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In the fall of 1964 I traveled from my high school home in a small California town to go to college at UCLA in Los Angeles. For 40 some years since then I have had an off-and-on relationship with the fame industry in L.A. and Hollywood, which claimed the life of Anna Nicole Smith yesterday. The fame industry operates in television and movies and music, and with Anna Nicole it broadened out into the business of doing nothing but being famous.
I have seen people kill themselves to learn to act or sing or play a guitar, all so they could be famous. I have seen boy billionaires go crazy trying to become famous when they were already rich and could buy anything they want, except fame.
I separate these people from genuine artists who want to play or sing or act because they are very good at it, and for whom fame is a byproduct and largely an annoyance. It's the other ones — the Anna Nicole types — who have remained a mystery to me for close to 50 years now.
What exactly do these people get out of fame? Being recognized is way, way different than recognition. Recognition is when you are recognized for your accomplishments and great work, even if that work is the seemingly effortless vocation of acting or singing. Being recognized on the street is something else entirely.
I used to follow the exploits of a guy who was a wannabe rock star and was such a serious wannabe he ended up being satisfied for being famous threatening to jump from tall buildings. People forgot he thought he was a singer. He was happy. Well, he was never happy, but content perhaps with the fact he was recognized as the guy who stood on the ledges of tall buildings threatening to jump.
How do I know he wasn't suicidal? Simple. He never jumped if the jump would have killed him. He was always able to show up on another ledge as long as a photographer was there to take his picture on the ledge.
Anna Nicole was famous for being famous. If she had a talent, she kept it well concealed. She was interesting, no doubt, but her entire life was focused on one thing, from the time she married her first husband through the good luck of finding a billionaire who also wanted to make her famous to all this we've seen in the last few weeks.
Someday people will ask: Who was this Anna Nicole that people obsessed about? We'll say, well, she was blond, she was pretty, she married a rich man, and we'll kind of run out of gas right about there.
In the end she lived less than four decades. She got what she wanted. She's famous, and has been for a while. But it's all she is, or was. If she were an especially good person, or an especially talented person, it's all lost now. She was a famous person — pure fame — and nothing more to make it worth the trouble.
And now the story of the famous baby will begin. A few months old and little Dannielynn has lawyers and billions of dollars to fight over. If she is lucky we will never hear her name spoken again. But I don't think she's going to get that lucky.
That's My Word.
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