Top 5 “Hot Mess” Celebrities in Need of Help Not Harm

Amanda Bynes is just the latest seriously ill subject of TMZ obsession and Twitter jokes.

First of all, a disclosure: I’m not a doctor, I’m a journalist. That means I can’t provide any medical diagnoses, only self-righteous opinions about pop culture, which I plan to offer about 3,000 characters from now. I don’t know for sure what’s medically wrong with the celebrities I mention below, but I do think they’ve all been victims of a print press and TV talk-show culture desperate to keep an audience share. And they’ve certainly been used by online media outlets as foolproof clickbait—and yes, I know there’s a certain irony in my mention of that.

But there is a difference between what Entertainment Weekly called Courtney Love recently—”the most famous hot mess in history”—and serious behavioral health problems. It’s tragic when the media, standup comedians, sketch-comedy writers, Emmy hosts, et cetera, mock someone who’s clearly suffering, granting cultural permission to belittle pain and make fun of non-celebs who have the same kinds of issues.

Below, five celebs that now or at some point really needed help but got cultural disdain instead.

1. Amanda Bynes. This former child actor has had a terrible year, mentally decompensating in front of our very eyes. She’s been delusional, grandiose, erratic—and because the Internet exists, she’s been all of those things very publicly. She needs help, desperately—everyone can see that. But even her former teacher, David Alan Grier, has gotten into the act, joking about her on Twitter—despite the fact that he told GlobalGrindTV that he hopes she gets some help. Hey, Grier, since you know her and said she was a sweetheart when you mentored her, you might want to stop making fun of her on social media now that she’s clearly very ill.

2. Britney Spears. Oh, how hilarious it was when Brit shaved her head and spoke in a British accent to the paparazzi, who took advantage of her confused, good-natured response to them by eliciting even more bizarre remarks and having a good laugh at her expense. The response to her painful public meltdown was remarkably similar to the reaction to Bynes. When things took a final dire turn and her life and the safety of her children were endangered, she was revealed to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalized. Naturally, as she recovered, the press rallied with stories of her redemption.
How generous.

3. Charlie Sheen. God, how much fun everyone had at Sheen’s expense while he was going around “winning” at things. Part of it was that Sheen himself seemed to be having so much fun, in a way. The punch lines wrote themselves. It really was the big bang of celebrity meltdowns, in part because Sheen took such full advantage of social media. Was it bipolar disorder? Cocaine? Both? Who knows? It was really, really sad, though—so much so, even TMZ blanched.

4. Amy Winehouse. Not only were there countless Amy Winehouse jokes while she was alive, they continued to be told and minted after she died. But the reaction to Winehouse was less vicious, perhaps because she was staggeringly talented in a way that Bynes, Spears and Sheen are not. Every musician who worked with her proclaimed respect and admiration—and worry. Tony Bennett tried to help. Writers and family spoke out about their concern. The public offered pleas. She did get help ultimately—but not in time.

5. Lindsay Lohan. What are we to make of this girl? She doesn’t display the same radical symptoms that Bynes does. She seems to have a grasp on the narrative of her life, however depressing its arc may be. She does an incredible amount of self-justifying, but she does so fairly logically. Is Lohan more a case of arrested development, a fated child star with terrible parents? Is she a drug addict? Whatever the answer, accountability has been lax. She always gets a hall pass somehow. This is a woman crying out for psychotherapy—instead she ends up on Saturday Night Live making fun of herself. That’s not going to work.