Fame and fortune

March 24, 2011

I guess we have all, at some time in our lives, wished we were rich and famous. Rich, because money can get you pretty well anything that strikes your fancy, barring good health and true love, and famous because it’s nectar for the ego.

But there’s something weird about the arithmetic. There are currently almost 7 billion souls on Earth, yet I doubt there are more than 10,000 living who are both rich and famous, which is a vanishingly small percentage. We need an explanation for why almost everyone would like to have something, yet relatively no one gets it.

Let’s try looking for an answer at the blunt end. What does it take to be rich and famous? Well, to begin with, the one does not necessarily imply the other. There have been plenty of famous people in the past who died broke, in jail or at the end of the hangman’s rope, and there are plenty of currently rich people who spend considerable time trying to avoid being known, let alone famous.

So what does it take to be both?

Taking rich first, it doesn’t absolutely require great brains, though that often helps. Being born into a filthy-rich family, fighting your way to the top in a criminal or political organization or owning land on top of an oilfield may require luck or guts, but not necessarily brains. Even so, eidetic recall, tenacity of purpose and ruthless, unswerving attention to detail have founded many a great fortune.

Famous is altogether different. You can become famous overnight, in the sense of well-known to millions of people, simply by shooting a president, but as that isn’t likely to make you rich, we can discard ill-famed and concentrate on justly famed. Jesus, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Washington, Winston Churchill, Elvis Presely and a raft of others all became justly famed not just for doing something remarkable, but because what they did was heavily publicized – Jesus by the indefatigable Saint Paul, Caesar by a succession of admiring biographers, and the rest by worldwide recognition of their achievements, spread by news media of every kind.

So it seems that the recipe for rich, leaving out luck, which doesn’t appear in any recipe, is concept followed by intense concentration. And the recipe for famous is outstanding achievement, followed by assiduous cultivation of the media. This is a tall order, not made any easier by the tendency of the rich and famous to ignore the rules applying to ordinary folk, and of the media to search unceasingly for, root out and publicize bad behavior by public figures.

So there we have the answer to the question: Only a vanishingly small percentage of people have the combination of inspiration, intent, tenacity and, above all, acceptance of a life of unremitting toil, to go for both the gold and the laurels.

You may include me out.

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