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Whitney Houston is the latest celebrity to have died from an overdose of drugs, whether prescribed or illicit. The list of celebrity deaths, whether by suicide or drug overdose is long; Ms Houston is just the most recent. The list includes such notables as Janice Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, Lenny Bruce, Freddie Prinze, River Pheonix, Jimmy Hendrix, Elvis Presley, to name but a few.

These people had it all; they had what most ordinary people only dream about having: wealth, fame, talent, possessions. When most people think about the world of celebrity, they think only of the public persona of these stars. They project their own fantasy of the life that these celebrities lead and wish that they could have it themselves.

Seldom do they think about the pain, the sadness, the fears, the emotional troubles that these larger-than-life individuals experience. People focus more on the public persona than on the person behind the mask of the celebrity on the red carpet.

One of the things that I have learned in my 45 years working with  celebrities, mega-millionaires, corporate giants, as well as ordinary folks, struggling students, blue-collar workers and professionals, is that pain is pain. No one is immune from it, and money and fame does not eradicate it. Who is more depressed, the person who overdoses on heroin in a back alley or the one who ODs in a suite at the Ritz?

As long as we hold onto the mistaken belief that money and fame can buy happiness, we will continue to be incredulous when a celebrity commits suicide or ODs on drugs. We don’t want to believe that these folks could be suffering from overwhelming depression, internal emotional pain, excessive anxiety, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and the variety of psychological issues that plague ordinary people. If we accept that these individuals can and do suffer just like the rest of us, then we have to challenge the notion that money can buy happiness. We have to look at ourselves and realize that even if we obtained great wealth, celebrity, or “stardom”, or had great talent, our pain and suffering may well continue.

It is often very difficult for people to get beyond the celebrity of people who may be hurting. People have a vested interest in seeing their own pain as very real and want to believe that others who “have it all” have a better life. After all, “How can someone who has everything be depressed?”

I recently saw the movie, My Week with Marilyn, depicting the fragility of the star and her desire to be taken seriously as as actor in a 1950s world where beautiful, curvacious women were viewed as merely sex toys for the rich and famous. When talking with a friend who also saw the movie, he had nothing but contempt for Marilyn, seeing her as a self-indulgent, self-obsessed woman who manipulated others. This man’s life is difficult; he is in pain. It was difficult for him to see Marilyn’s pain, her suffering, since she had it all. It was as though he were saying that only his pain was real.

If we hold onto the notion that money or fame or celebrity can buy happiness, we will continue to envy others who appear to have been dealt a better hand in life and lose a little bit of our humanity in the process.  We will continue to pursue the illusion that happiness lies outside of ourselves rather than recognizing that it is up to each of us to play the hand we are dealt in the best way possible.

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a friend on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]