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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Joel Rifkin

A high-IQ dyslexic from a troubled home, New York resident Joel Rifkin in 1994 was convicted of murdering a string of nine New York City women, mostly prostitutes. He is thought to have killed eight more women.

His first murder was in 1989, his last in 1993. Rifkin's usual method was strangulation, sometimes followed by dismemberment.

Rufkin was caught after a high-speed chase when a trooper noticed that Rifkin's pickup had no license plate. The body of his last known victim was found in the truck.

Rifkin was found guilty in 1994 and was sentenced to 203 years to life.

Mass/serial killers: Micheal Bruce Ross

Known variously as the Roadside Strangler and the Connecticut Strangler, Micheal Bruce Ross of Putnam, CT, murdered eight young women between 19812 and 1984.

Ross came from a violent, abusive home. While a student at Cornell University, he began stalking young women. He also raped the women he strangled and killed.

Ross appeared to realize the threat he posed to society and did not attempt to fight the death penalty. He was executed by injection in 2005.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Efren Saldivar

California respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar killed somewhere between 50 and 120 patients who already were near death from 1988 to 1998.

Saldivar was born in Texas. After completing his education, he took a job on the night shift at a California medical center, where the killings by injection took place.

His motives for these killings remains unclear. Perhaps he wished to help people in distress die rather than suffer further. Perhaps not.

He confessed to 50 such killings, then recanted. Twenty of his alleged victims were exhumed, and abnormal levels of a morphine-like drug were found. He pled guilty to six counts of murder in 2002 and is not serving two life terms without a chance for parole.

Even if he actually did kill 150 people, he was still far behind a Brit, Dr. Harold Shipman, alias Dr. Death, who is thought to have killed as many as 508 victims in a similar manner between 1975 and 1998.

Mass/serial killers: Jeff Weise

In what became known as the Red Lake Massacre, 16-year-old Jeff Weise, and Objibwa Indian, went way off the deep end, killing 10 people.

First, the troubled youth shot and killed his grandfather, using a .22. He took his grandad's .40-caliber pistol, 12-gauge shotgun, bullet-proof vest and car and drove to his Red Lake reservation high school. There, his first victim was the school's security guard.

Then Weise, a large boy who wore all black clothing in the "goth" style, shot and killed fellow students until finally turning the gun on himself, ending his own life.

While Weise had endured a hard childhood, he had a circle of school friends who remembered him as an apparently normal boy who liked to help others. Others considered him a strange loner.

Mass/serial killers: Charles Whitman

Apparently suffering from some form of mental illness, 25-year-old University of Texas student Charles Whitman opened fire from the observation tower of the Austin campus' tallest building, killing 14 and wounding 31 more.

Whitman was born in Lake Worth, Florida. His father was abusive, yet Charles became an Eagle Scout and later enlisted in the Marines. After separating from military service in 1964, he enrolled at UT-Austin to study architectural engineering.

In 1966, Whitman snapped, first strangling his mother, then stabbing his wife to death.

Posing as a maintenance worker, Whitman gained access to the Texas Tower's upper deck, where he spent the next 96 minutes firing with deadly accuracy at random targets below. A policeman in a small plane circled the tower, trying to divert Whitman's efforts.

Finally, a small group of men stormed the deck, killing Whitman with a shotgun blast and subsequent gun shots. A medical examination showed that the shooter had a small brain tumor that likely contributed to his deadly state of mind.

The Whitman case caused many U.S. city police departments to establish SWAT teams.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Wayne Williams

The case of African American Atlanta resident Wayne Williams is a strange one indeed. In 1982, he was found guilty of the murders of two black men, and soon thereafter, the city's police closed the murder cases of 27 African American minors.

Williams denies responsibility for the younger victims, some as young as 8. These black children and teenagers disappeared over roughly a two-year period, from 1979 until into 1982. Williams was sentenced to two life terms for the murders of the two older men.

Some authorities think that Williams, who was a small man, was the guilty party in the killings of the younger victims, some of whom were bigger than he was.

Whatever the truth may be, he remains incarcerated.

Mass/serial killers: Aileen Wuornos

Self-identified people hater Aileen Wuornos shot and killed seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990.

