Are you a fan? It’s an innocuous enough question. Most people would not hesitate to claim to be a fan of something or other. “I’m a classic rock fan”. “I’m a science fiction fan”. “I’m an Orange is the New Black fan”. “I’m a McRib fan”. Such comments are heard every day, and usually mean little more than an appreciation for a particular style or subject. Fandom obviously extends to individual personalities as well; few would bat an eye if someone told them they are a Bruce Springsteen fan or a Jessica Alba fan. In such cases, the notion of fandom expresses appreciation for the work of the particular personality, and suggests that person takes an interest in the personality’s career. This kind of fandom usually manifests itself in buying CD’s, books, movie tickets, concert tickets, or whatever other product is being offered. A very big fan may have manifestations of his or her hero appear in the form of posters on the wall or T-shirts bearing their likeness. This is usually as far as it gets.
However, for a certain percentage of the population, this level of fandom is not enough; it fails to sate a desire for acknowledgement from the object of worship. For these aggressive fans, some form of personal contact that extends beyond merely consuming product becomes necessary. Most persons who fall into this category are the ones who will write frequent fan letters, send gifts, ask for autographs, or wait for long hours outside of hotels or TV studios for a glimpse of their hero. While this kind of extreme fan worship seems distasteful to most people, it is usually looked upon as harmless devotion. For the personalities who must endure the advances of pesky fans, it is usually seen as the price of fame. Many feel an obligation to be kind to the fans because the fans pay their bills.
Then there are those whose fandom becomes much more personal. These are deluded souls who believe that they have an ongoing personal relationship with the personality, or that they bear some significant insight into the personality that needs to be exposed. This is where the lines of fandom cross into the dangerously obsessive, often with dire consequences for the personality, the fan, or both. There is even a clinical name for it: Celebrity Worship Disorder, which is defined as an “obsessive addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life”.
DNN takes a look back at some of the cases where fandom crossed the line into a fatal or near-fatal attraction.
Mark David Chapman: 25-year-old Mark David Chapman shot and killed singer/songwriter John Lennon in 1980, after laying in wait outside the former Beatle’s residence. He briefly encountered Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono as they departed for a recording session and asked Lennon to autograph a copy of his new record album, to which the usually obliging musician assented. Chapman loitered until the couple’s return, after which he shot Lennon five times. Chapman had become obsessed with the Beatles and JD Salinger’s novel of alienation, The Catcher in the Rye, which he claimed was his official statement. Mental health professionals identified him as displaying paranoid schizophrenic symptoms. He remains in prison to this day.
Ricardo Lopez: 21-year-old Lopez was a pest control officer in Florida who had developed an intense obsession with Icelandic singer Björk. Over the course of three years, his obsession became consuming. He kept an 803-page diary during this time, in which he expressed his feelings for Björk as well as his disgust at being overweight, his inability to get a date, his gynecomastia (man boobs), and his inability to even learn to drive. He had also expressed suicidal thoughts in his diary. In 1996, Lopez became enraged at Björk’s romantic relationship with fellow musician Goldie. He began a video diary in which he expressed his plans to send her letter bombs in the mail, one with needles tainted with HIV-infected blood. In his final video diary, Lopez plays one last Björk song and shoots himself in the head. The video survives to this day on YouTube and on gore sites.
Robert John Bardo: Bardo was responsible for the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, star of the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam in 1989. Bardo had a history of stalking; he had formerly stalked child peace activist Samantha Smith until she died in a 1985 plane crash. He became obsessed with Schaeffer and then enraged at her after she had appeared in a sex scene in the movie Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, which had garnered her some positive notice among critics, but which Bardo claimed marked the loss of her innocence. He was unable to gain entry to the CBS studio where My Sister Sam was taped, but was able to acquire her home address from the Department of Motor Vehicles. He went to her home and shot her as she opened the front door, killing her instantly. He was carrying with him a copy of the notorious The Catcher in the Rye, which he claimed was coincidental. He remains in prison to this day. In the aftermath of this murder, DMV changed its policy and no longer gives addresses on request.
Margaret Mary Ray: One of the weirder sagas of obsessive fandom was that of Margaret Mary Ray, who achieved a kind of fame for herself as persistent stalker of late night television host David Letterman. It is believed that she suffered from schizophrenia and erotomania, which is the delusional belief that a particular person is in love with the sufferer. She was arrested in 1988 at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, driving Letterman’s stolen Porsche. At the time, she claimed to be Letterman’s wife and that her three-year-old son, who was in the car with her, was Letterman’s son. This began a series of eight total trespassing incidents on Letterman’s property. Her exploits even became fodder for Letterman’s comedy bits on the show, and Letterman was reluctant to press charges on her because he felt she was mentally ill. She did serve a combined 34 months in jail, however, for trespassing. She spent her final days in and out of treatment, and committed suicide by kneeling in front of an oncoming train in 1998.
