Feature Archive

The Celebrity Factor: Lights, Camera, Reaction

No. 4 of WebMD's Top 10 Stories of 2004: The illnesses of famous people often put a spotlight on the disease. But does this have a domino effect?

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

When former President Bill Clinton underwent heart bypass surgery to repair blocked arteries earlier in 2004, it was covered on countless news programs, printed in hundreds of newspapers, and talked about on radio stations nationwide. As a result, thousands of men around the U.S. called their doctor asking for appointments to have their own hearts checked out.

The deaths of Ronald Reagan from Alzheimer's disease and Christopher Reeve from a complication of paralysis brought the spotlight back on stem cell research. When Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a lump during a self-exam, many waited to hear how she was doing. And then Chief Justice William Rehnquist brought a lot of attention to a little-known cancer -- thyroid cancer.

The illnesses of celebrities both pique our voyeuristic urges, and spur us to action. What is it about seeing our favorite celebrity dealing with difficult illnesses that triggers us to go to the doctor?

Experts explain why we're so fascinated by the plight of the rich and famous, and how it ultimately ends up helping the masses.