Current Events

Little Can Be Done When Fans' Obsessions Turn Deadly

Last Friday Christina Grimmie, a 22-year-old singer who had risen to fame online and after appearing on the NBC's The Voice, was shot and killed while signing autographs after a show in Florida. The murderer, a man named Kevin James Loibl, also killed himself. His motivations are still unknown, but the tragedy may turn out to be another case of a fan turning on an entertainer he'd become obsessed over.

That's speculation on my part, but those cases seem to be unfortunately common, and while creepy celebrity stalkers usually don't murder the object of their desire, it happens often enough to raise questions about whether anything can be done to protect famous people from dangerous fans.

When I was in a band that toured around the country, I saw enough to realize that a few people get spookily obsessed with performers. Even though I wasn't famous, I had a few encounters with folks who took things into scary territory when we met face to face after the show. For actual celebrities, things are obviously much worse.

So is there anything that can be done to make concerts and other events 100 percent safe for performers who might have dangerously obsessed fans? Sadly, the answer is probably no. We live in a world where guns seem to easily find their way into the hands of the wrong people, and where what usually passes for concert security varies from "none at all" to "a pat-down and scan with a metal detector." From what I've seen, even those more rigorous safety checks don't seem to catch everything.

Grimmie is the latest talent to have their life cut short by a deranged and armed fan, another name on a depressingly long list of stars to have met such a violent fate. On December 8, 2004, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, the virtuosic guitarist for Pantera, had just begun playing a set with his new band Damageplan in Columbus, Ohio when a man named Nathan Gale shot him in the head three times, killing the musician instantly. Gale then murdered three other people in the club, and wounded seven others, before a policeman responding to the murder spree shot and killed Gale. The killer's motives were never fully discovered, but six months previously he'd gotten into an altercation at another Damageplan concert and had to be forcibly removed from the stage, suggesting a long-term obsession with the band.

Being killed onstage is fortunately rare, but could anything be done to make such a monstrous act less likely? Sure, concert security could begin arming themselves, but would the average person feel good being watched over by armed guards while they're trying to enjoy a show? I hear plenty of people grumbling about being searched at the door already, so it's fair to ask how much more scrutiny the average concert goer would put up with before deciding to stay home.

It's also not just events directly related to concerts or planned autograph sessions that have proven dangerous to famous musicians. On December 8, 1980, 24 years to the day before Dimebag Darrell was killed, John Lennon was shot four times in the back by a fan of his named Mark David Chapman, and died a few minutes later. Chapman had been a huge fan of Lennon but had become obsessed and filled with rage for various delusional reasons, and had planned on killing the singer for a long period of time before actually doing so.
Stalkers and unhinged fans obsessed with celebrities are nothing new — everyone from Adrianne Curry, George Harrison, Lindsay Lohan, and even David Letterman have had bad experiences with potentially dangerous people who had an unhealthy interest in them. But fans like stars to be at least somewhat accessible to them, and that can become deadly if the wrong person is able to get close enough to a celebrity. Texans can hardly forget Tejano icon Selena, who was shot and killed by the president of her own fan club in March 1995. Sadly, without turning concerts into a prison-like environment, or short of preventing fans having any contact with their favorite stars at all, it's likely that the sad fate that Christina Grimmie met will continue to happen occasionally. No matter how good security is, a truly dedicated person with a deadly obsession can probably find a way to attack the celebrity they're stalking.

Limiting peoples' access to guns might help, but it seems pretty obvious that's unlikely to change anytime soon. About the only thing that might help is for other people to remain vigilant, and look for warning signs that someone might be up to no good. If nothing else, trying to intervene when a friend or loved one seems to be developing an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity might help to prevent tragedies like the one that befell Christina Grimmie.
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.