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Pop psychology: A peek inside the mind of Iggy Pop

I have just come back from a two-week holiday in Portugal and managed to catch up with reading a lot of non-academic books. Two of the books I took with me were Paul Trynka’s biography of Iggy Pop (Open Up and Bleed [2007]) and Brett Callwood’s biography of The Stooges, the band in which Iggy Pop first made his name (The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld [2008]). Just before I left to go on holiday I also read Dave Thompson’s book Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (2009). This engrossing reading has been accompanied by me listening to The Stooges almost non-stop for the last month – not just their five studio albums (The Stooges [1969], Fun House [1979], Raw Power [1973], The Weirdness [2007], and Ready To Die [2013]) but loads of official and non-official bootlegs from the 1970-1974 period. In short, it’s my latest music obsession.

Although I say it myself, I have been a bit of an Iggy Pop aficionado for many years. It was through my musical appreciation of both David Bowie and Lou Reed that I found myself enthralled by the music of Iggy Pop. Back in my early 20s, I bought three Iggy Pop albums purely because they were produced by David Bowie (The Idiot [1977], Lust For Life [1977], and Blah Blah Blah [1986]). Thankfully, the albums were great and over time I acquired every studio LP that Iggy has released as a solo artist (and a lot more aside – I hate to think how much money I have spent on the three artists and their respective bands over the years). Unusually, I didn’t get into The Stooges until around 2007 after reading an in-depth article about them in Mojo magazine. Since then I’ve added them to my list of musical obsessions where I have to own every last note they have ever recorded (official and unofficial). When it comes to music I am all-or-nothing. Maybe I’m not that far removed from my musical heroes in that sense. I’m sure my partner would disagree. She says I’m no different to a trainspotter who ticks off lists of numbers.

One thing that connects Pop, Reed and Bowie (in addition to the fact they are all talented egotistical songwriters and performers who got to know each other well in the early 1970s) is their addictions to various drugs (heroin in the case of Pop and Reed, and cocaine in the case of Bowie – although they’ve all had other addictions such as Iggy’s dependence on Quaaludes). This is perhaps not altogether unexpected. As I noted in one of my previous blogs on whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than the general public, I wrote:

“Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected”.

Nowhere is this more exemplified than by Iggy Pop. Not only would Iggy take almost every known drug to excess, it seemed to carry over into every part of his lifestyle. For instance, reading about Iggy’s sexual exploits, there appears to be a lot of evidence that he may have also been addicted to sex (although that’s speculation on my part with the only evidence I have is all the alleged stories in the various biographies of him). Another thing that amazes me about Iggy Pop was that he decided to give up taking drugs in the autumn of 1983 and pretty much stuck to it (again mirroring Lou Reed who also decided to clean up his act and go cold turkey on willpower alone). Spontaneous remission after very heavy drug addictions is rare but Iggy appears to have done it. Maybe Iggy gave up his negative addictions for a more positive addiction – in his case playing live. David Bowie went as far as to say that playing live was an obsessive for Iggy. As noted in Paul Trynka’s biography:

“[His touring] was simultaneously impressive and inexplicable. David Bowie used the word’ obsessive’ about Iggy’s compulsion to tour – but there was an internal logic. Jim knew he’d made his best music in the first ten years of his career, and he also believed he’d blown it…but he knew his own excesses or simple lack of psychic stamina were a key reason why the Stooges crashed and burned. Now he had to still prove his stamina, to make up for those weaknesses of three decades ago”.

Iggy Pop is (of course) a stage name. Iggy was born James Newell Osterberg (April 21, 1947). The ‘Iggy’ moniker came from one of the early bands he drummed in (The Iguanas). I mention this because another facet of Iggy Pop’s life that I find psychologically interesting is the many references to ‘Iggy Pop’ being a character created by Jim Osterberg (in much the same way that Bowie created the persona ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – ironically a character that many say is at least partly modeled on Iggy Pop!). Many people that have got to know Jim Osterberg describe him as intelligent, witty, talkative, well read, and excellent social company. Many people that have been in the company of Iggy Pop describe him as sex-crazed, hedonistic, outrageous, a party animal, and a junkie (at least from the late 1960s to the early to mid-1990s). It’s almost as if a real living character was created in which Jim Osterberg could live out an alternative life that he could never do as the person he had become growing up. Iggy Pop became a persona that Jim Osterberg could escape into. When things went horribly wrong (and they often did), it was Iggy’s doing not Osterberg’s. It’s almost as if Osterberg had a kind of multiple personality disorder (now called ‘dissociative identity disorder’ [DID]). One definition notes:

“[Dissociative identity disorder] is a mental disorder on the dissociative spectrum characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person’s behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness…Diagnosis is often difficult as there is considerable comorbidity with other mental disorders”.

