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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 April 2019

Mike Thalassitis's death shows the dark side of overnight fame and why we must do better

The 26-year-old became the second 'Love Island' contestant to take their own life after leaving the show

'Love Island' star Mike Thalassitis was found dead aged 26. Instagram / Mike Thalassitis
'Love Island' star Mike Thalassitis was found dead aged 26. Instagram / Mike Thalassitis

The death of 26-year-old Mike Thalassitis is devastating for so many reasons. First and foremost, because he was a young man, with his whole life ahead of him, who clearly felt he had nowhere left to turn. Secondly, because I, along with the rest of the UK, watched along as he appeared in the 2017 series of Love Island – painted to be the show’s villain and branded as ‘Muggy Mike’ – something he was continually referred to up until his death, and horrifically, even afterwards by some media outlets. And thirdly, because sadly, his is not a one-off case.

In June 2018, another former Love Island star took her own life. Sophie Gradon had appeared in the second series of the show, and had been the victim of prolific online trolling. What happened in Thalassitis's case is not yet clear, and also not our business, but regardless of the reasons, what is clear is that the effects of today’s overnight celebrity culture are beginning to rear their harmful heads.

In 2019, all it takes is one moment, one meme, one viral video for an ordinary person to become, in the eyes of the internet, extraordinary, thrust into a worldwide spotlight armed with no prior training. To be famous has always come with the largely unwanted side dish of opinion and scrutiny, but in a social media society, that side dish becomes more of a Bruce Bogtrotter-style dessert, force-fed down the throats of those who massively overestimated their appetites.

And regardless of your opinion of reality television and the stars it produces, there’s no denying they face some of the worst scrutiny out there. People seem to feel more invested in the lives of those who have previously let them in, and many believe that gives them the right to comment on and attack their every move. It doesn't.

Editorial use only Mandatory Credit: Photo by James Gourley/ITV/REX/Shutterstock (9773969aa) Villa 'Love Island' TV Show, Series 4, Episode 57, The Final, Majorca, Spain - 30 Jul 2018
'Love Island' producers have responded to criticism, saying: 'Care for our Islanders is a process the show takes very seriously and is a continuous process for all those taking part in the show.' Rex Features

Some might, and have, argued reality stars know what they are opening themselves up to when they take the gig, but I don’t think anyone can prepare themselves for the level of nastiness that can breed in the dark corners of the internet, no matter how wide your eyes are open as you enter.

You just need to look at the reaction of the former co-stars of Gradon and Thalassitis. These young people, all in their 20s, argue that – aside from a quick mental health assessment post and pre-show, still in the safety bubble of their created reality – they were given no follow up support.

Friends of 'Love Island' star Mike Thalassitis say post-show pressure to 'live as a character' contributed to his his death. GC Images
Friends of 'Love Island' star Mike Thalassitis say post-show pressure to 'live as a character' contributed to his his death. GC Images

Dom Lever, who appeared in series three of the show alongside Thalassitis, tweeted: “You get a psychological evaluation before and after you go on the show but hands down once you are done on the show you don't get any support unless you're number one."

Jessica Rose, who appeared in the same series, said: “Shows offer you ‘support’ but realistically it’s only while you are in their care. Minute you get home & are no longer making them money it’s out of sight out of mind. There should be ongoing support & also financial advice. Life after these shows isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

As a young person, finding your way in the world is never plain sailing, and when you’re navigating the stormy seas of social media fame, it can be downright dangerous.

This was echoed by former contestant Malin Anderson, who recently lost her newborn daughter. “WAKE UP @LoveIsland !!!!,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

Of course, this isn't just a problem with that one particular show. There are countless stories with similar endings. As a young person, finding your way in the world is never plain sailing, and when you’re navigating the stormy seas of social media fame, it can be downright dangerous. Clearly, it takes its toll on mental health and clearly, there needs to be more support available – from the people who made them famous, from their peers, and most importantly, from communities both on and offline.

Thalassitis’s death feels all the more shocking because people did feel like they knew him. They judged him as “muggy” and as someone who it was okay to judge, and no matter how thick someone’s skin may appear, words hurt.

I suspect there are many people who joined in with the “Muggy Mike” jibes feeling a tinge of guilt right now, and they should, we all should.

It shouldn’t take death to respect a life and this is the moment to realise that we must do better.

Updated: March 18, 2019 11:54 AM

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