Hollywood is known as the land of dreams. If you wanted to be a star back in the day people would say “Go to Hollywood, that’s where you can make it”. When Marilyn Monroe was in an orphanage as a child she would gaze out of her window and see the Hollywood sign; dreaming every day that she would make it in the movie world. But what people still don’t want to accept even though it’s plain as day, is that Hollywood ruins lives as much as it provides the dream life. The dream life isn’t usually what it seems and behind closed doors many celebrities, from the Golden Age of the movies all the way to today, end up self destructing thanks to the dark side of the industry.
On my recent visit to La La Land I saw first hand how inspirational it is to be in Hollywood. Just being there and seeing the sign with your own eyes gives you a sense that anything is possible; that’s the magic of Hollywood. But what I’ve realised since is that it really took its toll on huge icons like Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and many more who had to end up losing their lives to stardom. You might be thinking “But they died because of a drug overdose” and that’s true, but they took drugs to cope with physical and/or psychological pain that came with the stress of being famous.
Thanks to his rock and roll lifestyle and touring the world, a consequence of being so in demand, Michael Jackson battled with insomnia and therefore took drugs to help him sleep; the drugs that eventually killed him at age 50. Marilyn Monroe suffered with psychological trauma from childhood when she was sexually abused by her foster parents and was abandoned by her mother who unfortunately was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. So yes she had issues before she even became famous. But when she became the ultimate movie screen siren she found herself being used even more by men in the business, struggling to cope with being idolised as a sex symbol and resenting her own beautiful looks for the alter ego of herself that it turned her into (her real name was Norma Jean before she decided to transform into Marilyn Monroe). She also suffered with insomnia and so the combination of that and feeling used and abused by Hollywood led to her taking a combination of pills and injections daily to try and aid her mental suffering. The same pills and injections that were found next to her bedside when she was discovered dead at the age of 36 due to an overdose.
Even with those who are still alive, we all know of many celebrities who can’t cope with the limelight or who take drugs because they can’t sleep. It’s so common in the celeb world that it’s clearly not a coincidence, it’s the disastrous effects of achieving the dream. It’s like the terms and conditions in the Hollywood contract that no one takes notice of until it’s too late and the damage is done. It’s much easier to reel off the names of celebrities who have succumbed to drugs or alcohol, than it is to name those who haven’t. Child stars are another example of those who are thrown into the limelight, the glam and the glitz of Hollywood, only to find that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and end up either dead at a young age or taking drugs (Macaulay Culkin, the star of Home Alone, comes to mind here). A Channel 4 documentary which aired about 5 years ago called Michael Jackson’s Secret Hollywood exposed the rampant underground drug culture for celebrities in Hollywood and the ‘yes men’ who essentially help famous people destroy themselves by getting them any drugs they want at any time of day; exactly why Michael himself ended up dying so young.
One last poignant and tragic story that I will mention and epitomises the dichotomy of Hollywood, is a lady known as “The Hollywood Sign Girl”. In 1932, Peg Entwistle, a New York stage actress moved to Hollywood to try to make it big. After being rejected from acting roles numerous times and falling into depression, she realised that the sign that once gave her such hope was now a sign of failure. At age 24 she hiked up Mount Lee to the Hollywood sign, climbed up a workman’s ladder and committed suicide by jumping off the ‘H’. If that’s not a striking symbol of the dark side of Hollywood I don’t know what is.
The important message to take away from this is that Hollywood, with all its promises of the perfect life, the glamour, the money, everything you could ever dream of and more ultimately leads to destruction when you realise it’s all smoke and mirrors. Hollywood can’t make you happy and if anything it makes stars unhappy because of the stress of being unnaturally idolised, followed, monetised and loved for their looks, talent or money; things that for most won’t last forever. Once Hollywood has taken what it wants from you, it chews you up and spits you out. And then what are you left with?