Celebrity memoirs give us a glimpse behind the curtains

Examining the role of the celebrity memoir

There’s a fine line between sharing and over-sharing.

We’ve become too obsessed with celebrities.

Celebrities have long had us in a chokehold. However, rather than solely relying on social media to share their lives with fans, some celebrities opt for a different approach for revealing insights into their private, glamorous, and often drama-laden lives.

Celebrity autobiographies and memoirs are a long-established norm in the entertainment industry, dating back as far as 1952 with Tallulah: My Autobiography, detailing the life of then-star Tallulah Bankhead.

However, with the rising success of the genre, more and more stars publish books chronicling their successes and downfalls, giving birth to a new era of personal storytelling, transparency, and vulnerability.

The transformation of celebrity memoirs can be traced back to 1959 when actress Mary Astor released My Story. Astor’s candid account of her struggles—including alcoholism and a televised nervous breakdown—marked a pivotal shift in the genre. Astor’s memoir chose authenticity over perfection and sparked a desire for relatable and raw stories.

My Story’s success showed that people didn’t want a perfected image, but an authentic recollection of the celebrity’s life. Fans yearned to learn about the unsolved negatives in the rich and famous’ life, and how they struggled while putting on a brave face for the cameras. It’s this candidness that allows audiences to connect with them on a deeper level.

In a way, the transparency of celebrities gives them a sense of relatability and humanity that makes them better appeal to the common person.

However, the power of celebrity memoirs doesn’t stop at humanization and relatability. Celebrity memoirs have the power to highlight vulnerable and often stigmatized subjects, leading to increased awareness and conversation surrounding those subjects, that moves towards de-stigmatization.

Carrie Fisher’s memoir Wishful Drinking, for instance, details her experience with addiction and electroconvulsive therapy for her bipolar disorder. Seeing beloved icons such as Princess Leia herself discuss traditionally taboo topics such as mental health and substance abuse encourages us to do the same.

Celebrity memoirs can also reveal long-hidden industry secrets that are morally and ethically wrong. Jennette McCurdy’s 2022 memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died reveals the emotional turmoil and abuse she faced as a child actor at the hands of her mother, show producers, and Nickelodeon. She gave attention to companies offering actors in her situation hush money to maintain silence and prevent backlash.

However, the thin line begins to be crossed when transparency and vulnerability are at the cost of oversharing and disclosing private information of those in a celebrity’s social circle.

An example is Prince Harry’s Spare, which faced criticism for oversharing and invading people’s privacy. He shared details from his deployment in Afghanistan, and revealed he killed 25 men during his second tour. He disclosed private conversations with members of the Royal Family and brought up explicit personal details regarding his frostbitten “todger” at his brother’s wedding—all of which was criticized for being far too private to share.

Additionally, while difficult to prove, many are critical of truth in celebrity memoirs, pointing out how these books can mislead readers and paint a deceptive picture.

Jada Smith is currently facing controversy for this very reason while promoting her memoir, Worthy. In her book, Smith alleges Tupac Shakur proposed to her while imprisoned on Riker’s Island in 1995, which was soon disproven by a fan-created TikTok.

Caitlyn Jenner’s 2017 memoir titled The Secrets of My Life is another example of celebrities deferring to memoir to try and control their public image.

Prior to the memoir’s release, Jenner faced intense scrutiny from all sides, ranging from Kardashians fans to hardcore religious conservatives. Fans of the famous family were unhappy with claims Jenner made against her ex-wife Kris Jenner, while conservatives were dissatisfied with Jenner’s choice to transition and remain Republican. Jenner appealed to memoir to control her side of the narrative, though it’s unclear how well this worked.

In the end, the effect of celebrity memoirs on our perception of their subjects largely depends on the fine balance they strike between transparency and privacy.

By steering clear of excessive disclosure and demonstrating respect for the privacy of others, while also providing glimpses into their own lives, moments of vulnerability, and challenging subjects, celebrity memoirs have the capacity not only to humanize the wealthy and renowned but also spark crucial societal discussions.

However, for celebrity memoirs to be beneficial, fans must remain vigilant. By holding celebrities accountable for their storytelling choices, we can ensure their narratives contribute positively to society’s broader discourse.


autobiography, celebrities, Memoir, Pop Culture

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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