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Fame in desire: A brief look at celebriphilia

In a previous blogs I have examined both Celebrity Worship Syndrome and whether fame can be addictive. Another behaviour allied to both of these is celebriphilia. There has been no scientific research on celebriphilia and I have only come across a few passing references to it in academic texts. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal describes it as a sexual paraphilia where apathological desire to have sex with a celebrity”. The online Medical Dictionary is slightly different and defines celebriphilia as “an intense desire to have a romantic relationship with a celebrity” (and is therefore slightly different is the focus on this second definition is romance rather than sex, although there is an implicit assumption that having romantic relationship would involve sex). Finally, the only other definition that I have come across is in the online Nation Master encyclopedia that was a bit more padded out and claimed that:

“Celebriphilia is the sexual fetishism and obsession with sex with a celebrity or famous person. Celebriphiliacs may stalk these celebrities and either observe them for sexual pleasure voyeuristically or try and approach them and have sex with them. Some may simply masturbate to images of them”

Despite this more in-depth definition, it actually complicates matters as it brings in other behaviours such as voyeurism and stalking that are separate entities in and of themselves. As far as I can tell, the first reference to ‘celebriphilia’ appeared in an article written by journalists Benjamin Svetkey and Allison Hope Weiner for Entertainment Weekly. Their article was about Bonnie Lee Bakley, the wife of American actor Robert Blake (star of shows like Baretta and films such as In Cold Blood), who was shot in 2001 (May 4) while sitting outside a Los Angeles restaurant in Blake’s car. (Blake was eventually charged with his wife’s murder but was found not guilty. The murder remains officially unsolved although Bakley’s grown-up children from previous relationships took out a civil suit on Blake and was later found guilty of wrongful death).

The focus of the article by Svetkey and Weiner was Bakley’s celebriphilia and her ‘celebrity obsession’ (more specifically, her long-term history of pursuing relationships with celebrities). Bakley’s close friends all stated that her aim in life was to marry someone famous and all of her actions were geared around achieving this goal. Bakley was quoted as saying “being around celebrities makes you feel better than other people”. Her pursuing of celebrities began in 1990 when she became obsessed with wanting to marry rock ‘n’ roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis. She even moved to Memphis where Lewis was living, met him, and befriended Lewis’ sister as a way of getting closer to him. Bakley may have had a brief sexual relationship with Lewis, and in 1993 she gave birth to a daughter and claimed Lewis was the father (and even went as far as to name the baby Jeri Lee). Paternity tests later proved that Lewis was not the father of Bakley’s daughter. Following a move from Memphis to California, she continued her celebrity obsession by pursuing many different celebrities including actor Gary Busey, singer-songwriter and guitarist Chuck Berry, singer Frankie Valli, actor Robert De Niro, singer-songwriter Lou Christie, publisher Larry Flynt, entertainer Dean Martin, and musician Prince, before having a relationship with Marlon Brando’s son, Christian (following his release from prison in 1996).

It was in 1999, that Bakley met American actor Robert Blake while still dating Brando. She became pregnant again (telling both Blake and Brando that they were the father of the baby). She believed Brando was the father of the daughter she gave birth to (naming the child Christian Shannon Brando). However, later paternity tests showed it was Blake who was the father (and the baby was then re-named Rose). In November 2000, Bakley and Blake married (and Blake became Bakley’s tenth [!!!] husband). When I first read about Bakley’s attempts to have a relationship with someone famous, the first words that sprang to mind was ‘groupie’ and ‘stalker’. However, the article by Svetkey and Weiner specifically stated that:

“People who attempt to make themselves ”feel better” by romantically pursuing the famous [are] not groupies: Groupies are merely overzealous, oversexed fans. They’re not stalkers, either. Bakley’s relationship with Blake wasn’t imaginary…nor is she known to have ever threatened him with physical harm. And although her past was hardly squeaky-clean…she wasn’t simply a grifter. What Bakley pursued with meticulous and methodical precision wasn’t so much cash as cachet, the reflected glory of being with a star. Any star would do — even one like Blake, who hasn’t shone for the better part of a decade. Unlike stalkers and groupies, people like Bakley generally don’t develop crushes on the stars they pursue — it’s fame itself that flames their desires, regardless of whom it’s attached to. Sometimes they don’t even seem to like those they’re chasing. While Bakley was attempting a relationship with Blake, for instance, she was also apparently involved with Marlon Brando’s son Christian”.

Most of the famous people that she pursued most actively (i.e., Blake, Brando, Lewis) had careers that were on the wane. She chose people that wanted validation that they were still famous. Both Bakley and the ‘stars’ she chased appeared to be yearning validation, attention and wanting to be perceived as special. An American psychotherapist – Donald Fleming – was interviewed for the article by Svetkey and Weiner. He speculated about celebriphiles:

”Often these people have serious identity problems. They lack a centered sense of self. They’re usually people that have not developed any particular skills or abilities in life. They never developed out of their grandiose childhood wishes and fantasies to be important. The only way they can feel important or special or unique is through famous people being part of their life…People who follow stars often have the obsessive-compulsive trait. They can fool almost anybody. They become so acute at reading how to meet another person’s needs that they can pick up on their vulnerabilities and play them like a violin”.

