What Do Einstein, Madonna and Kim Kardashian All Have in Common?
Many people think fame is either a result of special achievements or happens by accident. However, there is far more to it than that, as confirmed by an analysis of how people as different as Albert Einstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna and Kim Kardashian all became famous. Dr Rainer Zitelmann delves into this below.
At first glance, it seems absurd to mention genius scientists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking in the same breath as Madonna or Kim Kardashian because their personalities could not be more different. What could possibly connect a giant of the intellectual stage such as the physicist Steven Hawking with the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, whose IQ tests were always far below-average, or Princess Diana, whose only notable awards at school were a “Most Popular Girl” trophy and a prize for the best-kept guinea pig?
As different as they are, they are all among the small handful of people on this planet to become absolute masters of the art of self-marketing. One might argue that they became so famous simply because they were the best in their respective fields or, like Diana, particularly likeable. But if you take a closer look, you will see that the scale of their fame often far exceeded their achievements. Take Stephen Hawking, probably the most famous scientist of his time. He was well aware that: “To my colleagues, I’m just another physicist, but to the wider public I became possibly the best-known scientist in the world.” An ingenious self-marketer, Hawking enjoyed a far higher profile than many Nobel Prize winners, although he never won the Nobel Prize and, to his peers, he was by no means the exceptional scientist the public perceived him to be.
Madonna is a magnificent and extraordinarily successful performing artist. According to Billboard’s Hot 100 Artists ranking, Madonna is the most successful female solo artist of all time and achieves second place in the overall ranking, just behind The Beatles. Time included her in its 25 Most Powerful Women of the 20th Century list. And yet experts all agree that Madonna’s extraordinary success has little to do with outstanding vocal abilities. Camille Barbone, Madonna’s mentor and early manager, once observed: “Gifted? No. She was a meat-and-potatoes musician. She had just enough skill to write a song or play guitar.” In 1995, Madonna was chosen to play the lead in the film version of the musical Evita. Madonna – world-famous and at the height of her career – enlisted an esteemed voice coach to help improve her distinctly average vocal technique.
The same cannot be said for Muhammad Ali. Not only was he the most famous athlete of the twentieth century, but he was also the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world three times. His achievements in boxing were truly exceptional. But they were not the decisive factor behind his incredible popularity. Muhammad Ali – born Cassius Clay Jr. – was a major celebrity even before his first successful title fight against the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston, in 1964. A year before his victory, Time devoted a full front page to Clay. Having analysed all of Ali’s fights, his biographer, Jonathan Eig, provides an honest assessment: “By all these statistical measures, the man who called himself ‘The Greatest’ was below average for much of his career.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the most famous bodybuilder of all time, was without doubt outstandingly talented. He won the ultimate accolade in bodybuilding, the Mr Olympia title, on an astonishing seven occasions. But other bodybuilders at the time – including Frank Zane – had more harmonious physiques. Experts agree that Schwarzenegger owed his seventh Mr Olympia title solely to his celebrity status, not his muscle development. And after Schwarzenegger retired his posing briefs, there were bodybuilders with significantly more muscle mass, such as Ronnie Coleman, who became Mr Olympia eight times. But unless you happen to be a bodybuilding expert, you have probably never even heard of Coleman, whereas pretty much everyone on the planet has heard of Schwarzenegger. He was tremendously successful in a variety of domains but, above all, he was a brilliant salesman. In his autobiography, he writes: “No matter what you do in life, selling is part of it … But you can do the finest work and if people don’t know, you have nothing! In politics it’s the same: no matter whether you’re working on environmental policy or education or economic growth, the most important thing is to make people aware.”
One of the most famous social media celebrities is Kim Kardashian. The well-known American TV presenter Barbara Walters didn’t mince her words when she accused Kim of never having done anything particularly special: “You don’t really act; you don’t sing; you don’t dance … You don’t have any – forgive me – any talent!” Undeniably, Kim had failed as an actress, singer and dancer. But like few others before or after her, she has, undoubtedly, mastered the art of self-marketing.
Another genius of self-marketing was Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity.
Another genius of self-marketing was Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity. Can Einstein’s scientific achievements explain his fame? Of course not. Even though he fascinated the general public, newspapers devoted extensive front-page coverage to his every move and everyone knew his name, hardly anyone understood his theory. Charlie Chaplin, who often appeared together with Einstein, offered the following explanation: “They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you because no one understands you.” In an interview with a journalist, Einstein once observed: “You ask whether it makes a ludicrous impression on me to observe the excitement of the crowd for my teaching and my theory, of which it, after all, understands nothing? I find it funny and at the same time interesting to observe this game.”
What many people don’t realise is that Einstein spent a great deal of time and considerable effort marketing himself. His fame did not arrive out of the blue and was certainly no coincidence. And it definitely defies explanation in terms of his scientific achievements as a physicist alone, which, after all, no layman can judge.
Although it may seem so to the outside world, famous people do not become famous by accident. Nor do they become famous as a result of their achievements alone. The most important thing is the WILL to become famous and the – conscious or intuitive – mastery of the strategies of self-marketing. Only those who know how to make a brand out of themselves – just like a product – become famous.
About the author:
Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist. He is a world-renowned author who has written 25 books and is also a successful businessman and a real estate investor. His latest book: How People Become Famous: Geniuses of Self-Marketing from Albert Einstein to Kim Kardashian
(https://how-people-become-famous.com) was published in November 2021.