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Celebrity cults, born of the Fox sisters in upstate New York during the late nineteenth century’s Third Great Awakening, have died. They were 171.
In their youth, celebrity cults were known for their childlike enthusiasm, quite possibly because they were invented by a pair of children dropping an apple then declaring the thumping sound to be voices of the dead begging for famous writers like James Fenimore Cooper and William Cullen Bryant to pay money for a few minutes chitchat by way of a pair of teenage girls.
From the onset, celebrity cults were noted for their generosity, often serving as a means for teenage girls to bilk money from famous mystery authors by adding beguiling filters to #inspoporn and calling it spirit photography.
But as celebrity cults moved west, they grew both powerful and gluttonous. Captivating stars like Dennis Wilson, George Harrison, and even Elvis Presley, by shedding their simple, childish origins and operating under a more efficient business model: one in which a charismatic megalomaniac could help provide other charismatic megalomaniacs with access to young women and even girls.
The insatiable appetite for fame, attention, money, and sex made celebrity cults celebrities in and of themselves, attracting international attention in the form of bestselling true crime books, Tarantino tributes, podcasts, and inclusion in feminist discourse, the latter two of which would become a major part of their undoing.
And though some might say the celebrity cult was predatory, even deadly, there are those who continue to see their innocent, childish origins, despite being well over a century past such innocence. Joaquin Phoenix, who grew up as a member Children of God in the 1970s, eulogized the cult of his youth for Entertainment Tonight in 2014:
“I think it was really innocent on my parents’ part,” Phoenix said. “They really believed, but I don’t think most people see it that way. I’ve always thought that was strange and unfair.”
But as celebrity cults entered their dotage, that original focus on harmless bilking of credulous, famous dummies had fully morphed into a meticulous, mercilessly efficient system. By the end, the pseudo spiritualists bankrolled by the rich, famous, and still somehow lacking, provided a seemingly endless buffet of blackmail and sex scandal. However, celebrity cults did not die of an overdose. Instead, they died of exposure. The continual poking and prodding by podcasts, think pieces, and graduate theses left celebrity cults too raw and naked to continue feeding on the secret contributions of the disproportionately wealthy.
Celebrity cults received a burial by Lifetime movie. They are survived by numerous offspring including Hillsong Church, Goop, and Soho House.