Category Archives: Celebrity Focus

Justin Beiber, Matthew Fox Cases Illuminate a Dark Side of Fame

Now that Mariah Yeater’s text messages have revealed that Justin Bieber is not the father of her baby, time will tell whether Beiber will go forward with legal action against the young woman — who was out to get support money from the pop star with a paternity suit that’s now been withdrawn.  She claimed a quick backstage tryst.  He says he never even met her. 

And time will tell whether Matthew Fox will succeed with legal action against Ohio bus driver Heather Bormann, who said the former “Lost” star punched her.  Authorities found insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against Fox, and last week, he countersued Bormann.

Whatever the outcomes, this is true:  One of the dark sides of fame is that celebrities are targets for attempts at legal money grabs and vendettas by people in their lives, people they barely know — or sometimes, people they’ve never even met.  When such attempts involve sex and the proverbial he said/she said, the potential for injustice grows exponentially for those who are innocent — yet have to endure high-cost legal battles and negative press that can cause real harm to careers and lives.  

Consider the case of Michael Flatley.  Ireland’s “Lord of the Dance” was sued for $35 million in 2003 by a woman who claimed that he had raped her in a Las Vegashotel room.  Flatley’s version of events had it that the first he heard of the claim was two months after they’d spent the night together, consensually, when the woman’s attorney contacted Flatley’s attorney saying she’d tell the public Flatley had raped her if he didn’t pay a specified amount.  He declined, contacted the FBI to investigate – and filed a $100 million lawsuit against her and her lawyer. Flatley’s suit alleged that the attorney had committed extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, fraud, and wrongful interference with business relations.

Flatley’s attorney explained: “We filed the lawsuit because what this lady did was outrageous…It will do tremendous damage to Mr. Flatley. Even when he wins the case, some people will still believe the accusations.”

The case against Flatley was eventually thrown out (while a motion to dismiss his countersuit was denied), but that event was barely a blip on the media radar – until a couple years later, when DNA tests showed that Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had fathered the two-month-old baby of Tyna Marie Robertson.

Robertson is the same woman who sued Flatley.  The information came to light that Robertson had dated other wealthy and well-known men through the years – relationships that sometimes ended in litigation – through private investigator Ernie Rizzo, who noted that he worked for Urlacher and Flatley.

Obviously, sometimes accusations of sexual misconduct against celebrities are true – and there are also certainly many instances of guilty parties who never suffer any consequences.  But those wrongs don’t make the injustice of the above circumstances any less clear.

Conrad Murray a Scapegoat for Over-Prescribing Doctors, the Face of a Drug Industry Run Amok

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson

What will be the after-effects of Dr. Conrad Murray being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter this week?  It’s easy to assume that his precipitous fall, from being the King of Pop’s private physician to being a convict, will serve as a warning to other doctors-to-the-stars – but the impact should be broader than that. 

You might believe that Michael Jackson, as extremely troubled as he was indulged, was so many light years away from average citizens that he and his personal Dr. Feelgood have nothing to do with us.  But regular Joes and Janes do have parallels to Jackson:  We live in a culture where pharmaceuticals seem to be offered as solutions to every problem, where they’re widely accepted as Answer No. 1 to whatever ails us. 

Conrad Murray is guilty, true, but he’s a scapegoat for all over-prescribing medicos, too – and the face of a prescription drug industry that’s run rampant for decades, especially since the Food and Drug Administration decided to allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to the public in 1998.   Just two years later, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that every dollar that the pharmaceutical industry spent on advertising yielded $4.20 in drug sales.  The result: drugs hyped to the skies!  Nowhere is the absurdity of it all clearer than in the ongoing assault of hideous drug warnings foisted on the television viewing public day and night.  We’ll turn yellow, constipated and have thoughts of suicide?  Lord have mercy.

As with everything in the U.S.A., celebrities lead the way.  If they can sell handbags and cars by virtue of their glamour and panache, goodness knows they can sell drugs.  Even ones we might not need or that might not be good for us.

 It’s sickening to read the list of drugs to which Jackson was addicted and think about how they affected his body in his last months — and that this isn’t a case of speedballs or other illicit drugs such as killed stars like John Belushi and River Phoenix.  Jackson’s drugs were all legal. 

So were the drugs that took the life of Heath Ledger in 2008.  The 28-year-old died after ingesting a lethal cocktail consisting of: OxyContin; Hydrocodone (an ingredient in Vicodin); Diazepam or Valium;  Alprazolan or Xanax; Temazepam or Restoril (prescribed for  insomnia); and Doxylamine, an antihistamine over-the-counter sleep aid sold in the U.S. as Unisom.

In 2007, a combination of prescription and over-the-counter drugs killed Anna Nicole Smith.  Those included three antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs, plus a sleep medication.

Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Moon – they all died from overdoses of legal drugs as well.  (Clint Eastwood’s new “J. Edgar” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio shows that even the iconic FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had some help from a Dr. Feelgood.  It’s the American way.)

In September 1979, Elvis Presley’s private physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, was charged by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners with “indiscriminately prescribing 5,300 pills and vials for Elvis in the seven months before his death.” He was later acquitted. 

But not Conrad Murray.

Why might this case make more of an impact on society than other similar cases? 

Because it comes at a time when Americans may be reaching a tipping point of annoyance with the overselling of drugs – drugs many can’t afford.  It’s not the array of life-saving modern miracle medications that has people complaining, let’s be clear.  It’s the obvious excesses.  Restless legs and four-hour erections and other problems the public didn’t seem to have a decade ago tell the tale.  Doctors have volunteered that these days, they find themselves talking patients out of medications they’ve seen on TV that aren’t appropriate for them.   A public clamor for change could force advertisers to reach out to consumers in a more conscientious way – less offensive, ridiculous and manipulative.  Prescription medication shouldn’t be treated like magic candy that can make it all better. 

Which brings us back to Michael Jackson.  Sadly, he seems to have thought exactly that. 


Don’t Look Now, but Hollywood is Bringing Us Some Positive Christian Characters

Sandra Bullock in 'The Blind Side'

Sandra Bullock in 'The Blind Side'

What do Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side,” Candace Cameron Bure in “Make it Or Break It” and Yvette Nicole Brown in “Community” have in common? Besides being famous and beautiful, that is.

Each has a character currently in a mainstream hit who is an avowed Christian, who is not a buffoon, a villain, ignorant or crazy — as has often been the case with Christian characters in product emanating from Hollywood in the last two or three decades.

Bullock’s portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, real-life adoptive mother of Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher, has her in the Oscar running, in fact.

Candace Cameron Bure

Candace Cameron Bure

Bure’s quietly faithful and sympathetic character, Summer Van Horn, is a standout in the hot ABC Family “Make it Or Break It” series about a group of champion gymnasts. She has been seen winning the confidence and friendship of the show’s beleaguered bad girl, Lauren (Cassie Scerbo).

Brown’s divorced mother, “Community” college student character, Shirley Bennett, certainly has her foibles, including repressed anger. The Christmas episode of the Joel McHale series had Shirley in a very unattractive, disapproving mode — but she learned a lesson about the perils of rushing to judgment by the end. She’s trying to be a better person and is ultimately likeable despite her failings. Those layers of character make Brown, a Christian in real life, feel happy indeed.

Yvette Nicole Brown

Yvette Nicole Brown

A hip comedy from the co-creator of “The Sarah Silverman Program” — Dan Harmon — might not be the place one would expect to find such a character, but Brown is quick to let us know that Harmon is respectful of her faith. And evidently, some of his cues about how to write Shirley’s Christian ways have come from Brown herself.

She tells us with a laugh, “Dan watches all of us like a hawk, and none of us will ever admit what things got in that made it out of our own mouths or happened in real life.”

As for what she’d like in Shirley’s future? “I’d love her to have a chaste love affair — a divorced Christian woman, a mother, wanting to keep it together ’til she gets another ring? Dealing with that mine field? It would be nice for people to see that option. I think it would be kind of cute. Goodness knows, we see enough of people going the other route.”

Stacy Jenel Smith


Aftermath of Mackenzie Phillips’ Incest Disclosure

Mackenzie Phillips AP photo

Mackenzie Phillips AP photo

By Stacy Jenel Smith

No sooner had news come out that Mackenzie Phillips was revealing a 10-year incestuous relationship with her father, John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas fame, than the judgments began.

Media members and chat room visitors alike questioned her motives, her timing. The man is dead and can’t defend himself, while she’s looking to make big bucks on her “High on Arrival” book — which was touted all through her Oprah Winfrey interview. Capitalizing on something so abhorrent, it just smelled bad.

Her stepmother, Michelle Phillips, quickly challenged Mackenzie’s claims, saying she didn’t believe her. She chalked it all up to Mackenzie having a disturbed mental shape after all her years of drug abuse. And, what’s more, the book is coming out at the opportune time of a new album and tour push by half-sister Chynna Phillips, she pointed out. All the more reason to be suspicious.

This type of reaction — the doubts and disbelief — “is typical,” according to Dr. Kathleen C. Faller, Professor of Social Work and director of the Family Assessment Clinic at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Faller is the author of several books that address the subject of incest, including “Child Sexual Abuse: An Interdisciplinary Manual for Diagnosis, Case Management, and Treatment” (Columbia 1988).

“Despite the fact that the number of cases reported has increased and there have been successful criminal prosecutions, in virtually every case, there is doubt about the veracity of the victim’s or survivor’s account,” she says.

She adds that survivors “often live in a world of doubt” — doubt that people will believe them, doubt in themselves.

