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Article

Stephen King on our celebrity gossip obsession

EW’s columnist on ”The National Enquirer” and why it’s so addictive

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All right, show of hands — who out there buys the National Enquirer, or at least noodges through it while waiting in line at the supermarket checkout? Come on now, get ’em up, Uncle Stevie can see you through his magic word processor and knows if you’re holding back. Besides, I do it, and when I buy it, I read it just as soon as I finish helping my wife put the groceries away. If I can confess, you can too. So get those hands up. You too, Lisa and Owen, I’m watching you.

There, that’s better.

The question is, what in the hell makes the Enquirer so damned addictive? What’s the secret of its success? Well, after a critical reading of the last two issues (which mostly took place in a small room where we keep a roll of paper on the wall), I can tell you there’s not just one secret but at least four, and I’m going to expose them for you now, in the best rock-’em-and-shock-’em Enquirer style.

First, THE CELEBRITY IS YOUR NEIGHBOR! Not always your pal, but yeah! Celebs and Enquirer readers are on a first-name basis! None of that polite distancing nonsense, like in Entertainment Weekly, where folks like Jack Nicholson or Martha Stewart are fully named once and then referred to as “Nicholson” or “Stewart.” In the Enquirer, Nicholson is Jack (the Aging Party Boy) and Stewart is Martha (Target for Girl Gangs in Lesbian Hell Prison). Because we know these people. We may not like all of them, but they come into our homes almost every day. We discuss their clothes, their hair, their weight gains (or, in some cases — think Calista Flockhart — their anorexia crisis), their lovers, marriages, and divorces. Who cares if Calista, Jack, Britney, and others say the stories are just plain wrong? The Enquirer gives it all up in a dishy, just-chatting-about-the-neighbors tone that makes us feel like we’re living right next door. Privacy? What privacy?

Second, THE CELEBRITY IS NAUGHTY! Many folks seem to harbor the belief that successful showbiz folks have only one ultimate goal: to party till they puke (LOVE HURTS: RAMPAGE MAY COST COURTNEY MILLIONS!), or maybe die (River Phoenix’s DEADLY DOSE!). Thus we have Enquirer rumors about Jack Nicholson and drugs, Pink going topless at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool (gasp!), and that little vixen Britney trying to steal some nice girl’s husband (oh, gosh, that it-rhymes-with-witch).

Which leads to Three, RICH PEOPLE ALWAYS GET IN TROUBLE! The one sermon the Enquirer preaches over and over — and why not, when readers never seem to tire of it? — is that talent leads to fame, fame leads to success, success leads to partying, and partying leads to getting in trouble. You may be rich and famous, but you still live right here on the street, sunshine. We know what you’re up to. Have a booze relapse and you risk being outed when you go back to AA meetings. Decide to refuse treatment for addictive behavior? Okay, but one hopes you don’t have a famous parent (FARRAH’S SON FLEES DRUG REHAB!). Oh, and better practice safe sex, or…JFK JR. LOVE CHILD! Need I say more, Bunky?

And finally — death is so final, isn’t it — FAMOUS PEOPLE GET TO DIE IN PUBLIC! In the bad old days, the Enquirer was infamous for its death pix — no one who ever saw them can forget the photos of Lee Harvey Oswald getting whisked off to the morgue on a stretcher or Elvis in his coffin — but even in its newer, gentler, more celebrity-oriented incarnation, the Enquirer is still interested in which of the neighbors is getting ready to step out. Who can forget soul legend Barry White’s deathbed drama? For that matter, who can forget the Enquirer going on about Steve McQueen’s final months with lung cancer, or its photo of a skeletal Dean Martin being helped out of a car, wearing a gold chain and looking like death on a cracker? Heartwarming stuff!

Sure, there are lots of other neighborly little features in the Enquirer; you can learn how to have a fabulous vacation without spending a fortune, read reviews of the new DVD releases, maybe spend some time doing the world-famous Enquirer Color Cross (53-Down in the March 29 issue is ”Singer Midler,” and I’m guessing that would be BETTE). But the staples never really change: who’s using, who’s cheating, who’s getting fat, who’s in trouble with the law, and who’s getting ready to check out permanently. What Don Henley once called dirty laundry. And still, there’s something about it, isn’t there? Something that just draws us in. We don’t want to read that Roy Horn, months after being mauled and almost killed by one of his tigers, is deeply depressed and can’t make it to the bathroom without help, and part of us understands we have no business knowing that — it should be private — and yet part of us wants that useless information anyway. Why? Because it is useless? Because it’s painful? Because it makes us feel better about feeling well ourselves? Or is it because we want to think this is what being famous gets you, so most of us are better off right where we are?

Hey, maybe it’s just human nature. Human curiosity. Or a taste for fresh meat. Maybe you readers have an idea. If so, give it up.

Enquiring minds want to know.