The Psychology of Celebrity Worship

Fischoff said he thinks it is perfectly appropriate to grieve a star's passing. His own wife cried upon hearing that Jackson had died, he said. With the loss of someone of Jackson's stature, "your cultural history disappears," he said. "You feel that someone you loved is gone, and it takes time to close the wound."

Dr. Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, agrees. "When a celebrity passes, the loss is personal -- not because we knew the celebrity but because they were with us as we grew up and as we had our own special moments," he said.

If you're overcome with emotion, Fischoff suggests writing down or talking through your feelings, either with a friend or into a tape recorder. "Think of it as the loss of a family member and go with it," he said. Although physically gone, deceased celebrities leave their art -- "those are the memories," he said.

But in a disposable culture such as today's, the mourning often doesn't last long, Fischoff noted. Jackson's death eclipsed Fawcett's, he said, and someone else with celebrity status could come along tomorrow and take Jackson's place in the public's collective consciousness.

More information

For more on the psychology of fascination with celebrities, visit the American Psychological Association. For more on Michael Jackson's death, read this HealthDay article.

SOURCES: Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., senior editor, Journal of Media Psychology, and emeritus professor, media psychology, California State University, Los Angeles; John Lucas, M.D., clinical assistant professor, psychology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and assistant attending psychiatrist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; Adam Galinsky, Ph.D., Morris and Alice Kaplan professor of ethics and decision in management, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.; Alan Hilfer, Ph.D., director, psychology, Maimonides Medical Center, New York City

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