Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Money, & Happiness

 width= Years ago in an interview with Vanity Fair, Johnny Depp aligned himself by association with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, and especially Marlon Brando, who (like Depp) once owned an island.

One thing that celebrities share with regular folks is that we all like to associate ourselves with people whom we admire, and fancy the notion that we’re a little like them. Yet in reality we often are not like our idols. We often display neither the courage nor the insight of those who have become our icons—for if we did, we would turn our attention away from them and turn it inward to listen for the Christ within.

This fact is clearly revealed in Johnny Depp’s recitation of an old adage on happiness that sounds profound but really isn’t.1 Depp justifies his pursuit of wealth by saying, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness. But it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”

One can’t help but feel that Depp’s idols would be shaking their heads at such talk, especially his old colleague Marlon Brando. Among all of the actors of his generation, it was Brando who best personified Kerouac’s recognition that money (and fame) could neither buy happiness nor the yacht to sail up to its banks.

Brando in his later years became the ultimate “fool,” the jester of the celebrity court of Hollywood (who can forget his eccentric barefoot interview with Larry King), and all of his excesses were ways of escape, as well as modern day parables on the trappings of ego and pride. At the same time he held steadfast to his own sense of right and wrong (career be damned): principles that dramatically revealed themselves in 1972 when Brando rejected his Academy Award and sent Sacheen Littlefeather to explain why.

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” said Jesus of Nazareth. Of all the actors of the 20th century, none understood that better than Marlon Brando.

  1. Studies have shown that individuals typically get richer during their lifetimes, but not happier. According to happiness studies, it is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one’s life. Once people have enough money to cover the necessities of life, money has little impact on happiness. []

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