I don’t for one minute believe ‘Jim/Iggy’ suffers from DID but a case could possibly made based on the definition above. Some of the things he did on stage in the name of ‘entertainment’ included gross acts of self-mutilation such as stubbing cigarettes out on his naked body, flagellating himself, cutting his chest open with knives and broken glass bottles. He was a sexual exhibitionist and appeared to love showing his penis to the watching audience. On one infamous occasion, he even dry-humped a large teddy bear live on a British children’s television show. (Maybe Iggy is a secret plushophile? Check out the clip on here on YouTube).

In 1975, Iggy was admitted to the Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) and underwent treatment (including psychoanalysis) under the care of American psychiatrist Dr. Murray Zucker. After he had completely detoxed all the drugs in his body, Iggy was diagnosed with hypomania (a mental affliction also affecting another of my musical heroes, Adam Ant). This condition was described by Iggy’s biographer Paul Trynka:

“Bipolar disorder [is] characterised by episodes of euphoric or overexcited and irrational behaviour, succeeded by depression. Hypomanics are often described as euphoric, charismatic, energetic, prone to grandiosity, hypersexual, and unrealistic in their ambitions – all of which sounded like a checklist of Iggy’s character traits”.

Dr. Zucker later told Paul Trynka that hypomania tends to get worse with age and it hadn’t with Iggy and therefore the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder may have been wrong. Dr. Zucker now wonders whether “the talent, intensity, perceptiveness, and behavioural extremes” of Iggy were who he truly was “and not a disease…that Jim’s behaviour was simply him enjoying the range of his brain, playing with it, exploring different personae, until it got to the point of not knowing what was up and what was down’. In short, Dr. Zucker (who maintained professional contact with Iggy during the 1980s) claimed Iggy was perhaps “someone who went to the brink of madness just to see what it was like”. Dr. Zucker also claimed that Iggy (like many in the entertainment industry) was a narcissist (“excessive for the average individual” but “unsurprising in a singer…this unending emotional neediness for attention, that’s never enough”). In fact, Iggy went on to write the song ‘I Need More‘ (and was also the title of his autobiography) which pretty much sums him up many of his pychological motivations (at least when he was younger).

It’s clear that Iggy has been drug-free and fit for many years now although many would say that all of his best musical work came about when he was jumping from one addiction to another – particularly during the decade from 1968 to 1978. This raises the question as to whether musicians and songwriters are more creative under the influences of psychoactive substances (but I will leave that for another blog – I’ve just begun some research on creativity and substance abuse with some of my Hungarian research colleagues). I’ll leave the last word with Dr. Zucker (who unlike me) had Iggy as a patient:

“I always got the feeling [Iggy] enjoyed his brain so much he would play with it to the point of himself not knowing what was up and what was down. At times, he seemed to have complete control of turning this on and that on, playing with different personas, out-Bowie-ing David Bowie, as a display of the range of his brain. But then at other times you get the feeling he wasn’t in control – he was just bouncing around with it. It wasn’t just lack of discipline, it wasn’t necessarily bipolar, it was God knows what”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ambrose, J. (2008). Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop. London: Omnibus Press.

Callwood, B. (2008). The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld. London: Independent Music Press.

Pop, I. & Wehrer, A, (1982). I Need More. New York: Karz-Cohl Publishing.

Thompson, D. (2009). Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. London: Backbeat Books.

Trynka, P. (2007). Open Up and Bleed. London: Sphere.

Wikipedia (2014). Iggy Pop. Located at:

Starstruck: Is fame addictive?

Back in the mid-1990s, I started doing some research on the psychology of fame with Dr. Adam Joinson (then at the University of Glamorgan but now at the Open University). One of the first things we did after setting up our website (the not-so-originally titled ‘The Psychology of Fame Project’) was go and interview PR guru and ‘fame-maker’ Max Clifford. We enjoyed our interview and published it in a 1998 issue of Psychology Post. One of the more interesting claims made by Max Clifford was his assertion that fame is addictive. Below is an extended extract from our interview with him. He said that:

“The sad part about [fame] is people that desperately need to become famous. It’s like a drug, it’s like a drug addict, and there’s so many people that come up and then they go, and when you meet them they are desperate, desperate for it. I mean, they are living ten, fifteen, twenty years ago when they were famous, they can’t accept they are no longer famous. It is an addiction. It’s a craving. It varies from individual to individual but it’s the same as drugs or alcohol or anything else. At it’s worst – and I’ve known a lot of the worst – it totally takes over your life, your philosophy, your outlook on everyday life. It’s tragic. The way it normally works is that somebody becomes famous so they follow the natural path. In other words, the bigger house, the bigger car, the bigger everything. They tend to isolate themselves from people that actually know them and possibly care about them because they aren’t there any more.

They then become surrounded by people who live off them, pick off them – PR’s, managers, PA’s – who say what the person wants to hear all the time. They become wrapped up in fame and get a totally jaundiced picture of life and reality. Life becomes emptier and emptier and then when the fame’s gone, they can’t handle it. There’s so many people who would do anything. Anything to be famous. It’s more important almost than life itself. It’s sad, it’s shocking, and it’s frightening. Not everybody, but there seems to be more and more and more. Maybe just more and more of them are making their way to my door. I don’t know. Fame is becoming a bigger drug than ever”.

