Stranger in the Mirror

"A Stranger in the Mirror" by Sidney SheldonThe Intense Fear of LonelinessMasquerade BallMichael JacksonWhitney HoustonLonely Day – Phantom Planet

I could tell from the minute I woke up
It was going to be a lonely lonely
lonely lonely day.
Rise and shine rub the sleep out of my eyes
And try to tell myself I can’t
go back to bed
It’s gonna be a lonely lonely lonely lonely day.
Even though the sun is shining down on me and I should feel about as happy as can be
I just got here and I already want to leave
It’s gonna be a lonely lonely lonely lonely day

Everybody knows that something’s wrong
But nobody knows what’s going on
We all sing the same old song
When you want it all to go away
It’s shaping up to be a lonely day

I could tell from the minute I woke up it was going to be a lonely lonely lonely lonely day.

Whether it is the song named, “Lonely Day” by Phantom Planet or whether it is the well-known novel of Sidney Sheldon – the story of  the life of a celebrity is one colored with heartache, disillusionment, disappointment and misery – much, much more than you can ever imagine. What makes this story so sad and heart-rending is that it is a true, behind-the-scenes picture of the increasingly selfish, unscrupulous, callous and indifferent world that we all live in.

“Stranger in the Mirror” is a novel of fictional-suspense, penned in 1976 by world-renowned author, Sidney Sheldon and it is, in every way, a surprising departure from his usual fast-paced, engrossing novels of this genre. It speaks of the dark-side of America’s Hollywood (though it could very well be the story India‘s Bollywood too) & of the steamy, unsavory world, of actors, agents, producers and directors. It is the story of the megastar & world’s funniest comedian, Toby Temple & that of his wife, Jill Castle. Toby Temple rises to the heights of his stardom from the depths of poverty and despair. He becomes a world-class celebrity but the real person behind that image of a great hero is one of a womanizer who seduces any number of women to satisfy his own selfish needs before he discards them. Jill Castle is a sensuous and startlingly beautiful starlet with a dark, mysterious past. She runs away to Hollywood, starry-eyed and hopeful of achieving her big break in her career as a film star. However, she never achieves her big-break to fame and fortune despite her having experienced the embarrassment of every casting couch in the world. She is much more ambitious than her husband, Toby – she dearly wants to rule Hollywood. When she marries Toby, she uses her new-found celebrity status to destroy all the people who have used and hurt her in the past – a story that ends shockingly in murder. Toby and Jill are both unscrupulous and ruthless people but they are surprisingly sympathetic to each other because behind their veneer of stardom, they are both very lonely and unhappy people. This despite the fact that they are, by no means, alone – they literally have the world at their knees. Despite all their wealth, fame and life of sumptuous luxuries, they are “strangers” to themselves and to the world’s population at large. Everyone thinks that they know every single thing that they ought to know of the lives of the stars and starlets of Hollywood/Bollywood but the fact of the matter is that they never ever really do – actually, even the celebrity himself does not know how much of a stranger he is to himself and the world. The reflection of himself in a mirror is that of a total, unknown stranger. The life of the stars, behind their radiant smiles, is one of loneliness, sadness and despair – but few people realize it. Sidney Sheldon has been insightful when he penned this exceptional novel. It has all the magic, bright lights, glamour and fascination of the  intriguing world of Hollywood, yet it probes simultaneously all the sad realities of such a position of fame and stardom.

The celebrities of the world – the royalty,  the film stars, the models, the dancers, the actors, the authors, the fashion designers, etc. all tend to be extremely lonely people, at the end of the day. They may well be surrounded by millions of people and tens of dozens of  ‘so-called good’ friends – but at the end of a long, grueling day of hard work when they enter their own dressing room, hotel room or their luxurious bedroom in their mansion or yacht, they are all alone and have only themselves as company. Most people associate themselves with the stars because of the celebrity status that it gives their ordinary, mundane existence. They love the powerful life that money and fame can buy – the partying, the booze, the erotic dancing, the drugs and indiscriminate sex. These superficial people are really just acquaintances, wearing ‘ invisible masks’ –  people who are mostly gathered around the celebrity figure to satisfy their own hidden agendas and ulterior motives. It is as if these very same people were the masked people in a masquerade ball – a feature that arose from the Carnival  season in the 15th century. A masquerade ball was set up as a game among guests who wore a costume and a mask to cover their faces, to supposedly make them unidentifiable to the other participants of the ball. It was created for a touch of  humor in a typical ball-dance that could get to be rather monotonous and boring. Well, the figurative mask of the stars themselves and the mask of their varied guests has never fallen off to this very day – the masquerade ball goes on. You may find it very hard to accept but it is the harsh, cruel reality of our times – a sad and bitter truth. 

