Caroline Flack, the former host of the hit reality show "Love Island," died by suicide at her London apartment as she awaited trial for an alleged assault of her boyfriend.
A lot has been written about the circumstances that led to the death, despite little of substance being known about them.
However, throughout her career, Caroline, herself, shared many of her mental health struggles. Her most notable admission highlighted this in a final Instagram post (shared by her family), where in her own words, she had been brushing feelings of "shame and embarrassment" under the carpet for "over ten years" and had been having an "emotional breakdown for a very long time." Other personal stories date back to the onset of depression the morning after her triumphant ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ win.
Battling depression can be difficult and draining to manage in everyday life. Managing this in the spotlight in an environment where the pretence of perfection is akin to being famous, must have been extremely tough for Caroline, particularly with the recent incident that was covered frame by frame by the paparazzi. It can be argued that the same media cycle that supported Flack's rise to fame participated in tearing her down in her final months.
While tragic, it underlines the pressures celebrities face and a warning to others seeking fame. In his seminal work ‘Being & Nothingness’ Jean Paul Sartre asks us to accept the notion, that we can only know ourselves through, and with the recognition of other people. He demonstrates this clearly in his example of "the look." Someone catches us "in the act" of doing something humiliating, and we find ourselves being defined in their terms which invariably leads to conflict. In a world where many celebrities use social media as a platform to manage some semblance of how they are seen, the invitation to be constantly judged and objectified can be overwhelming.
Jeff Goins, author and blogger wrote extensively on the dangers of fame in a blog he wrote shortly after the death of Amy Winehouse. Below is a section of the blog that really illuminates the challenges that come with being famous.
The Seduction of Fame
Any influencer or communicator will tell you: It’s tempting to want to be famous. The opportunity to have more influence, to talk to more people, to increase your followers, is sexy. Fame is a seductress. It draws us in with one tempting thought: the allure of more. Thousands of screaming fans. The thrill of an audience. It hits us right where we’re weakest, right where so many of us fall, where evil itself originates — our pride. All the while, we don’t realize we’re being led to the slaughter. Every day, we see actors and musicians rise to fame too quickly and pay the price. And yet, we’re blind when we face these same temptations in our own lives.
Fame is addictive
The problem with any kind of influence is that once you build it, you have to maintain it. If you cut ethical corners to get to where you are, you’ll have to continue those patterns to continue having influence. While there’s nothing wrong with having a platform, the requirements of it can be costly.
Standing in front of an adoring audience is exhilarating. Receiving a standing ovation in a crowded auditorium is exciting. Getting a hundred people to retweet you on Twitter feels good. It gives you a rush. This is the thrill of fame. But the problem is that the feeling eventually goes away. And next time, you need a little more. And then a little bit more… You keep trying to top your last performance. You may even start performing solely for the cheers. But at some point, even that doesn’t feel that good anymore. And you start looking for exhilaration elsewhere.
Fame is dangerous
Why are there so many Hollywood divorces? So many rock stars in rehab? Why are mega pastors prone to moral failure? Once it hooks you with its seductive claws and addicts with its compulsive nature, fame begins to sink its teeth into you. Slowly, it takes over until you are no longer yourself. You are only your public persona and subject to excessive scrutiny. This is, of course, not inevitable, but it is unfortunately common, and many celebrities choose to take their own lives. For some, it seems like the only escape.
How do you break the fame addiction?
The cure to this dangerous cycle is this: Be yourself. Live with integrity. Tell the truth (even when it makes you look like a human being). For many influencers, this is scary. Because it’s vulnerable. And they’ve made a profession out of being someone else. Sometimes, they’d rather destroy themselves than face who they really are. Those of us who aspire to have more influence should take heed. When we see an influencer fall or when a celebrity dies, we should consider the lives they were leading. Fame is dangerous, because ultimately, it can destroy you.
So is all influence bad?
Of course not. It all depends on your motivation. Are you seeking influence to merely be famous? You may find yourself on a path that leads to destruction. But if you seek to influence others for the sake of making their lives better, you would do well to be a person of integrity — the same onstage and off. As your influence grows, be cognizant of the temptations you face. Beware of the “performance mentality” and the thrill-seeking addictions of fame. Alternatively, consider the possibility that may not actually need fame to do your life’s work. If, however, you do, be careful in how you attain it. Remember: whatever you build, you will have to maintain.
At the age of 40, Caroline Flack joined many others in ending her life all too early, and I can’t help but wonder if fame was one of the culprits.