The life of a celebrity is not all glitz and glamour. Sometimes they attract stalkers. Some of those stalkers are deranged, determined and dangerous, and a few have succeeded with their lethal intent. Madonna was lucky; her stalker was stopped. His recent escape from a psychiatric facility is a reminder of the risks from his disorder.
Erotomania is a special kind of fixation. People who suffer from it develop the delusion that another person - usually a celebrity or someone of higher social status - loves them. They envision an entwined destiny and feel a persistent need to contact or see the inamorata, triggering episodes of stalking.
Only about ten percent of stalkers are erotomanic, but most are aggressive. They may send unwanted letters or packages, make numerous phone calls, or take up a pursuit. They might even break into a home. Sometimes they purposely endanger the object of their affection so they can offer rescue and be a hero.
Even if the target person denies any feelings for them, erotomanics "know the truth." Every gesture, even a restraining order, is a sign of affirmation: they're connected.
In May 1995, Robert Hoskins was a homeless man with a delusion that Madonna was meant to be his wife. He scaled a high wall that protected her Hollywood Hills residence, but her bodyguard scared him away.
Intent on his mission, Hoskins left a note for Madonna on a religious tract entitled Defiled. The tract described punishing people who wear inappropriate clothing and killing those who have sex outside marriage.
Hoskins came again, warning the bodyguard that if Madonna did not marry him that very evening, he would slice her throat open. Two months later he scaled the wall again, but this time he was shot and wounded. He was also arrested.
When the trial opened, Madonna was subpoenaed to testify. She was reluctant. Being in court, she said, made her feel sick, and she had suffered from repeated nightmares of her stalker getting into her home. She also stated that her presence in court fulfilled his fantasies of being noticed by her.
Hoskins was convicted and given a ten-year sentence, but even in prison he maintained his obsession. One might think that a ten-year separation would erode such fixations, but many erotomanic stalkers maintain them for decades.
Upon his release from prison, Hoskins completed a stay at Atascadero State Hospital, where he was found to be mentally disturbed. When he was convicted of vandalism in July 2011, he was sent to a psychiatric facility. On February 3, he escaped custody and disappeared for a week before he was finally apprehended. The police had warned the nearby community that he was dangerous when off his medication.
Before 1980, there were few celebrity stalkers bent on lethal intent, but after the fatal shooting of John Lennon, they've increased. One security firm's analysis of 5,000 letters to celebrities showed that over 90% of the correspondents had a mental disturbance.
Celebrity stalking is a symptom of our image-dominated culture. There are numerous websites devoted to it, and some participants think that celebrities deserve it. As fans accept the thinning of personal boundaries via blogs, social pages, and intrusive videos, there develops a parallel increase in their desire to trespass into the lives of the rich and famous.
There's only a thin line of defense, because there's so little accountability for what gets printed or aired, and the details of celebrity lives have grown increasingly more intimate and salacious. Some of them add the fuel themselves to the fire.
As the loss of privacy in our culture converges with the demand to know every detail about celebrity lives, we can expect to see more stalkers, some of whom will certainly be lethal.