Was Mahler the harbinger of today's celebrity cult?

In  the May issue of Standpoint, out now, I examine the public way that Gustav Mahler died, 100 years ago on May 18.

There had never been a death like this before, the details of what he ate, what he said and how he slept being pored over in newspapers, becoming the subject of middle-class dinner-table talk and at least one novel in progress.

The media response to Mahler’s death seems eerily familiar to those who have witnessed Princess Diana’s, Marilyn Monroe’s and Michael Jackson’s. The dynamic was set at the dawn of the media age.

You can read the essay here or, if you are a Chinese reader, here.

Here’s the opening….


Turning point in the fame game: Gustav Mahler’s death mask

The cast of characters could have walked out of the pilot for a television period serial. The great musician is dying, his trophy wife at the bedside with a letter from her lover. One of the doctors romances her. Another makes the cover of Time magazine….

The death of Gustav Mahler 100 years ago, at the dawn of the mass media age, marked the end of personal privacy for public figures and its replacement by a celebrity cult in which no medical confidence was sacrosanct and death itself was a springboard for survivor fame and media fortunes.

In Chinese:

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  • One of Mahler’s doctors made the cover of Time Magazine? When?? Time Magazine didn’t exist in 1911. It was founded in 1923.

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