So can fame really be an addiction? There are certainly those in both the academic and medical community who think that it can although empirical evidence is hard to come by.

In a 2011 interview with the US newspaper Palm Beach Post about his conference paper ‘Power, fame, and recovery’, the US psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim said “Little kids today don’t want to be doctors or lawyers. They just want to be famous”. He is concerned about what happens when fame is the actual addiction. As I have noted in my own research, fame used to only be a by-product of a person’s talent in another field (acting, singing, sport, politics, etc.). However, we now live n a culture where some people are just “famous for being famous”.

Dr. Karim said he has been treating people for “fame addiction” for a number of years and claims it is inextricably linked to the rise of television and the internet. (And I have also commented a number of times in the media that the rise of reality TV shows also play a role in fuelling the desire to become famous). Karim says there is a need to be validated and be adored externally.

In an interview with MSNBC News website, Beverly Hills psychologist Dr. Bethany Marshall appears to agree with Karim as she was quoted as saying: “a lot of our youth, their parents don’t love them unconditionally for who they are. The fantasy of being loved just for who you are without having to do anything”. In the same article, the anthropologist Dr. David Sloan Wilson (SUNY-Binghamton, USA) said: “Our minds are adapted for a small-scale society and what’s happening today is an out of control version of that. The lust for fame has taken on this pathological form that is much like our eating habits making us obese.” Dr. Robi Ludwig (again in the MSNBC story) commented that:

“Fame is so fleeting. People who achieve it, there’s no guarantee that they’ll maintain it. So, therein lies sort of the addictive loop. One of the concerns with celebrities who have made it is that they will lose it. There is this need for more and more. And just like with any addiction, it has less to do with actually the item that you’re seeing, so the fame is actually used as a mood enhancer. Fame helps a person to feel important, invaluable –  that they matter.”

As noted above, empirical evidence on fame being addictive is lacking. Jake Halpern (author of the book Fame Junkies) carried out a study with Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and surveyed 650 children from New York about their attitudes toward fame and pop culture. When given the option to become stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful, boys chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often.

Psychologists Dr Donna Rockwell (Michegan School of Professional Psychology, USA) and Dr David Giles (Winchester University, UK) carried out a qualitative interview study with 15 well-known American celebrities (from the fields of politics, law, business, writing, sports, music, film, television news and entertainment). The study found that those interviewed felt that being famous had (for the people themselves) led to a loss of privacy, demanding expectations, gratification of ego needs, and symbolic immortality. Areas of psychological concern for celebrity mental health included isolation, and an unwillingness to give up fame. Based on their data, Rockwell and Giles argued that celebrity is a process involving four temporal phases – (i) a period of love/hate towards the experience; (ii) an addiction phase where behavior is directed solely towards the goal of remaining famous; (iii) an acceptance phase, requiring a permanent change in everyday life routines; and (iv) an adaptation phase, where new behaviors are developed in response to life changes involved in being famous. In relation to addiction, the authors noted:

“The lure of adoration is attractive, and it becomes difficult for the person to imagine living without fame. One participant said, ‘It is somewhat of a high,’ and another, ‘I kind of get off on it.’ One said, ‘I’ve been addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or another, and the most addicting of them all is fame.’ Where does the celebrity go when fame passes; having become dependent on fame, how does one adjust to being less famous over time? ‘As the sun sets on my fame,’ one celebrity said, ‘I’m going to have to learn how to put it in its proper place.’ The adjustment can be a difficult one”.

There are also addiction links in relation to whether those who are famous are more susceptible to developing other types of addiction. I have appeared on a number of television shows (such as Channel 4’s Celebrity Rehab) and the film Starsuckers talking about this issue.

In a recent article on the magazine The Fix, Dr. Dale Archer (Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, USA) made some observations that I have noted myself. He said:

“Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things – whether it’s food, shopping, gambling or fame – which means [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the ‘high’ of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they’re not performing, they don’t feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame,” he says. “The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting”.

I suspect it will be a long time – if ever – that fame is described as a genuine addiction, mainly because there is the question of what such people are actually addicted to (a point that I have made in other papers of mine in relation to ‘internet addiction’). Are they addicted to the adoration and praise of their fans? Greater access to sexual partners and sexual conquests? The money they earn? The buzz of performing? All of the above? The bottom line is that “fame” is not an activity like gambling, sex or exercise that have definitional boundaries. Therefore, in the case of “fame” the object of addiction and the rewards gained may come from many different forms of reinforcement.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.

Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at:

Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.

Streeter, L.G. (2011), Doctor helps people beat their fame addiction. Palm Beach Post, October 3. Located at:

Turner, M. (2007). Addicted to fame: Stars and fans share affliction. MSNBC Entertainment News, August 9. Located at: