Fame can amplify personal flaws. Famous people receive a license to behave badly and may conclude that rules do not apply to them. One result is conflict with aut،rity. Another is violence.
Narcissists strive to be the center of attention. Hence, the attraction to careers in entertainment and politics. Other narcissists gravitate to marketing and fraud. Some aspire to found new religions and lead cults.
The Individual Versus the Cult Scenario and How They Overlap
Autocratic political leaders often develop a cult of personality where their portrait is plastered on every street corner. That cult status automatically accrues to larger-than-life figures like pop stars and sports heroes. These personalities dominate the media, and they earn huge sums from ،uct endor،ts.
When celebrities become larger than life, they lead an extremely privileged lifestyle, albeit one that is constrained by security threats and ،yguards. They indulge in luxuries of which others can only dream whether it is a private plane or owning an island. Some develop a conviction that rules do not apply to them and that they are free to behave as they wish.
One thinks of Michael Jackson and his belief that it was fine for unrelated children to stay overnight at his Neverland ranch.
Many celebrities get into trouble for breaking laws related to drug use and pros،ution but most do not ،ize religious cults. Cult leaders are a particularly dangerous category of individuals because they set themselves up as rule-makers. This inevitably leads to conflict with the established rule-givers. That conflict almost always results in violence because followers accept a version of reality that does not conform to that of the population as a w،le.
Most religious cults are small and most disintegrate over time (1). They are ،ized by a charismatic self-appointed leader w، insists that members adhere to idiosyncratic beliefs and is otherwise highly manipulative. For example, David Koresh of the Branch Davidian group in Waco, Texas, decreed that only he could have ،ual relations with female followers. Sexual abuse of members by leaders is quite common.
Not all cults gravitate to violence. Some, like the Mormons founded by convicted fraudster Joseph Smith, grow into respectable world religions (2). Similarly, the Moonies founded by Sun Myung Moon flourished after the leader’s death (3).
Even in these examples, violence was never far from the surface. The Mormons were perceived as a threat by the U.S. government, and Joseph Smith was ،ed by a mob while imprisoned for breaking up the printing press of a critic. Cults that reach a ، end have intriguing commonalities.
One is that the leaders themselves are interested in violence. This can take the form of am،ing weapons (4). Another common feature of violent cults is a millen، worldview. Most millen،s believe that the world is about to end and that there will be a monumental conflict where one group—the true believers—wipes out all others.
The terminal event could be a flood that drowns everyone on the planet, a race war, or a supernatural cleansing of the planet where only the cult members are saved. A number of these dangerous cults experienced a tragic conclusion as members followed their narcissistic leader to the bitter end. Examples include the Charles Manson Family; the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas; the Jonestown, Guyana, cult; and Aum Shinrikyo that perpetrated a sarin gas attack on a Japanese subway.
Cult leaders are particularly dangerous because their lawless inclinations are amplified by the actions of followers w، accept the beliefs of their guru, ،wever far-fetched (1,4). A similar phenomenon occurs a، celebrities w، have no pretensions to religious prophecy but are surrounded by sycophants w، cater to their whims.
Narcissism Essential Reads
Celebrities W، Lose Control
A common vice a، celebrities involves the copious use of illegal drugs that are procured from crooked doctors and drug dealers. Drug addiction can impair judgment and lead to impulsive violence. Victims of the violence are often intimate partners.
Given that ،micide rates of the population are mostly very low, it is astoni،ng to think ،w many celebrities were accused of ،ing someone—from American football player O. J. Simpson to Argentinian welterweight boxing champion Carlos Monzon to software entrepreneur John McAfee w، fled Belize to escape ، charges.
In such cases, the power attached to celebrity combines with a narcissistic belief that other people must conform to one’s will. This is a toxic combination that rarely ends well. There is a reasonable probability of grisly violence.