About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Murderers: Scott Lee Peterson

Scott Lee Peterson of Modesto, CA, gained his celebrity infamy in 2003 when he was arrested and charged with murdering his pregnant wife, Laci.

The beautiful young woman had been reported missing on Christmas Eve, 2002. In April 2003, the body of a male fetus washed ashore in San Francisco Bay. The following day, Laci's remains washed up nearby.

Scott Peterson's philandering had come to light in the meantime. His most recent fling was with massage therapist Amber Frey,, who gave damaging testimony against him. He was convicted of murder and received the death sentence.

Peterson's case is on appeal at this writing in November 2009.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Murderers: James Earl Ray

The name James Earl Ray is sure to be easily recognized by most Americans as belonging to the man convected of murdering the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

A sad, pathetic figure by the time he died at age 70 in 1998, Ray had come of age as an unfortunate product of his time. In that era in which most white Americans were at last coming to see the immense wrong of racial segregation and discrimination, Ray remained adamant.

He had spent quite a few years in prison prior to King's murder and had made two attempts to escape before he finally succeeded in doing so in 1967. Details are lacking, but after shooting Dr.King, Ray reportedly traveled to Mexico, Canada and England. How he came up with the money for this travel remains a mystery although conspiracy theories abound.He was caught at London's Heathrow Airport.

In 1969, Ray pled guilty but later changed his story. He received a 99-year sentence.

He escaped in 1977 but was recaptured three days later.

Among those who do not think Ray actually was King's murderer are, reportedly, King's surviving family.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Murderers: Jack Ruby

While still in shock over the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the American public quickly received another jolt--shown on live television--when small-time nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oswald was being moved by authorities through the basement of the Dallas jail when Ruby pushed through the crowd of onlookers and fired one shot from a .38 handgun into Oswald's midsection.

Ruby's birth name was Jacob Leon Rubenstein, but he and his brothers shortened and "Americanized" their last name to Ruby sometime in the late 1940s.

Ruby was suspected of having Mafia connections and had a history of relatively minor offenses: carrying a concealed weapon, ignoring traffic tickets, violations of liquor laws, and assault. Ruby was also suspected of running guns to Fidel Castro and his supporters in Cuba.

Ruby reportedly said that his decision to shoot Oswald was a spur of the minute thing, but conspiracy theories abound about the Mob having ordered him to do the "hit."

Ruby was found guilty and sentenced to death. On appeal, a higher court ruled that Ruby's motion for a change of venue should have been granted, overturned his conviction, and ordered a new trial.

In 1967, before the new trial could commence, Ruby died in prison of a pulmonary embolism.

The photo shown below shows Ruby in happier times while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II.

Murderers: Sirhan Sirhan

In 1969, Jerusalem-born Sirhan Bishra Sirhan was convicted of the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy.

Just after having given a speech in a Los Angeles hotel, Kennedy was shot at close range with a .22 pistol and died about a day later.Five other people were wounded as well. Sirhan was immediately taken into custody and pled guilty to the crime.

Sirhan's defense argued that he was suffering from diminished mental capacity, but the jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to death, but that sentence was later commuted to life after the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.

A journal of sorts was located, in which Sirhan placed blame for the Six-Day War on Robert Kennedy, who had supported Israel.

Murderers: Michael Skakel

A nephew of Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, Michael Skakel was in 2002 convicted of murdering a 15-year-old friend and neighbor-- in 1976.

The victim, Martha Moxely of Greenwich, CT, was beaten to death with a golf club, a 6-iron to be exact. Although the club was found to have come from the Skakel home, the case went unsolved until the appearance of a book by ex-Los Angeles cop turned writer Mark Fuhrman--he of O.J. Simpson case fame.

Skakel finally was arrested in 2000, and in 2002 he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life.He has never officially confessed to the crime, but two of his school chums testified that he had confessed it to them.

Murderers: Pamela Ann Smart

An attractive young woman of 22, with tossing curls and generally good looks, Pamela Smart was in 1991 convicted of planning the murder of her 24-year-old husband, who had admitted that he was having an extramarital affair after less that a year of marriage to Pamela.

A staff member at a New Hampshire high school, Pamela Smart began an affair of her own--with one of that school's students, 15-year-old Billy Flynn.

Prosecutors convinced a jury that Smart threatened to end the affair unless Flynn killed her husband, who in 1990 was found fatally shot in the head. Smart was given a life sentence without parole.

Smart's case was sufficiently sordid that two movies were based on it--one with Helen Hunt and the other with Nicole Kidman.

Murderers: Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith

In 1995, Susan Smith of Union, S.C., was convicted of one of the most grisly kinds of murder of them all: that of her own children, ages 3 and 14 months at the time of their deaths.

In 1994, Smith called police and reported that her car, with the children inside, had been hijacked by an African American man. A little more than a week later, however, she confessed to murder.

The children were killed by Smith having rolled her Mazda into John D. Long Lake, where the two tykes drowned. Her motive was not at all clear.

Figuring into Smith's troubled background were her parents' divorce, her father's suicide and later having been sexually molested by her stepfather.

