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The Psychology of Celebrity Worship
Date:6/26/2009

Since antiquity, people have been fascinated with larger-than-life characters, experts say

FRIDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- Looking at the legions of fans mourning the loss of Michael Jackson, one might think celebrity worship is a modern phenomenon. But from the gods on Olympus in ancient Greece to the bobby-soxers swooning over Frank Sinatra in the 1950s to Brad and Angelina today, adulation of the stars is an age-old pursuit, psychologists say.

Jackson's sudden death Thursday at age 50, just weeks before he was to launch a major concert tour, riveted the world. And hours earlier, the news that Farrah Fawcett, the 1970s sex symbol, had died of anal cancer captivated Americans who remembered her first for her role in TV's "Charlie's Angels" and later as a courageous woman sharing the intimate details of her battle with the disease.

The public's fascination with celebrities "may seem new because we are such a media-immersed society, but it's really not," said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor at the Journal of Media Psychology and emeritus professor of media psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.

When the composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt performed in the 19th century, women threw their underwear at them. And 80 years after the death of silent-film star Rudolph Valentino, fans continue to visit his grave, Fischoff noted.

Celebrities tap into the public's primal fantasies and basic emotions, lifting people from their everyday lives and making them believe anything is possible, said Dr. John Lucas, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College and an assistant attending psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

In the case of Jackson, with what appeared to be numerous plastic surgeries and skin bleaching, "the weirdness resonates with our own internal suppressed hidden wishes -- for immortality, gratification o
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