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Mad Genius?

June 29, 2009
Just as well-known as his music catalogue was Michael Jackson’s eccentric personality.  His behavior, especially in his latter years, made just as many headlines as did his record-breaking ticket and music sales. This may not have been indicative of a mental illness, but rather, an attempt to stay in the spotlight.



“There’s an inherent stress in the show business industry in that folks have to stay in the public eye to stay relevant,” says David Baron, chief of psychiatry at Temple’s School of Medicine.  “Sometimes, that means acting out or doing something crazy so that producers or directors will say, ‘Oh, I remember him, let’s put him in X,Y and Z.’”

Baron, who had several celebrity clients when he practiced in Los Angeles, says that at one point, he treated a famous man who spent thousands of dollars a month on Lakers tickets – even though he wasn’t a fan of basketball.

“This man was spending way too much and straining his income,” he said. “When I asked him why he was doing it, he told me it was because his agent said he needed to be seen there.”

It’s often been said that true genius comes from pain or trauma, and that there are many celebrities who have suffered some sort of trauma early on – whether it’s mental, emotional or physical.  But Baron counters that it’s an example of sampling bias.

“You hear more about a plane crash than a car crash, because it’s a bigger story with bigger implications,” he says.  “So in the same way, you hear more about the life of a celebrity because it’s a bigger story. These stories about a star’s early childhood that you hear will make for good headlines.”

 “I’d venture that if you interviewed every star in Hollywood, you’d find less instances of mental illness or trauma than you might find if you interviewed every resident right here in North Philadelphia,” he added.


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