The digital news on March 11th, 2020, contained a startling alert – Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for coronavirus while shooting the “Elvis” movie in Australia. Why would this superstar couple reveal private health information with an undeniable stigma attached to it? My doorman’s response was, “Hey, you know celebrities there is no such thing as bad publicity for them.”
A current trend amongst celebrities is exposing all of one’s illnesses – both physical and mental. The days of Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner, where celebrities were considered untouchable, are over. There is no such thing as TMI – Too Much Information.
During the 1940’s publicists for movie studios would have been horrified if you exposed their clients went to the bathroom, let alone had a potentially fatal and contagious disease. On Monday acclaimed actor Idris Elba announced he had tested positive despite being asymptomatic. No one would have known of his at-home diagnosis had he not telecast it on social media because, as he said “it was the right thing to do, share what we’re going through because we ain’t the only ones.”
While cynics claim this is a desperate attempt for luminaries to maintain relevancy – it is, in fact, quite the opposite. Tom Hanks Wikipedia entry used to read two-time Academy Award winner, Kennedy Center Honoree, Presidential Medal of Freedom and French Legion of Honor recipient.
Within five days, an addendum has been added with two paragraphs revealing he was admitted to the “Gold Coast University Hospital”- hardly beneficial for his resume. Moreover, for years to come his impeccable record will be tarnished with his coronavirus legacy as an overly paranoid cast and crew may be apprehensive about working with him – despite the knowledge that after 14 days most of the population is not contagious.
This heroic move has destigmatized the disease allowing luminaries such as Idris Elba and Olga Kurylenko to come forward soon after. The likelihood they would have done so without Hanks’s initial overture is small as he has made the illness palatable if not yet “glamorous.” Idris Elba has a similarly untainted record as “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” in 2018 and repeated mention of his candidacy as the next James Bond.
Consequently, he took a significant and unnecessary risk of diminishing his steamy appeal with the revelation that he has the virus. I must confess while I have heretofore considered him irresistible, I am less inclined to feel that way after his disclosure. However, his bravery in sacrificing his box office marketability to make others suffering feel less scapegoated is fearlessly gutsy.
One of the forerunners of the “I’m going to reveal everything trend” was Angelina Jolie, who divulged in May 2013 she had a preventive double mastectomy after discovering she carried the BCRA1 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer to 87 percent. Her decision to go public was unanimously praised due to the thousands of women’s lives she might have saved with her admission.
Her ex-husband Brad Pitt followed suit when upon their divorce in 2017, the usually reticent Pitt gave an eye-opening interview to GQ, where he admitted being an addict. “I can’t remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn’t boozing or had a spliff”- a remarkably unwise disclosure when one is fighting a nasty custody battle.
And so the confessions have come, one after the other. Prince Harry suffered a near-nervous breakdown, Meghan was not okay, Selena Gomez struggles with anxiety and depression. Justin Bieber has Lyme disease, drug problems, and depression, while Ben Affleck is a struggling alcoholic. Brad Cooper, a recovered addict, Lady Gaga, pain and depression sufferer, Madonna a chronic pain sufferer, Bella, and Yolanda Hadid has Lyme disease, Demi Lovato a bi-polar substance abuser and the list goes on.
Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Blake Lively can no longer sell magazines as their lives don’t register as relatable to the common folk. Fame has become a forum for disseminating information to help fans and followers tackle their issues through empathy and parallel experiences.
Surely there are still celebrities whose tone-deaf superiority continues unabated: such as Gwyneth Paltrow hawking a $1,000 outfit on her Goop Instagram page during the current crisis; or Bella Hadid flashing her boobs during this trying period. However, celebrities are beginning to realize showing vulnerability might be their greatest legacy.
An image of the formally fearless Naomi Campbell boarding her plane at Los Angeles airport in a hazmat suit, goggles, and face mask is paradigmatic of this trend of celebrities proclaiming, “Hey, I am just like you – only worse.”