Smith looked dowdy and crazed at her trial, but since being imprisoned has lost weight and has taken on a much more youthful appearance. Two prison guards reportedly have had sex with her.

Smith will be eligible for parole in 2025.

Murderers: Jens Soering

Jens Soering, the bookish looking son of a German diplomat, in 1990 was given two life sentences for the 1985 murders of his girlfriend's parents.

Soering was convicted of stabbing to death well-to-do Derek and Nancy Hayson, who lived near Lynchburg, VA.

Both Soering and Elizabeth Haysom were honor students at the University of Virginia at the time of the murders. Both eventually were arrested, and Soering confessed, thinking that due to diplomatic immunity, he would be sent to Germany to stand trial as a juvenile.

During his trial, however, he recanted his confession, saying he had confessed so that Elizabeth would not get the death penalty.

Both were spared the ultimate penalty, and both will likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. Soering spends much of his time writing and has published several books, both in English and in his native German.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Murderers: Dan White

Homophobic Dan White, ex-city supervisor in San Francisco, shot and killed that city's mayor, George Moscone, and supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

Milk was one of the very first U.S. politicians to come out openly as gay. White, a young man having a mop of dark hair and a cleft chin, entered City Hall through a basement window and shot first the mayor, then Milk.

White's defense team argued that depression had caused their client to eat an unaccustomed amount of junk food, which, they reasoned, helped cause his violent actions.

The term "the Twinkie defense" was much discussed but didn't work but so well for White, who was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years.

San Francisco's gay community was outraged by the light sentence and protested violently in what came to be known as the White Night Riots.

White was paroled after five years and then returned to San Francisco. He committed suicide in 1985 by carbon monoxide asphyxiation in his estranged wife's garage.

Murderers: Collie Leroy Wilkins

A revolting example of racism Old South style was 21-year-old Collie Leroy Wilkins, convicted of shooting and killing civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965.

Liuzzo was the only white woman killed in the protest era of the 1960s. She left her home in Detroit to aid in Martin Luther King's efforts to end racial segregation. Demonstrators had marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand that black citizens be allowed to register and vote.

Liuzzo and African American teen LeRoy Moton had driven demonstrators back to Selma and were headed to Montgomery to pick up more when they were overtaken on a dark stretch of highway by a car occupied by four Ku Klux Klansmen.

According to the testimony of the other three men, including one who was an FBI informer, Wilkins did the shooting.

An Alabama jury deadlocked, and on retrial, Wilkins was found not guilty. Shown on television news, he looked pleased with himself, but not for long. In federal court, he was found guilty of depriving Liuzzo of her civil rights and was sentenced to 10 years.

He served seven years, then worked the rest of his life as a mechanic. Wilkins died in 1994.

Murderers: Benjamin Matthew Williams

A sad and hate-filled tale of two couples unfolded in 1999. One couple was gay; the second couple was composed of two brothers who hated gays.

In a classic example of a hate crime, Benjamin and James Williams, California landscapers, used a .22 to dispatch two of their customers, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple who lived in ironically named Happy Valley, CA.

The homeschooled, fundamentalist, white supremacist Williams brothers admitted to the murders and said they did the crime simply because the other two men were gay. Matthew was the one who pulled the trigger.

Tyler worked out a plea agreement and got 29 years to life.

Matthew, who later said he also had taken part in torching an abortion clinic and three synagogues,received a 30-year sentence. In 2002, he committed suicide in his cell.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Murderers: Andrea Yates

Americans who follow the news were chilled in 2001 to find that Houston native Andrea Yates had drowned her five small children in the family bathtub.

Yates had suffered severe depression, reported hearing strange voices, twice attempted suicide,and suffered a nervous breakdown in the years leading up to this horrendous event.

The killing of her own children, she said, was done out of religious motivation. Demons told her to do it, she claimed. Yates also said that she had to kill them because she herself was evil and had caused the children to become unrighteous and in danger of going to hell.

This poor, sad woman had gotten off to a good start in life before mental illness overpowered her. She had been her high school class's valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society. Later she had worked as a registered nurse.

Yates was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. In 2006, another court ruled that she had been insane and hence overturned her prison sentence, sending her instead to a high-security mental hospital.

Murderers: Ronny Zamora

At age 15 in 1977, Miami teenager Ronny Zamora and his friend Darrell Agrella broke into an elderly neighbor's home to burglarize it, and when the 83-year-old woman returned home and found them there, Zamora shot her to death.

The boys found a few hundred dollars, stole their victim's car, and took off for Disney World.

The Zamora murder case was made memorable by the inventive, if ridiculous defense Zamora's attorney mounted: that his client should not be found guilty because he had been temporarily deprived of his sanity due to "television intoxication."

Lawyer Ellis Rubin, known for using flamboyant, offbeat defenses, tried to convince the jury that Zamora had developed "TV intoxication" by watching a steady diet of violent detective shows, especially his favorite, "Kojak."

Agrella made a plea deal and was out of prison by 1986. Zamora was released in 2004 after having served 27 years. He was immediately deported to Costa Rica, where he had been born.