It is also typical for survivors to go many years before disclosing a history of incest, according to Faller and other leading experts in the field, such as Dr. Judith Lewis Herman of Harvard Medical School. She characterized the keeping of such information hidden for years, even decades as “quite common.”

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr

In 1991, Roseanne Barr went public with her recollection of childhood abuse at the hands of both her parents, who denied the allegations. She told People magazine, “keeping the secret of incest has taken all my energy and courage for 38 years. For most of my life, voices in my head must have been telling me, ‘Shut up. Shut up. Shut up and take it.'”

Roseanne was inspired to face her past both by her then-husband, Tom Arnold, who was grappling with his own

Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold

memories of childhood sexual abuse by his babysitter — and by “Miss America by Day,” the book by former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, in which she disclosed the incest she suffered from age five to 18.

Van Derbur hated dolls. It wasn’t until she was in her forties that she tied that in to a mental picture she had of a doll of hers sitting in a chair near her bed, “and the shame I had that the doll could see what was happening.”

Van Derbur, a long-time advocate for incest victims, recalls in an interview on her website that when she finally told her mother about her father’s unwanted visits to her room, it was a year after his death. She was 48 years old, successful, highly regarded. And yet, her mother’s response was, “‘I don’t believe you. It’s your fantasy.'”

Van Derbur finds that incest survivors tend to “hide in shame and become drug addicts and do nothing with our lives” or they “excel and try to be perfect.” She fell into the latter category. Going public with her story unexpectedly liberated her from the tyranny of always trying to be flawless, she said. It “was very freeing … people knew the worst thing they could possibly know about me … and still spoke to me, people still admired me. It was unfathomable to me.”

Marilyn Van Derbur“It helps to have people who are prominent, like Oprah Winfrey, who describe their abuse,” says Faller, referring to Winfrey’s disclosures of having been sexually abused by a cousin, an uncle and a family friend when she was growing up. “Every time somebody discloses and there is a positive outcome — when people believe the victim or survivor, help is obtained.”

Referring to Phillips, she says, “When a case like this comes up, it brings up another important thing for people to understand, that offenders are not dirty old men in raincoats. They’re usually close to the victim. [Incest is] not closely tied to socioeconomic status, it falls across the full spectrum. This case would be illustrative of that, with someone who had a prominent reputation and many fans, and now you have his daughter describing him in these terms.”

She stresses, “You want people to tell. It’s really important for their healing to talk about what’s happened.”

“Talking about it is good,” says Linda Davis, representing the organization Survivors of Incest Anonymous. “Talking about it is how it gets stopped. It festers in silence. ‘Shut up and take it,’ is the message. ‘It’s your fault.’ And if someone is a child — or child-like — they believe that.”

Davis believes that the Mackenzie Phillips story could trigger responses for many incest victims and survivors. And, noting that they’ll need a place to turn, she adds that SIA offers resources and a 12-step recovery program. (Contact them at Survivors of Incest Anonymous — P.O. Box 190, Benson, MD 21018, or on the web at Therapy is the answer for many.

Noted Beverly Hills psychologist and author Dr. Brandi Roth, who works with children who have educational and behavioral issues, has provided therapy for incest survivors as part of her practice. She says, “Yes, celebrities can awaken other people and empower people. If, however, people don’t have the resilience to recover from trauma, it’s an enormously risky time.”

She describes three types of resilience: those who “just figure it out, handle it and move forward”; those who undergo a temporary collapse, get help and then are able to “bootstrap themselves up”; and those who experience “a full collapse in which people stay victimized forever. All these groups face the same things — shame, self-doubt, vulnerability, the risk of being re-abused.”

Encouragingly, she adds, “At any time, people can recover. I’ve had old people come in, in their seventies and eighties, for repair. They want to understand what’s happened.”

While the public debates the whys and wherefores of Phillips’ decision to tell her story — and, no, she was not a child when the alleged affair took place, which shouldn’t be forgotten — the fact is, her disclosure is now much bigger than her own life or her book sales.

Roseanne and Marilyn Van Derbur have both been thanked often by other survivors, who found strength and inspiration in knowing they weren’t alone. Roseanne, in fact, went to visit a children’s home in San Diego not long after her story hit the news — and talked to some youngsters who already knew she shared their trouble.

“A couple of the kids, especially one little girl, touched me really deep,” the star told People. “She said she was so glad that any celebrity cared about them. She reminded me of all the little girls and little boys who have to live with that horrible experience.”

“We protect our children from the popular media as much as possible,” says Cathy Clement, Director of Philanthropy for the Five Acres home in Altadena, CA, that serves youngsters who’ve been abused and/or neglected. “If the subject came up, however, the message to kids is that there are some grownups who do bad things even if they are rich and famous. So, her disclosure is not necessarily surprising. And we want our children to know that all children deserve to be protected regardless.”