The Pop of King

The Pop of King

Stephen King on the dark side of fame

In 1988 -- I think it was '88 -- my older son asked if I'd take him to the Tyson-Spinks fight. You may remember it; this is the one that lasted roughly five punches and 38 seconds. When we got to the Trump venue where the fight was being held, a functionary whose job it was to collar ''celebs'' steered my son and me toward a room where, he said, we could relax, eat canapes, and meet others of our ilk. Other celebs, in other words.

I don't recall if the guy mentioned privacy as well as canapes, but if he did, the son of a gun lied. The room -- which my son remembers as being the size of a banquet hall -- was full of photographers and those soft-news people who are always more interested in who showed up than they are in what happened. Each time a new celeb made his or her entrance, the paparazzi would school like tuna toward a new feeding ground, yelling ''Oprah!'' or ''Jack!'' (The first thing celebs lose is their last names.) At some point -- around the time I was thinking I ought to get my son out of there, the atmosphere was that lynch-party feverish -- Sean Penn walked in, holding hands with Madonna.

The reporters and paparazzi went nuts. ''Sean!'' they shouted. ''Over here! Madonna! Hey, give us a smile, honey!'' The room seemed to shrink in that flashgun glare, a light that's both brilliant and somehow thin; it's the way you see things when you're suffering a high fever.

Madonna fed on it -- this, at least, is my son's memory. We are both in agreement, however, that Mr. Penn was caught flat-footed. Like me, maybe he had foolishly assumed that ''a place to relax and get away from the crowds'' meant a place of relative privacy.

They made one seemingly endless circuit of the room with the press in full pursuit, Mr. Penn tugging his sweetie by the hand. They passed close to my location, and I got a good look at the expression of horror on Penn's face. It was the face of a young man who's finally beginning to understand what he's gotten himself into.

This memory comes back to me whenever I hear that a soft-news press pool has hired an aircraft to get pictures of a ''celeb wedding,'' or when I see front-page tabloid photographs of some celeb who has either put on a lot of weight (indicating heartbreak) or lost a lot (indicating cancer, and necessitating use of the word brave, as in BRAVE [INSERT CELEB'S FIRST NAME] FACES CANCER WITH HELP OF EX-WIFE...AND GOD!). I think of Mr. Penn and his one stunned How-do-I-get-outta-here? circuit of the ''celeb room'' every time I read a bit of tattle about who bought what (and for how much; that's always important), then stiffed the waiter at lunch. I thought of him recently when I noted that at least one immensely popular magazine -- not this one, I'm happy to say -- had invented the one-word moniker Bennifer for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez...as if their romance summed up everything we'd ever care to know about them. Are they talented? Can they sing, dance, and act? Doesn't matter. When dealing with celebs, talent's a side issue.

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