Imagine you’re 13. Remember how awkward those early teenage years were? Transitioning from child to young woman, discovering your identity, making new friends, crushing on boys — all the usual stuff. Then imagine doing all of this just as your stunning big sister becomes the most famous actress in Hollywood. As you pursue your own acting career, waitressing to make ends meet, you watch as your big sis wins a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. You watch as she gets paid $25 million dollars for a movie and is included in People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” feature — eleven times. Imagine for a second how hard it must be to be a sibling of a Hollywood megastar.
A-listers have chefs and trainers and personal assistants and lawyers and a whole army of publicists to shape their A-list life and to advise them in the face of a media storm. They are protected and preened, their every whim catered to. But what about the people around them — the families that knew them before fame came calling? Where are their protectors, media advisors, and mentors to help them deal with forever comparing themselves to their successful sister/brother/cousin/aunt/uncle?
Above is a photo of a young, fresh-faced Nancy Motes, who died at the age of 37 this past Sunday in Los Angeles. She was Julia Roberts’ half sister; they share the same mother.
On Monday, her family confirmed to People magazine that Nancy passed away in what appears to be an overdose. “It is with deep sadness that the family of Nancy Motes … confirms that she was found dead in Los Angeles yesterday of an apparent drug overdose,” the statement read. “There is no official report from the Coroner’s office yet. The family is both shocked and devastated.”
Motes was discovered in the bath by her fiancé John Dilbeck. She was working as a production assistant on Glee, but in the past had been an aspiring actress. Last summer Nancy gave an interview to the New York Daily News, where she claimed to be “incredibly hurt and very sad” over “not-so-nice” comments Julia Roberts allegedly made to her over the years about her weight (at one point Motes weighed 300 pounds). Motes paid for her own gastric bypass surgery in 2010 and brought her weight down by almost half. She described her relationship with her A-list half sister as “a work in progress. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, nor do I think it’s going to be fixed at this point by me just getting skinny.”
Prior to her death, Nancy had taken to Twitter to vent her anger. On January 19th she tweeted: “So my ‘sister’ said that with all her friends & fans she doesn’t need any more love. Just so you all know ‘America’s Sweetheart’ is a B****!!” She continued, “Do you want to be a fan of someone so cruel? She’s not even that good of an actress.” These and additional emotional tweets had been deleted by Tuesday morning.
No one will ever know the true dynamics between a family, as everyone will bring their own perspective. Roberts, who has yet to comment on her sister’s death, cancelled an appearance at the Academy Award nominees lunch and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.
Roberts isn’t the only megastar to lose a younger sibling to an apparent overdose. Eric Douglas, half-brother to Michael Douglas and youngest son of Kirk Douglas, died of an accidental overdose from the combined effects of alcohol and painkillers in 2004 at the age of 46. Joesph Gordon-Levitt’s older brother Dan Gordon-Levitt died of an alleged drug overdose in 2010 at the age of 36.
It must be incredibly difficult to live in the shadows of an über-successful sibling. Everywhere you turn you see their face staring out from magazines and billboards promoting their latest film/TV show/book. How do you feel successful in your own right without the million dollar pay checks, the Bel-Air mansion, the famous friends, and the luxury lifestyle? You know your sibling as just plain, old XYZ and yet everywhere you go people treat her like royalty. It must be tremendously hard to deal with.
Perhaps instead of publicists advising stars on what to say in their next magazine interview, they should be focusing on the star’s family, helping them adjust to this unknown life — this unusual and unasked-for set of circumstances. Just like no one can prepare an actor or a singer for sudden, overnight fame, no one can prepare their family for what these consequences — good and bad — might have for them.