Yolanda Saldivar: Saldivar is the woman who murdered popular Tejano singer Selena in 1995. Saldivar had led a fairly uneventful life as a nurse, although she had gotten in trouble for embezzlement from one of her employers. She became a fan of Tejano music, a Texas-based Spanish-language musical style, and of Tejano singer Shelly Lares in particular. She had approached Lares about starting a fan club, but Lares’ father wouldn’t permit it. They suggested she set up one for Selena, whom Saldivar disliked because she dominated the Tejano charts. After persistent calls to Selena’s father, she was eventually permitted to start the fan club and was even put in charge of Selena’s boutique in 1993. In 1995, Selena’s father fired her for embezzlement. Selena met Saldivar at a motel to retrieve financial records, and Saldivar shot her once in the back, killing her. Saldivar remains in prison, eligible for parole in 2025.
John Hinkley Jr.: John Hinkley was arrested for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Hinkley’s motivation was an apparent desire to impress the actress Jodie Foster, child star of the 1976 movie Taxi Driver. In the film, Robert DeNiro portrays a taxi driver who attempts to shoot a presidential candidate after being rebuffed romantically by a campaign worker. Hinkley became obsessed with Foster, who played a child prostitute in the film, and even moved to New Haven so that he could stalk her while she attended Yale University. He began taking a writing course at Yale, enabling him to slip notes to her under doorways. He also began calling her incessantly. Finally, he decided to assassinate President Carter to gain her attention, leading to an arrest in Nashville on a weapons charge. When Reagan was elected, he switched targets to the new President. He fired at the President outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, wounding him and three others. Hinkley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sentenced to a medical facility. Beginning in 2011, Hinkley has been allowed out of the hospital for short periods of time.
Paula Goodspeed: Twenty eight year old Paula Goodspeed gained brief notoriety for an appearance on season five of the popular FOX singing competition show, American Idol in 2006. Her appearance was awkward and subtly mocked by the video editors and host Ryan Seacrest, as she proclaimed herself a “fashion genius”. She noted in her interview before her audition that she was a big Paula Abdul fan, and that her fashion had been inspired by her. She also displayed numerous drawings of the American Idol judge, whom she said she had been sketching since childhood. Idol judge Simon Cowell noted the similarities in their names and their attire. Goodspeed then sang an off-key, off-rhythm, shouting version of “Proud Mary”. Duly rejected, she made the usual sore loser comments and was gone. In 2008 she sent flowers to Abdul’s Sherman Oaks residence, and then committed suicide by overdose in her car, parked outside.
Justin Massler: Massler will tell you he is Jesus Christ, Harry Potter, and Superman. All three are simply retellings of his own life. He has been engaged in stalking of numerous celebrities, but gained his biggest notoriety in 2010 when an infatuation with Ivanka Trump, daughter of real estate maven Donald Trump, compelled him to inundate the Trumps with a barrage of phone calls, texts, and tweets. He sent Ivanka jewelry from her own jewelry line, and threatened to commit suicide in one of her jewelry stores. The Trumps dealt with it by hiring a bounty hunter to extradite him from California to New York. He ultimately was charged with aggravated harassment and criminal contempt charges and sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. In 2015, he was in trouble again for e-mailing Ivanka’s brother-in-law and traveling to New York without permission.
Nathan Gale: In what can only be described as one of the most horrific rock concerts in history, Nathan Gale attacked Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Damageplan (formerly of Pantera) onstage in a hail of bullets from a 9mm Beretta pistol, killing the guitarist and three others and wounding seven others in a 2004 incident that was captured on videotape. Police officer James Niggemeyer then shot Gale dead while Gale was holding a hostage onstage. What compelled Gale to commit this horrific act of violence will probably never be known. Some have speculated that he was angry about the breakup of Pantera, and held Abbott responsible. Others have speculated that Gale believed Abbott had stolen a song he had written. Investigation revealed that Gale had caused a previous onstage incident at a Damageplan show six months earlier, in which he had busted up $5000 worth of equipment.
Dawnette Knight: “We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs.” This was only one of numerous threats directed at actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, wife of actor Michael Douglas, written by aspiring psychologist Dawnette Knight. Knight had been infatuated with Douglas ever since she had seen him in the 1987 film Fatal Attraction, a thriller about an obsessed stalker. She embarked on a lengthy series of threatening phone calls and letters to the Douglases and their family members in 2003 and 2004, many with violent overtones. She lucked out in court; facing a potential nineteen year sentence for stalking and criminal harassment, she was sentenced to only three years, with nearly half of it written off as time served. She apologized to Zeta-Jones for her actions, and has remained out of the news since her release.