What a year poor Selena Gomez is having in terms of unwanted fan interaction. Boyfriend Justin Beiber gets hit with a bogus paternity suit, and then there’s Selena’s own problem with an obsessed fan trailing her around for months. The 19-year-old pop star-actress testified that she felt “extreme fear” when stalker Thomas Brodnicki threatened to kill her. The judge on the case dropped a felony charge against Brodnicki last month, but agreed to extend a temporary restraining order until a January 6 hearing — an order that requires Brodnicki to stay 100 yards away from Selena. Just a football field away doesn’t seem all that far.
Shania Twain’s admitted stalker, Giovanni Palumbo, was released from prison in mid-November and put on probation. A Toronto judge ordered him not to go within a half mile of the country singer or her family. That’s more like it.
Uma Thurman’s long-time stalker was freed last month as well after a year in jail, on a half-million dollars’ bail. He acknowledged that he was “very guilty” of trying to contact the star he was initially convicted of stalking in 2008. That case has been transferred to Brooklyn’s mental health department.
It is, unfortunately, a big season for celebrity stalker news.
Halle Berry once jokingly said a star hasn’t made it until they’ve got their own stalker — but she and other stars know all too well that there’s nothing funny about fans that cross the line.
A 2003 study conducted by psychologists at the University of Florida and Southern Illinois University, concluded that about one-third of Americans suffer from an obsessive-addictive disorder in which they obsess over famous movie, sports or other stars. Referred to as the Celebrity Worship Syndrome, the disorder contains three sub-categories: The first, comprising about 20 percent of the population, follows celebrity news for social purposes. The second, about 10 percent of the population, develops an “intense” relationship with a star, such as the belief that the fan and star have some special bond. The third and scariest group, roughly one percent of the population, display “borderline pathological” behavior, and are willing to hurt themselves or other people in the name of a star.
The most horrific cases of this are well known: John Lennon was shot dead outside his New York apartment in December of 1980 by obsessed fan Mark Chapman. “My Sister Sam” star Rebecca Schaeffer was gunned down in her doorway by a fan. (Legislation to keep the Department of Motor Vehicles from giving out drivers’ addresses was passed as a result.)
Last week in Washington, D.C., Judge Paul Friedman held a multi-day hearing to consider a request, by John Hinckley, Jr.’s attorneys and the psychiatric hospital where he resides, to permit him to stay with his mother for up to 24 days at a time — up from his current 10-day visits. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three other men in 1981. He believed that by assassinating the President, he would impress the object of his obsession, Jodie Foster.
Mental health experts and Secret Service agents testified in the hearing. Agents revealed that they observed Hinckley going to a book store and reading about assassinations and Presidents earlier this very year, when Hinckley was supposed to be going to the movies.
Scary stories are legion of unbalanced fans. A woman was arrested for breaking into Brad Pitt’s home and sleeping in his bed; police found a book on witchcraft and a foot-long safety pin in her possession. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and psychological counseling. Steven Spielberg had a stalker — eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic — who was found outside his home with paraphernalia including duct tape, handcuffs and a knife, purportedly planning to kidnap and rape the filmmaker. A man was arrested for repeatedly breaking into Madonna’s house and threatening to kill her if she didn’t marry him. Conan O’Brien was stalked by a deranged fan who sent threatening letters and DVDs to him; he turned out to be a Catholic priest, later defrocked. David Letterman stalker Margaret Ray broke into his home several times and stole his car. She committed suicide in 1998.
Britney Spears, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Avril Lavigne Will Smith, Jada Pinkett, David Spade, Katie Holmes, Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Love Hewitt are just a few of the show business names who have fended off stalkers. “The fear of having some nutter knowing where I live and where my family lives is just horrible,” said Keira Knightley when she was pursued by an obsessed fan to her parents’ house in London.
No wonder so many stars surround themselves with security devices including electronically-controlled gates and fences, motion sensor floodlights, trip alarm wires and connections to security and police stations, as well as 24-hour bodyguards. The expense is enormous. Some celebrities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to shield themselves from the threat, and even then, it might not be enough. Ben Stiller once admitted that he never replies to or even reads fan mail for fear of attracting stalkers. Rapper Eminem bought a $5 million mansion in 2004, and then stayed away from it, reportedly because he came to believe it wasn’t secure enough.
Apparently sometimes all the money and fame in the world can’t buy you peace of mind.