John Andrist: Are Celebrities Good, Bad, Or Just Like Us?


Celebrity has always been a source of fascination for me. There are celebrities from every walk of life.

I’m not sure, but I think what defines celebrity is having a body of friends or supporters and/or a body of enemies, without really knowing any of them.

Many of us have a large body of friends or enemies, but they are generally the people we know or at least are acquainted with. So they can’t pass my celebrity test.

This all came to my mind this week when I was reading about Bill Cosby. He was one of my black icons, like Sidney Poitier. I can’t really call the author Alex Haley a celebrity. I loved him because I was lucky enough to meet him and learn what an amazing guy he was.

I don’t have many icons from the world of entertainment. I’ve never bought a copy of People magazine, and would never be attracted to buy a product just because it was endorsed by some sports figure or movie star.

Jimmy Stewart was one I loved. Spencer Tracy too. I’ve liked a few others, because they were so good at their craft. But none of them were a temptation to run to for an autograph.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]If any of us are as good as we want to be, we certainly are not as good as we ought to be.[/mks_pullquote]

Bill Cosby came close. I was devastated to learn of his fall from grace. I almost felt violated. Then again I can still pray for him, and his wife, and dearly hope something good can result both for him and the rest of us when his mess is sorted out.

I probably have more icons from the world of business and government than I do from Hollywood or Nashville.

In government most of them, as you might guess, have an R after their name. And yet I have a high level of admiration for a number of Ds, as well. Harry Truman is one of them. Gov.Bill Guy was another.

And I had a deep admiration for Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, both Democrats. To tell the truth, almost all of the Congressman I have known got there because they deserved it.

But then, when you know them first hand they don’t fit my definition of celebrity. Then they are friends, and that pretty much takes the D and R away from their name. Real friends don’t have a label.

Still, it is sobering to recall all of the big name celebrities who have fallen from grace when they were at the top of their game, victims of some sexual, social or business indiscretion.

And yet we are generally a forgiving people, and that is good. For we really never know, as sinners, how we would have reacted if we had faced the same temptations.

Would we have handled celebrity any better than they did? Would we have remained the same as we were if suddenly we were given $50 million to throw a football or dribble on the hardwood?

If any of us are as good as we want to be, we certainly are not as good as we ought to be.

Truthfully, I would gladly trade everybody who has ever been a celebrity for all the folks I think of as friends.

I always thought it was the Scottish poet Bobby Burns who said this, but my computer says it was written by a newspaper guy from Marion, Kans. (a county seat town of 1,800).

His name was Enoch Hock, and he died in 1925, but it is still one of my  favorites:

“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.”