Earlier this month, Kanye West took to the stage and just like any other gig of his, it featured a long and winding rant about something he felt needed to be said. He smashed the creditability of his now former friends Jay-Z and Beyonce as well as going on to admit that he would have voted for Donald Trump, even though in reality he didn't. As you can imagine, his words didn't go down well with his core fanbase and he left the stage having only performed a handful of tracks. Since then, it was announced that he had been committed to a psych ward and at the time of writing this, has remained there for over a week. So what exactly happened to him and how has he got into this state?
When you think about Kanye West, like him or loathe him, at least every person can recount an outrageous exploit of his. Whether it was his declaration of being the world's greatest rock star at Glastonbury festival or interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMA awards, his life seems to be one curious event after another. And to any normal person, this kind of behaviour would see your career take a serious nose dive. But not for Kanye. Until now, I believed that he was doing it for the attention, as usually any Kanye-based fiasco was quickly followed up by some important announcement, either an album release or festival performance. But since his recent outburst and hence psychological evaluation, there now seems to be this sinister undertone to all these outbursts. Namely that these are more than likely cries for help. And he is not the first to have to go through such an ordeal in order for the public to leave him alone.
Micheal Jackson, someone who Kanye West constantly compared himself to, was of course not a usual human being. Having been world famous since the age of five, Michael Jackson went on to live one of the most bizarre lives on the planet, which ended in disastrous circumstances. It was announced that his death was caused by an overdose of Propofol, something that his doctor administered to him to help him sleep. This was followed up by a quote from Robin Williams, who joked that taking Propofol to help you sleep was like having chemotherapy because you are tired of shaving your head. It seemed like something mild considering the life of Michael Jackson, but to have to take such a severe sedative to help you sleep surely should have been a warning sign to those around him. It only occurred to me while researching this article that the reason Jackson always kept the faces of his children covered was because of a deep-seeded idea that exposure to fame at a young age would destroy their lives. He has aware at how much his own fame and success had led to a miserable existence and he wouldn't want the same thing to happen to his children.
But while Michael Jackson's existence was a very extreme case of what fame can do to an individual, we also saw the same thing happen to Britney Spears in 2008. Most people will look back on that time and simply remember Britney shaving her head and attacking paparazzi. But this was all just a build up to a breakdown perpetrated by the media themselves. It took an episode of South Park to really highlight the problems that Britney Spears was going through in order for us to understand her situation. In the episode, Britney attempts to take her own life after she realises that she may never see her kids again. She then blows half her head off with a shotgun but manages to survive the ordeal. It then transpires that despite no longer being able to sing, she is forced to record a new song, to which her manager and sound engineer make fun of her for. She then has to perform the song on TV, where the audience continue to mock her for not being able to dance and for putting on weight. And although this is an overly-dramatic idea of the situation for the sake of comedy, these were the things being said about her at the time. Which leads to the shows ultimate message, that she is clearly in need of help and no-one is trying to do anything about it. Her downfall became the story, it became entertainment and they were goading her into the suicidal state she had become.
But to get a real insight to the horrors that people at the very top of our famous elite have to go through, we can always discuss the issue of American comedian Dave Chappelle. For those in the UK that may not have heard of him, Dave Chappelle was a popular actor and comedian during the early noughties. His sketch comedy show 'Chappelle's Show' became the most watched comedy show in America, and landed him an unprecedented $55m contract to make a third and fourth season of the show. But these series' never happened because during the early days of filming, Dave Chappelle up and left for South Africa, where he spent the next two months. After a year or so lather, Dave reemerged to be interviewed by the US show 'Inside The Actor's Studio' where he spent much of his time discussing this very moment in his life. He talked of the pressure of Hollywood and how corporate interested were preventing him from living his life. He mentioned that he was forced to work 20 hour days in order to make the show, and even exposed the media for over exaggerating his decision to leave. They claimed that he was on drugs and that he was crazy. Something we are seeing once again when we think about Kanye West.
But it is this quote in the interview that makes everything I have discussed so far snap into place. He said that "you can get infamous, but you can't get unfamous". It was on hearing those words that suddenly I realised that this is what Kanye West has been trying to do all this time. He has been deliberately trying to make himself unpopular. He wants to get out and no-one is letting him go. And as a result, he has gone crazy trying.
I want to end this piece on a personal story of mine, especially for those who are still thinking that mental health is only a problem for those at the top of the fame pyramid. In early 2008, I met Stuart Cable. For those that don't know, Stuart Cable was the original drummer in the Stereophonics and he had left the band some years beforehand. We were both working on an award ceremony that night. I was working the backstage while Stuart was one of the sub-hosts for the evening. I was having my lunch break in the green room when he arrived. He came in and asked to lie down on the sofa next to me, explaining that he had been out late the night before. Despite his hungover state, he was very friendly and easy to talk to. We chatted about normal things; the night ahead and music in general, until I eventually asked why he decided to leave the Stereophonics. It was at this point he chose to get up and help himself to a drink from the minibar. I didn't think much at the time other than he was a rockstar and drinking was just part and parcel of his lifestyle. He then explained that the band had gotten so big, he was no longer in charge of his own life. The band was the most important thing in it and it controlled more than he could imagine. He told me that his manager would regularly send him a diary of everything he had to do. Everything from rehearsals, to live gigs, to interviews. All of which were non-negotiable. He said he spent the final year with the band having to call family and friends, and explain to them why he couldn't make their wedding, funeral, anniversary, etc. But the straw that broke the camels back was when he couldn't even attend his own father's funeral because the band were touring South America at the time. I felt so miserable after hearing that. It was the first time I had ever seen the negative side of the industry and just couldn't believe that this kind of uncompromising dedication to something was a reality for some people.
Stuart Cable died on 7th June 2010, aged 40. According to the official report, he left his local pub in order to continue drinking at home, where he died choking on his own vomit in his sleep. His death really affected me because not only had I met him, but I had seen firsthand that he was in a downward spiral. If I had known him better, I probably would have asked him to get help. But instead, his death has always been a reminder to me about how destructive fame and fortune can be, and why we should be more aware when people start showing signs of the problems they are facing.