A friend of mine once called it Elvis Disease. Occasionally an individual will become so powerful, that he forgets he is mortal. (It’s what happened to Marlon Brando’s character in “Apocalypse Now.”) Because when a human becomes so important that people confuse him with a god, he might start believing it himself.
When Elvis came out of the dressing room for the first time in that sequined white jumpsuit with elephant bells, high collar, and a matching cape, he asked the people he thought were friends, “Ahh , what d’yall think? Ahh picked it for my Hawaii show…”
But everyone lied, and told him that he looked great. He didn’t really have any friends. Just a handful of people making an incredible amount of money working at Elvis Inc. So nobody stood up to him. When a man gets surrounded by a phalanx of assistants, groomers, managers, agents and other members of the entourage whose job it is to tell him how great he is –these things happen.
Michael Jackson suffered from the same affliction. Nobody had the nerve to tell Michael that he shouldn’t be sleeping with little boys, so it continued. If you remember the Martin Bashir documentary, he was very adamant about his proclivities with those beautiful little boys: “Why can’t you share your bed? That’s the most loving thing to do, to share your bed with someone…”
Apparently there was nobody within Michael’s inner circle that had the nerve to explain it to him and risk the unemployment line. There aren’t a lot of openings for jobs that pay six figures changing IV bags and gluing on a prosthetic nose.
I was thinking about this the other day while watching Bill Maher’s pathetic season finale. I almost felt a little sorry for Bill when his cherished beliefs were confronted for what seemed the very first time. And it wasn’t some angry conservative rubbing reality in his face, it was a panel of dogmatic peers. Here was Bill, a man, famously skeptical of religion and abrasively sarcastic about climate science doubters, admitting that he subscribes to New Age religion and doubts microbiology.
What started as a gentle ribbing soon took a dramatic turn as one by one, some of Americas most liberal celebrities realized that Bill wasn’t kidding. And aside from a few enthusiastic New Age freaks in the audience, most of his adoring fans seemed a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.
I think what happens to comics is they get a mutated strain of Elvis Disease. From experience, I know that many comedians tend to be incredible introverts. Normal human contact for them is completely impossible. They can only relate to other people from the security of the stage. Except for a couple brief moments with a convenient waitress or exotic dancer, stage time becomes a substitute for love and affection. That’s why many comics have troubled personal lives, and probably are second only to radio personalities for their propensity to divorce.
David Letterman exemplifies this social disorder. His inability to venture outside the confines of the Ed Sullivan Theater has left him with potential harassment lawsuits. His desire to seek amorous engagements with the staff is symptomatic of the disease he harbors.
When a comic hosts a show that becomes widely popular they become even more secluded. Their fame makes it impossible to do normal things and their only contact with the outside world is the writing staff. The people who toil at crafting the evening monologue are so afraid of getting fired from a rather lucrative job that they only write jokes specifically for the host. Hence they serve to reinforce the notion in the host’s own imagination that he is infallible. Add to that, an eager audience willing to applaud wildly at every remark and you have the recipe for a monster. This is why Bill Maher has begun to believe that he is the smartest man in the world: in his world, he is.
For Bill this is compounded by his choice of companions. His social life is populated with Playmates and other girls under thirty. He prefers women whose careers are completely dependent on their eating habits. They are also closer to playing with stuffed animals than the bridge club, so they tend to be animal-loving, vegetarian PETA chicks obsessed with cleansing and toxins. In order to get along with them, Bill feigns interest. An exciting date for Bill is a little locally-grown, raw, organic, vegan salad and some high-pressure colonics.
So he has begun to believe that eating seaweed and having water shot up his butt is ample protection from the H1N1 virus. Why would he think different? Most of his dates look a lot healthier than the visage he glimpses in the bathroom mirror on the way into the shower. Meanwhile, nobody on his staff has the nerve to tell Bill to straighten up.
It will be curious to see what happens to Bill over the next couple months while his show is on hiatus. It’s already been renewed, so that removes any self-doubt that he might be holding. (He won’t be spending the next few months obsessing over the mortgage, like the rest of us.) So he can just put that finale behind him, and forget it ever happened.
But I wonder if he can. Will he replay the show in his head and worry about his sanity, or continue to withdraw into his holistic delusions? A good friend might set up an intervention.
But I doubt he has any real friends left.