As the King of Rock’ n’ Roll, Elvis was idolized but later mocked after exhibiting health problems. Movies like “Elvis” portray the star outside his music to showcase his flaws, dreams, and humanity. Contrary to popular belief, celebrities are not. t immune to psychological problems. Experts say treating stars with empathy and compassion is critical, rather than ridicule.
America swooned when Elvis rose to fame with his legendary pompadour and pelvic moves. The King of Rock’ n’ Roll shocked prudish 1950s America with his swaying hips and unparalleled charm and was treated as an icon—until his tragic final years.
Numerous documentaries have exposed the fatal price of fame for Elvis, who was not the healthiest eater and was increasingly dependent on drugs to sleep and perform. And with grueling recording and concert schedules, many speculated that he struggled with isolation at Graceland and the pressure to excel after his hiatus from the military and The Beatles’ massive popularity.
Once he strayed from his beautiful, seductive image, some ridiculed and rejected him. Since he died 45 years ago, he has become the target of “fat Elvis” jokes and is still teased about the circumstances of his death. (According to the coroner’s report, the singer died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease at age 42.)
But now “Elvis” (in theaters) strives to make the legendary singer more human than his musical abilities. Austin Butler stars as the American heartthrob through the years: a rocking teenager who eventually succumbs to the crumbling pressures of success, money, and power.
“I realized this man was as iconic as they come, and yet he was naturally human, sensitive and vulnerable, with virtues and flaws, and I got to experience all of that,” Butler said of Elvis in a USA TODAY interview. . †
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Psychologists say attempts to re-imagine celebrities as more than their stardom and wealth succeed in destigmatizing and humanizing the mental health conversation.
“We tended to treat Elvis like someone who was supposed to be a great icon of American rock and roll. As he got older, his mental health issues started to surface, and people didn’t know what to think about it.” because many assume that type of person must be desensitized to human problems,” said Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of “Joy from Fear.”
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Instead of showing compassion, Elvis was mocked and ridiculed. Why?
Elvis embodied modern American youth and rock ‘n’ roll, changing the course of popular music with his songs, dance moves, charisma, and wardrobe.
But especially in his later years, he developed a series of phobias and obsessions, had trouble sleeping, and gradually relied on drugs to get through the day. And instead of showing empathy, he was mocked by the country that lifted him on the pedestal.
Experts say it’s common for people to disconnect celebrities from reality and make fun of them for amusement and amusement.
But Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist specializing in celebrity mental health, says the cultural mockery of imperfect stars speaks to “a part of human nature we’re not particularly proud of.”
“We don’t want celebrities to have that perfect life… We’re unhappy for them because we want that life too, and we can’t have it,” Rockwell says. “So when we see a celebrity change in any way, we can say, ‘Oh, look, they faltered’ or ‘they aren’t perfect’. And we love criticizing the celebrity to bring them back to our level.”
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Manly adds that the objectification of Elvis also played a part in this abuse: Not only was he used as a “money-making machine” by power-hungry industry leaders, but he was also sexualized and reduced to an image. By his young wife fans.
Once we start objectifying real people, “we remove the individual’s personality, their true self. We don’t know what their fears are, what their hopes are, what their dreams are, what their sorrows are; we see whatever we want.” ‘says Manly.
“When Elvis was doing well, people projected the rock star, the sexual image onto him… as he started getting older and lost his glow, people no longer saw him as a sex symbol, as the man of America, but they saw him like a fading rock star. And they didn’t like that.”
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To this day, there are conflicting speculations about Elvis’ sudden death. But according to “Elvis,” overwhelming demand from fans played a part in his fall.
Some experts agree that Elvis may have been acting frenzied to accommodate fans’ demands at the expense of his well-being. The pressure to perform, the loss of privacy, and the ongoing public scrutiny can also cause a lot of anxiety and depression – forcing some to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other substances to reduce stress.
“People get agoraphobic. They don’t want to go outside. Why would you want to go outside and people stare at you all the time?” says Rockwell, adding that “a lot is given away when an artist becomes famous that they are ill-prepared for.”
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Regarding public figures and mental health, Manly notes that it is often difficult for those constantly in the spotlight to seek help.
“People think you’re a star or you have money. That’s why you should be happy. You have all the money in the world. How can you ever have problems…” If you are depressed, go to a therapist or go to rehab if necessary.'”
But in the case of Elvis, Manly notes, it would have been “much harder than the average Joe, who doesn’t care about how people will look at him.”
“Ultimately, someone with a mental health problem, who is a celebrity, will often have a harder time because to recover successfully from a mental health problem or addiction, you need a lot of humility. And that’s something that people with wealth or fame struggle with. have to come in.”
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We may have let Elvis down. What needs to be done for the future?
In recent years, Hollywood has tried to spread awareness about the human aspects of celebrities. Aside from “Elvis,” new retellings like Netflix’s “Blonde” starring Ana de Armas “examine the growing gulf between (Marilyn Monroe) ‘s public and private selves.”
These efforts do not make right the mistakes of the past. But when we see the complexities of stars beyond their fame and fortune, “the public is forced to see them as people,” Manly says.
“It’s harder to project onto someone who shows their fault lines. It’s harder to project that ideal of perfection onto that person.”
After more than 20 years of studying the psychology behind fan-celebrity relationships, Rockwell says she’s observed a growing culture of empathy and compassion in the younger generation, crediting it to public figures like Selena Gomez, Billie Eilish and Michael Phelps, who use their platforms. To expose their struggles and help reduce mental health stigma.
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“What will create a better and more empathetic relationship between fans and celebrities is more celebrities empowering themselves to speak out about their authentic being,” Rockwell says. “I think younger people today respond to vulnerability in ways that an older generation just didn’t.”
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Contributions: Marco della Cava