to money, an entourage who would never say no, and the wild lifestyle contributing to his already addictive personality all culminated in an end at only age 34. The picture to the left is the last picture ever taken of Dunn, eerily fitting and sad, posted to his Twitter account just a few hours before his death.
Substance abuse problems
The late model had had a successful modeling career prior to her stint into reality television. But as her modeling career fell off and she turned to diet pills and other substances to help get her body back on track to become the new face of Weight Watchers and anchor her first reality show, things took a Marilyn Monroe-like self-destructive turn. Rather than restarting her stalled career, the Anna Nicole Smith Show only served to give America the opportunity to publicly witness her bizarre life and increasingly erratic behavior. Still, her fans were shocked to learn of her death by "combined drug intoxication" when her body was found at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida in the winter of 2007.
Country star Mindy McCready was one who, much like Smith, had a successful career before she became a reality TV star. The singer had struggled with substance abuse problems for numerous years, racking up drug offenses and DUIs, but her addictions were exposed for all the world to see when she decided to check herself in to Celebrity Rehab. The spectacle of taking people who are already prone to fragility and addiction and then putting a camera in their face during the lowest point of their lives proved to be the beginning of the end for McCready. Despite her attempts to get help, she never was able to kick her addictions, and when her boyfriend and father of her baby, David Wilson, committed suicide, McCready could no longer keep it together and killed herself in February, cutting short the one-time double platinum country star's career and life.
And everyone's favorite walking poster for bronzer and protein shakes, Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino, was rocketed from obscurity to dubious fame back in 2009 when Jersey Shore first hit MTV's airwaves. The complete trainwreck of a reality show showcased some of the most vapid the East Coast had to offer, and made simultaneous stars and laughingstocks of the entire cast. The central premise of the show was highlighting the cast's party kid lifestyles, replete with drinking, drugs, and conquering the next hook-up. One cast member who didn't handle the sudden scrutiny and derision well was Sorrentino, who checked himself into rehab for prescription painkillers (but many suspect it was actually for cocaine and alcohol, with evidence of the former being once caught on camera). He attributed the crazy lifestyle of being a reality TV star, the constant demands for his time and never-ending obligations, along with the fatigue at having to keep up with the chaotic party life as reasons for turning to prescription drugs.
Arrest records and legal troubles
Along with the well-documented trouble with the law of Dunn and McCready, countless other reality stars have tangled with police and been arrested, be it for drugs, alcohol, or domestic violence. YouTube star-cum-rapper Riff Raff had always been angling for fame, getting his start with a series of YouTube videos titled "MTV Riff Raff". He got his true taste of fame, however, when he was a contestant in MTV's reality show (I'm starting to sense a theme here) From G's to Gents. While it jumpstarted his career, it also jumpstarted his legal troubles: First a contentious lawsuit against the creators of the movie, Spring Breakers, claiming 's character was based on his likeness without permission. And just a few weeks ago, the troubled rapper was arrested on multiple drug charges. Though he was later released that same night, it's a precedent for what the future may hold for the reality star-turned-rapper.
And let's not forget erstwhile reality star Duane Chapman, known to his legion of reality show fans as Dog the Bounty Hunter. He got his start by being a stand-out subject on an episode of Take This Job, which chronicled people with unusual jobs, which then parlayed into his starring, 8-season stint with Dog the Bounty Hunter. But things fell apart in a huge way in 2006 when he and two partners were arrested and locked down at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu after Mexican authorities wanted them arrested on kidnapping charges, stemming from their 2003 arrest of Max Factor heir Andrew Luster, claiming Dog and his crew did not have the proper clearance within Mexico for the arrest. Most recently, his wife, Beth, had an arrest warrant out after getting into an altercation with some drunk teenagers. Beth has explained the situation as one in which the girl was simply "rude" and she "harsh", but it illustrates the challenges faced by those perceived as celebrities to the rest of the world.
A&E reality TV star Mark Balelo, who sadly committed suicide back in February, was a regular cast member on urban antiquing show Storage Wars, which depicted owners of vintage and antique shops as they traveled to various storage units up for auction, trying their best to outbid and outsmart their competitors. A week before his suicide, he was arrested on drug charges, most notably possession of methamphetamine, and had been scheduled to appear in court. His suicide was more than likely predicated upon the fact that with previous arrests for drugs, once in 2009 and then a short jail stint in 2011 when he violated his parole, the reality star was looking at a lengthy jail stay due to his previous felony arrest and the three-strikes law. Not coincidentally, the pressures of being thrust into the spotlight may have contributed to him being unable to let go of the drug trafficking life and the lucrative amounts of money that came with it.
And though it's clear many of these stars, whether still alive or passed, had troubles prior to their sudden fifteen minutes of fame and stints as temporary celebrities, it nonetheless underscores the sometimes ludicrous side-effects of normal people becoming celebrities overnight. It is unfair to thrust regular people into the spotlight, taking them out of their normal lives, and then still expect them to live the lives of non-celebrities that don't attract attention. Because make no mistake, though they have cameras in their faces 24/7 and become recognized across the country, reality TV stars are not paid nearly enough to keep up with the baller lifestyle that so many people - often including themselves - think they should be living. The sudden fame isn't always the catalyst for a downward spiral, but it certainly seems to contribute to increasing the already self-destructive tendencies that so many spotlight seekers have.