NEW YORK – Bodyguards are meant to stand in the shadows of celebrity, springing to action only when it’s necessary to protect their clients.
But lately, stars’ defenders are stealing some of the spotlight — for their hands-off policies with fans and the media, for their sheer number (Britney Spears (search) is known for her legion of guards) and even for violent altercations (a limo service owner sued 50 Cent (search) last month, claiming the rapper's guards roughed him up.)
All of this begs the question: How much security do celebrities really need and how much of it is just power tripping?
Former bodyguard-to-the-stars Michael Francis, author of the soon-to-be-published “Star Man: The Right Hand Man of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” said even the brightest stars need only one good guard.
“It’s an accessory now, that you have to have four or five guys who weigh 400 pounds. The big stars should have one good one that they trust," said Francis, who has worked with celebrities including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Cher, Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney.
Autograph Collector magazine editor Jeff Woolf, who recently ranked the best and worst stars at doing “the write thing,” said Spears and Christina Aguilera (search) are known for their gangs of goons.
“The celebrities play innocent while Big Bubba is throwing you up against the wall. With Britney it is a well-known thing – she gets a kick out of it."
Press reports concur with Woolf's account of the pop star's protectors. Last weekend, making a series of surprise appearances at trendy New York City nightclubs, Spears' security detail confiscated cameras and jostled photographers, according to the New York Post’s Page Six gossip columnists.
A few months earlier, a spy for the paper also allegedly caught the star’s guards shoving the crowd at a Rolling Stone magazine party, forming "a phalanx around her ... like she was the president or something.”
Francis, meanwhile, who is a trained boxer, said when he looked after Bon Jovi at the height of the band's fame, he took care of all five rockers single-handedly -- sometimes in dangerous situations.
“When I was with Bon Jovi, we had some incidents with guns in South America and Dallas. And when I was staying at Cher’s house in Malibu, a chap came in with a samurai sword at 4 in the morning,” he said.
Even though they're the "bad guys" in his profession, Woolf admitted that big stars need backup — a guard or two at restaurants and more for major events.
“Especially Britney and Christina, they’re pretty young girls and you don’t want some nut-job coming up to them," said Woolf. "John Lennon probably should have had a bodyguard. But the guards focus so much on people with a camera and a pen when they should be looking out for someone who could really hurt the celebrities.”
That said, Woolf added that the bodyguards' bad press could be due partly to a media focus.
“With Eminem, 50 Cent, Puff Daddy back in the day, people want to say they have gangsta hoodlum bodyguards because it goes with their image," he said. "Now that Britney’s kind of tilting toward a bad-girl image, smoking and drinking, the media wants to portray her as a party girl running with a bad crowd."
It's not all speculation, though. Two men filed charges against P. Diddy (search) in August, claiming his security guard assaulted them last year and left one unconscious.
Francis also pointed out that one of the reasons why stars need to have bodyguards is so they can have some semblance of a normal life.
"When Bon Jovi calls me and says, 'I’m going shopping with my wife, what should I do?' I tell him to put on a baseball cap, bring your cell and keep moving," said Francis. "And they have to say 'no autographs, please, I’m shopping,' because once you do one, you create a scene.”
But when it comes to having a whole army of beefcakes, Woolf thinks the stars are really bulking up their egos and images more than their security.
“It makes you look like a bigger star than you are. There’s no arguing that Britney and Christina are big stars, but when you see the Hilton sisters out there with bodyguards ... come on," he said.