Let there be no misunderstanding – the life of a celebrity is not one of days filled with wine and roses. As intoxicating as wine can be, it can easily throw one into a drunken stupor and make one undertake activities that fill one’s soul forever with guilt, shame and regret. Roses can be exquisitely beautiful but they have thorns too. Have you ever considered what the act of a tight-rope walker entails? He is trying desperately to balance himself, at a very great height, on a tightrope that is constantly swaying and bending with the weight of his body – it is very rare that there is safety net below the walker to catch the acrobat if he falls. It is like being trapped on an extremely precarious, unstable and unreliable perch in the middle of the vast eternity of space and time. Every time that the tight-rope walker propels himself forward to perform such a fatally risky and dangerous act, never forget that he is attempting to conquer an immense fear (and in the case of the starlet – it is ‘stage-fright’) every single day of his life. In the case of the tight-rope walker, it is the ever-growing desire to conquer the intense fear of crippling injuries and imminent death. In the context of  a celebrity, it is the intense fear of rejection, mockery, false gossip, debilitating rumors and a fall from grace – leading more and more to a sense of isolation.

There are no guarantees of success in such a field – it could be a journey equally of soaring to tremendous heights like the powerful flight of the Eagle or the Hawk or it could very well be the swift,hurtling and unceremonious descent into a bottomless abyss of despair. A famous  personality can either make his/her journey to stardom memorable like the strong, powerful, guiding light of the Evening Star or the journey could be as bumpy, jerky and unstable as the flame of a flickering candle – a flame that constantly flickers, dims, brightens, dims again before finally dying out at the first whiff of a light breeze. The vultures that stalk the megastars, day in and day out, 24 hours of the day are the paparazzi – the journalists that can make a charismatic person shine like a million stars or they can drop them unceremoniously, at the first sign of failure when a flop movie, novel, show, etc makes its debut in front of the eyes of the world’s audience. This is all due to two very simple but undeniable facts – there is no easy way up the ladder of success, fame and fortune. It is a very hard and frustrating struggle – one that is fraught with many obstacles, much gossip-mongering and more failures than the ‘highs’ of success. Fame tends to be like Vapor and Wealth and Fortune are more often than not, just ‘passing fantasies.’ It becomes the ‘last straw’ – the moment when loneliness creeps in when one is most unawares of its wily entrance. It is not as if loneliness enters with the object of leaving soon – believe me, it won’t mind outliving its welcome. It enters to make a permanent abode in the lives of desperate people who we would never expect to be so unhappy and lonely. In the end these megastars live and die all alone – as strangers to themselves and to the world at large.

Think of all the contemporary celebrities who died prematurely through drug overdose, suicide etc – megastars of the world like Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison (the lead singer of ‘The Doors’), Michael Hutchence (the lead singer of ‘INXS’), Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and countless others. They all had the world at their feet but sometimes even the World is Not Enough’ when these stars were, in reality, so sad, so alone and so forlorn – with no real family life or bonds to speak of. They felt completely used and abused, by all and sundry. Can you even begin to imagine the gripping, ceaseless fear, misery and loneliness of dying all alone – of dying in despair – of not even knowing if anyone cares enough to look for them and give their corpse the befitting last rites of a funeral? These celebrities were all strangers in the mirror, at the end of the day.

The crux of the matter is that we NEVER can or should depend on other people to give us our happiness, peace of mind and well-being. These people are just fleeting images in our lives –  images that are there today but likely to vanish tomorrow – just like the Elusive Pimpernel – the character created by Baroness Orczy in her novel of the same name. Even our own parents and close family members move away or they become elderly, fall ill and pass away. The people who we imagine to be our best and closest friends drift away either out of indifference or due to some inconsequential, minor misunderstanding. People start feeling lonely and abandoned because of the total break-down of all paths of communication and because there have been no clarifications forthcoming or, if need be, no sort of closure in the relationship. Most people enter our lives, only as acquaintances – they leave no lasting, indelible memory in our mind’s eye. They are as fleeting as ‘passing ships in the night’ –  vessels that are seen on the horizon for one moment but when one glances away, the ships have gone – disappeared – vanished!

So remember – when you feel totally lost, forlorn and alone in your life, remember that you still have YOU – never forget that YOUR life means something to you – even if the world disagrees. Take up a hobby, learn a sport, travel the world, read a novel, listen to music, go for long, invigorating walks and try to take up something totally novel and unique – something that you thought was beyond your abilities. Try exploring your hidden talents – if you don’t try, you will never know that these talents existed in the first place. That is the moment when you will stop being a stranger to yourself in the mirror – that is the moment when you’ll surprise yourself and the entire world in the bargain. You’ll gain, in this way, the respect of everyone in the world – even if it is grudging.

Respect and love yourself enough to do something for YOU, for a change. Remember – if you don’t love yourself first, you can never be in a position to love others either!

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