J.K.Rowling: Lessons on Fame & Glee’s Cory Monteith

J._K._Rowling_2010LONDON – What’s not to love about J.K. Rowling?

The best-selling, mega-successful author of the Harry Potter series has always been a winner with the public. She’s wise…she’s modest…she’s even funny. (If you’ve never heard her commencement speech at Harvard University a couple of years back, drop whatever you’re doing and listen to this…)!

But most of all, I think we all deeply respect and revere this one-time-welfare-mom who decided one day in her mid-30s while working as a divorced secretary that she would take a chance on a dream and create what would eventually become the first of a series of books that has defined a generation.

But Rowling outdid herself this past weekend when it was revealed that she had secretly written a crime novel under the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, a (purported) first-time novelist. The book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, had opened to high critical praise when it was published in April, but had failed to attract much in the way of commercial success, selling but 1,500 copies.

Until now. Within hours of the revelation that Rowling was the actual author (an editor at Britain’s Sunday Times was the sleuth), the book rocketed to top the Amazon best-seller charts.

And that, right there, is the beauty of J.K. Rowling. She didn’t want anyone to know. Though she could have made millions (more!)  – and now, will – off of this book, she actually preferred to remain in anonymity. As she put it: “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience…it has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

As I thought about Rowling’s decision to publish anonymously, it occurred to me that – for all the personal hardship she endured as she set out to write the Harry Potter series – perhaps it was a blessing that success came to her (relatively) late in life. Somehow, despite all the attention she’s garnered, Rowling has that bit more self-awareness and groundedness than most people who come into fame suddenly. And because she was already grown-up when she became famous, was able to manage it better. Simply put, she didn’t need fame to make her complete.

I was thinking about this because almost precisely at the same moment that I learned about Rowling’s secret novel I also learned about the sudden and tragic death of Glee star Cory Monteith – a.k.a. Finn. Although I haven’t watched Glee in several years, I was an early fan, and it was hard not to mourn the loss of the baby-faced 31 year-old actor, who had struggled on and off with drug and alcohol addiction for years.

Although the cause of Monteith’s death is still unknown  – and police do not suspect foul play – it’s hard not to imagine that Monteith’s drug problems  – which apparently began in early adolescence – were not exacerbated by his sudden, sky-rocketing fame in recent years as the star of this hit show. Much like Friends star Matthew Perry (Chandler) and the late, great Amy Winehouse, younger celebrities just don’t have the same emotional fortitude and maturity to cope with the exigencies of fame and the non-stop scrutiny – both internal and external – that it brings. Although it’s far from inevitable, the road to Hollywood is paved with the carcasses of young talent who burned out early under the pressure of doing too much too soon — or who couldn’t handle the adulation.

Which makes me admire J.K. Rowling all the more. And feel a little bit sad that people like Cory Monteith didn’t have time to learn the hard way.

Delia Lloyd is an American journalist living in London. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Guardian. She was the London correspondent for Politics Daily and blogged about women and politics at The Washington Post’s She the People. She blogs about adulthood at RealDelia.

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  • I want to find it charming that she put out a book under another name and only sold 1500 copies, but as someone who has struggled to get my own novel out there and simply want it to be read, it’s a little hard. I don’t know if it’s exactly jealousy, but it’s tough to watch someone who has earned the kind of name recognition most authors only dream of, essentially put on a disguise to kind of slum around with the rest of us. I don’t begrudge her her success, I just am not in a place to understand limiting her potential audience for her work by not embracing who she is from the start of its release.

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