She was born Aileen Pittman in Michigan. Her father was in prison during her childhood, and she eventually married a child molester. After they divorced, she was re-married to a geezer, which also ended in divorce. Thereafter, she became a lesbian but supported herself as a prostitute.

Wuornos denied being mentally ill, but said she was so filled with hate she would kill again if given the chance.

She was executed by lethal injection in 2002.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Murderers: Byron De La Beckwith

Note: Among the most notorious temporary celebrities are individuals who suddenly become household names by murdering someone. News values being what they are, the murderers who stand out from the herd and hence receive heavy publicity tend to be those whose cases offer some entertaining or titillating element, such as prominence, beauty, or wealth. Poor people who kill other poor people for very poor reasons are not usually accorded this kind of "celebrity," of course.

Mississippi Klansman Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in 1994 of the 1963 murder of African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP.

It has been remarked that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, which certainly was true in this case. When Beckwith's fingerprints were found on the rifle used to shoot Evers in the back, Beckwith was twice tried in 1964 for the murder; both attempts to convict him ended in mistrial.

Beckwith apparently thought he had beaten the system and widened the scope of his hatred to not only blacks, but foreigners, Jews, Catholics and the Feds. Beckwith was something of a rarity in that he himself was an Episcopalian, a demonination usually known as progressive and liberal.

In 1973, Beckwith was hauled into court and charged with conspiring to murder a leader of the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League. He was found guilty and spent roughly three years in prison.

Then in 1994, he again was tried for the Evers murder, but this time, the jury had both black and white members. At age 74, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Beckwith died in 2001.

Murderers: Mark David Chapman

Mental illness was behind the murder of former Beatle John Lennon in 1980 by schizophrenic, delusional Mark David Chapman.

As Lennon and wife Yoko Ono exited their Manhattan apartment building, Chapman put four bullets into Lennon's back.

Chapman had been a huge fan of the Beetles and of Lennon, but that fixation came into conflict with his fundamentalist religious views after he heard Lennon quip to the media that the Beatles had been "bigger than Jesus."

Prior to the murder that turned him into a celebrity of sorts, Chapman had once attempted suicide and a year thereafter, had taken a trip around the world, after which her married his Japanese-American travel agent, who reminded him of Yoko Ono.

Chapman remains imprisoned, having been denied parole on several occasions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mruderers: Ira Einhorn

Wild-eyed and fierce of aspect, social activist Ira Einhorn earned temporary celebrity of the nefarious kind for the 1977 murder of his former woman friend Holly Maddux.

Maddux had dumped him and moved away. When she returned to Philadelphia to retrieve her personal effects, she disappeared.

Einhorn, who was a contemporary of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, was nicknamed "The Unicorn" due to his last name.

Charged with the Maddux murder, Einhorn fled to Europe and remained at large for 16 years before being captured in France. He was extradited to the United States, where he had been tried in absentia and convicted of murder. His claims that Maddux was killed by the CIA fell on deaf ears, and he now resides in a Pennsylvania prison.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Murderers: Ed Gein

Today, public memory of the name Ed Gein has all but disappeared, but in the 1950s, he was a celebrity psychopath of the first order.

Probably Gein killed quite a number of victims, but since he was convicted of but two killings, he is listed here rather than among the proven serial killers.

Gein is said to have provided the inspiration for the character Norman Bates in the classic movie "Psycho." In real life, Gein was crazy as a bedbug and lived in a filth-filled, dilapidated farmhouse in Plainfield, Wisconsin. He subsisted on government welfare payments and by doing odd jobs.

When police suspected him of robbing and abducting a local hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, they were horrified by what they found when they entered his house.

Mrs. Worden had been decapitated, hung upside down and gutted, in the manner used by deer hunters. Officers also found human skulls, lampshades and other items made of human skin and the grisly like.

Gein admitted to the murder of Worden and that of Mary Hogan, whom he had killed in 1954. He also admitted digging up the corpses of deceased women and making what was left of them into various bizarre objects.

Gein was found to be insane and was kept locked up in a mental facility until his 1984 death.

Murderers: Jean Harris

As headmistress of a posh girls' school, Jean Struven Harris appeared to be an unlikely murderer.

