Ted Williams, Kate Gosselin, Susan Boyle: Why overnight celebrities get in so much trouble.

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Jan. 12 2011 7:12 PM

Almost Infamous

Why overnight stars like Ted Williams get into trouble.

(Continued from Page 1)

Media backlash. Would-be celebrities assume fame is a constant upward trajectory, without considering the inevitable backlash. Boyle got sick of her increasingly negative coverage, lashing out at two reporters who seemed to be harassing her in a hotel lobby in 2009. "There were a lot of press people outside my door," she said. "There were phone calls 24 hours a day."

Loss of identity. Being famous means being approached by strangers who think they know you. Only they don't—they know your public persona. This kind of over-familiar treatment can lead to a loss of identity, or a "dispersion of the self," says Wilson. "Is it Daniel Craig they know, or his James Bond persona?" The celebrity himself may start to question who he is.

Drugs. Sudden celebrity means sudden access to every substance imaginable. As the opportunities for self-gratification multiply, the likelihood of succumbing increases—especially for people with longstanding habits. After Williams' sudden rise to stardom, his daughter said he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day—and not just any vodka: Grey Goose. Having a protective entourage of bodyguards and lawyers can reinforce bad habits by protecting the celebrity from the consequences of their behavior.

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Financial woes. People assume celebrities have a lot of money. But that's not always the case. Even after five seasons of Jon & Kate Plus 8, Kate Gosselin signed up for Dancing With the Stars because, she said, her family needed the money. The pressure supposedly drove her to cry on-set. Williams, who has been homeless for years, seems especially vulnerable to a financial crash-and-burn. "I feel like a million-dollar lottery winner," Williams said on the Today show last week. The comparison is apt: Like lottery winners, celebrities can get carried away with their wealth as expenditures rise to meet income. (MC Hammer filed for bankruptcy in 1996 after racking up millions in debt.) They assume the cash will continue to flow. When it doesn't, they make more by doing what they do best: Humiliating themselves in public.

That's not to say sudden success is all bad. Williams might not have reunited with his mother if not for his big break. Boyle, whatever her stumbles, cut a best-selling album. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's book, which he wrote after successfully landing a plane on the Hudson River in 2009, helped him fix his finances. Plus, there were side benefits. Lorrie Sullenberger described having "hero sex" after her husband became famous. "Rock star sex," he confirmed.

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Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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