Dr. David Giles who wrote one of the best books on the psychology of fame – Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity – explains the relationships that people have with celebrities as a parasocial interaction:

”One of the things about fame is how incredibly new it is to human experience. It started with mass communication, which is only about 100 years old. And the speed with which it’s developed – radio and then TV – has been astonishing. In an evolutionary sense, we may not have caught up with the phenomenon of fame as a species”.

Celebrity (and therefore celebriphilia) is as Dr. Giles would argue a completely modern, man-made phenomenon. In typical journalese, Svetkey and Weiner wrote that celebrity has “been injected into the cultural bloodstream like an untested drug – with a similar rush of disorienting results”. They also speculate about other people that display celebriphilia:

Courtney Love may have once suffered a touch of it. (‘Become friends with Michael Stipe’, Kurt Cobain’s widow supposedly jotted in a journal years ago, mapping her road to fame)…And certainly Whitney Walton – known around Hollywood as the mysterious ‘Miranda’ – has something like it. She became infamous for charming her way into telephone friendships with Billy Joel, Warren Beatty, Quincy Jones, Richard Gere, and…other celebrities [including] Robert De Niro”.

As noted above, there has been no empirical research on celebriphilia unless you include the small amount of research on ‘celebrity stalking’ (although very few academics who have written on the topic use the word ‘celebriphilia’). However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, Dr. Brian Spitzberg and Dr. Michelle Cadiz wrote a paper on the media construction of stalking stereotypes and described one of the types as ‘stalking as celebriphilia’ in a 2002 issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture (although the authors didn’t actually define what celebriphilia was in this context). In a 2006 book (Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems) edited by Dr. Victor Kappeler and Dr. Gary Potter, the authors briefly noted (in what seems a follow on from the paper by Spitzberg and Cadiz) that “media reports eventually moved away from a dominant image of stalkers as exclusively experiencing ‘celebriphilia’”.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Giles, D. (2000). Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kappeler, V.E. & Gary W. Potter, G.W. (2006). Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

King, G. (2011). Who murdered Bonny Lee Bakley? (part 7: Bony the celebriphiliac). Crime Library, Located at:

Medical Dictionary (2012). Celebriphilia. Located at:

Nation Master (2012). Celebriphilia. Located at:

Spitsberg, B.H. & Cadiz, M. (2002). The media construction of stalking stereotypes. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 9(3), 128-149.

Svetkey, B. & Weiner, A.H. (2001). Dangerous game. Entertainment Weekly, June 22. Located at:,,256019,00.html

Wiktionary (2012). Citations: Celebriphilia. Located at:

The ego has landed: A personal look at egomania

One idle evening I was surfing the net looking for blog ideas when I came across a November 2011 article by David Reinstein entitled “Egomania: An adaptive and necessary illness for politicians”. Given that some individuals have described me as an egomaniac over the years, and the fact that I am academically interested in manias and personally interested in politics, I couldn’t help but want to read the article (which I’ll come to in a minute).

There are countless definitions of egomania all of which have considerable overlaps. Reinstein’s article defines it as “an obsessive (driven, constant and uncontrollable) preoccupation with the self” (which pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned). Other definitions often mention things like ‘an irresistible love of the self’ and ‘an obsessive concern for one’s own needs’ that again are again how I would define it myself. Dr. Andrew Colman in The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines it as “a pathological love for, or preoccupation with, oneself”. The Wikipedia entry is a bit more long-winded:

“Egomania is an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. The condition is psychologically abnormal. The term egomania is often used by laypersons in a pejorative fashion to describe an individual who is intolerably self-centred”.

Egomaniacs are typically characterized as individuals who believe the ‘whole world revolves around them’ and that they are ‘the centre of the universe’. Reinstein also claims in his article that “most egomaniacs suffer from delusions of personal greatness that cover over deeper feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Everything is to, from, for and about them”. (And on that definition I would certainly rule out myself as being an egomaniac). Egomania also seems to be a close cousin of megalomania (i.e., a disorder in which individuals believe they are more powerful, important, or influential than is actually true – and a possible contender for a future blog!).

Egomania is not listed in the most recent (fourth) version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV] (and as far as I an aware it won’t be in the next one either). However, many people believe that egomania is highly prevalent particularly among celebrities and politicians (and is something that at the very least has good face validity). In fact I read a 2011 article in Variety magazine by Peter Bart arguing that it was a “close call” as to whether egomania was a mental illness. However, we appear to tolerate (and arguably even value) egomania if the person is a politician rather than someone we personally know. As Reinstein notes:

“Why would we be so prone to accept this otherwise off-putting quality in the people we elect to represent us? One possible explanation comes immediately to mind. Many people in the general population have reservations about themselves. Perhaps we are drawn to people who seem to be (or at least present themselves as being) more self-assured. People who seem more capable, more assured and assuring, more in control and consistently authoritative may appeal to the electorate as they often do to the movie-going public”.