She had graduated magna cum laude in economics at Smith College and eventually became headmistres of the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia.

A couple of years after divorcing, she met cardiologist and Scarsdale Diet author Herman Tarnower and began what turned into a 14-year affair. Knowing that she was being replaced with a younger, more nubile model, Harris snapped and in 1980 shot the amorous doctor, killing him. She maintained that the gun had gone off accidentally.

She was found guilty of second degree murder. In 1992, Governor Mario Cuomo pardoned her. In recent years, she has resided in a Connecticut retirement home.

Tarnower, who made as unlikely-looking a Cassanova as Harris did a murderer, is shown below.

Murderers: Talmadge Hayer

At age 22, as a member of the Nation of Islam loyal to its supreme leader Elijah Muhammad, Talmadge Hayer was the only one of a group of five men who in 1965 assassinated militant activist and rival leader Malcolm X.

As he gave a speech, Malcolm X was first shot with a shotgun, then with pistols. He died before reaching a hospital.

Hayer used a .45 pistol in the crime, was wounded in one leg, and was quickly arrested. He was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. By now, he has been released.

Hayer has also used the name Thomas Hagen.

Shown below is Harris' victim, Malcolm X, in happier times.

Murderers: James Charles Kopp

Few issues make Americans as fighting (and sometimes killing) mad as the question of abortion. In 2001, anti-abortion extremist James Charles Kopp shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian, an East Amherst, New York, physician who performed abortions.

Kopp's justification for his actions was that he did it to save the lives of the unborn. He hid out, first in Mexico, then in Ireland, and then in France after the shooting and was placed on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list.

Kopp was captured in France and extradited to the United States, where he admitted to the shooting and was given a life sentence.

Murderers: Lyle and Erik Menendez

Over-privileged children living large in Beverly Hills, the Menendez brothers in 1989 used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill their own parents, after which they went on a merry spending spree.

Their father had fled Castro's Cuba in 1960 and had made it big as an executive with RCA Records.

Erik reportedly confessed to his psychiatrist, who informed police.

In a joint trial heard by two juries, both brothers were found guilty and received life sentences. While in prison, Lyle married, divorced and married again. Erik did likewise.

Murderers: Devin Moore

Cop-killer Devin Moore stood out from the never-ending mass of American murderers mainly because of the defense mounted on his behalf: that playing a violent video game had made him do it.

In 2003, 18-year-old delinquent Devin Moore (born Devin Thompson) grabbed an officer's .45 pistol and shot and killed two policemen and a police dispatcher in Fayette, Alabama, after having been arrested for car theft. Then he took off in a police car.

Moore pled not guilty, and his defense attorney argued that hours of playing the video game Grand Theft Auto had been to blame for the killings. The jury did not buy it, however, and Moore received the death sentence, which in December 2009 has yet to be carried out.

In 2005, former lawyer Jack Thompson brought suit against Sony on behalf of two of the victims. In the case of Strickland v. Sony, Thompson argued that games such as Grand Theft Auto are, in a way, similar to selling pornography.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Murderers: Lee Harvey Oswald

Although he was shot and killed soon after his arrest and long before he could be tried, Lee Harvey Oswald, according to the findings of the Warren Commission, was the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

After a troubled childhood and dropping out of high school, Oswald enlisted in the Marines in 1956. During his years of service, he was court-martialed on two occasions.

Oswald got a hardship discharge in 1959 and moved to the USSR. There, he was turned down for citizenship but took a factory job and married a Russian student. He and wife Marina moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1962. He had difficulty holding a job and in the following year tried to murder right-wing retired General Edwin Walker, which came to light after his arrest in the Kennedy assassination.

Oswald took a job in the Texas School Book Depository, where on 22 November 1963, he apparently shot the president and wounded Texxas Governor John Connally.

Shortly thereafter, Oswald shot and killed police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stooped him for questioning. Oawald attempted to hide in a movie theater but was arrested there.

Two days later as Oswald was being moved to the county jail, he was shot and killed by underworld figure Jack Ruby.

Years later, a House committee concluded that Oswald was not alone in the plan to kill the president but could not identify his co-consiprators. Many a conspiracy theory was advanced.