Again, these assertions appear to have good face validity as we are hardly going to vote for someone who doesn’t come across as confident and cocksure. As a casual observer of American politics, I didn’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. All I would be bothered about if I was an American voter is whether he can do the job (which personally I think he did). From a more psychological standpoint, Gretchen Reevy’s 2011 Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that egomaniacs may perhaps be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as individuals with NPD are incredibly self-centred and appear to match the criteria for being an egomaniac (although NPD is often linked more with megalomania than egomania). Such individuals also have ‘disordered relationships’. Reinstein argued in his article that he couldn’t think of anyone in American politics whether they were running for the presidency or running for Congress that wouldn’t meet the criteria for NPD. As he argues:

“How could someone not afflicted with a substantial dose of Egomania ever consider themselves to be worthy of being elected to such an office? The roles, their responsibilities, trappings and perquisites tend to attract such people. They may not always be the ‘best’ that we have, but their egos are never significantly deficient!  Thus, our culture seems to require some egomaniacs. To entertain us and to lead us. It is probably not a coincidence that many entertainers have found their way into major political jobs”

I am presuming here that Reinstein is referring to (among others) Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Bono. Here in the UK, we have similar (if not such high profile) examples including Glenda Jackson, Andrew Faulds, and Michael Cashman. In the Encyclopedia of Emotion also notes that:

“Narcissistic personality disorder affects less than 1 percent of the population (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The cause of the disorder is unknown; the two most accepted theories are contradictory. Some theorists (e.g., Wink, 1996) say that narcissism begins with cold, rejecting parents. The child then creates the self- absorption and grandiosity as a defense against feelings of worthlessness. Others (e.g., Sperry, 2003) argue that people who become adult narcissists were spoiled as children and were taught by their parents that they were superior and special. Thus far, treatment of narcissistic personality disorder is of limited success”.

To be diagnosed with NPD an individual must show at least five of the following characteristics (although it’s worth noting that NPD is being removed from the new DSM-V). This version was taken from Sarah Myers article on ‘manic behaviour’:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance: Egomaniacs exaggerate their achievements and talents, and want other people to recognise them as superior.
  • Preoccupation with success and power: Egomaniacs are obsessed with fantasies involving their own brilliance or beauty.
  • Arrogance: Egomaniacs’ behaviour is haughty, their attitude conceited and they show rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
  • Need for excessive admiration: Egomaniacs need attention, they want to be adored or, failing that, feared.
  • A sense of entitlement: Egomaniacs have unreasonable expectations and believe they deserve favourable treatment.
  • Exploitative: Egomaniacs are happy to take advantage of others and use people to get what they want.
  • Lack of empathy: Egomaniacs can’t and/or won’t acknowledge other people’s feelings.
  • A belief of being unique: Egomaniacs believe that they’re special and can only be understood by and associate with people of high status.
  • Feel envy towards others: Egomaniacs believe others feel envious of them.

Myers’ article claims approximately six million people across the world have NPD (and thankfully, having completed the diagnostic test above, I’m not one of them). However, Myers claims that there are many more undiagnosed (as such people are unlikely to think there is anything wrong with them). The Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that:

“Underneath the apparent over-confidence and bravado [of an egomaniac] lies a fragile personality. The narcissistic individual actually fears that he is unworthy or a fraud. His self-esteem may be highly dependent on being recognized as the best or perfect. For instance, he may believe that he is the best salesperson in his office, and if another individual wins the salesperson award, the narcissistic person will react with extreme humiliation. He has grandiose fantasies of boundless success or power or perfect love. He is jealous of those whom he perceives as being more successful in these areas that are valued. Be- cause of the extreme insecurity, the narcissistic person often seeks attention and fishes for compliments”.

After my own brief look at some of the literature on egomania, I am now 100% confident that I am not an egomaniac (although that doesn’t mean I don’t have a big ego).

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

Further reading

Bart, P. (2011). Egomania or mental illness: A close call. Variety, March 7. Located at:

Myers, S. (2007). Manic behaviour. Channel 4 Health. November 1. Located at:

Parker, Pope, T. (2010). Narcissism no longer a psychiatric disorder. New York Times, November 29. Located at:

Reevy, G. (2011). Encyclopedia of Emotion. Oxford: Greenwood.

Reinstein, D.A. (2011). Egomania: An Adaptive and Necessary Illness for Politicians. Yahoo! Voices, November 11. Located at:

Sperry, L. (2003). Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of DSM-IV-TR Personality Disorders (2nd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Wikipedia (2012). Egomania. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Narcissistic personality disorder. Located at:

Wink, P. (1996). Narcissism. In C.G. Costello (Ed.), Personality characteristics of the personality disordered (pp. 146–172). New York: John Wiley.