Social Influence of an International Celebrity: Responses to the Death of Princess Diana


  • William J. Brown,

    1. William J. Brown (PhD, University of Southern California) is a professor and research fellow in the School of Communication Arts at Regent University.
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  • Michael D. Basil,

    1. Michael D. Basil (PhD, Stanford University) is an associate professor of management at the University of Lethbridge.
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  • Mihai C. Bocarnea

    1. Mihai C. Bocarnea (PhD, Regent University) is an assistant professor in the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University.
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When Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in 1997, a massive public outpouring of grief occurred. Six years after her death, the public and the tabloids still debate whether the paparazzi were to blame for her fatal car accident. Previous studies of celebrities suggest that psychological involvement with a celebrity will determine to what extent stories of the celebrity and their subsequent social influence will affect the general public. The same process was examined in this study of Princess Diana. To study this phenomenon, a survey administered immediately after her fatal car accident compared people's level of involvement with Princess Diana to their viewing of stories about her funeral and their attitudes toward the press. Results showed that gender and age similarities predicted involvement with Princess Diana. This involvement, in turn, predicted people's media use in response to her death and their attitudes toward the press. This finding reinforces previous studies that have shown involvement is an important variable that influences both media consumption and media effects. The authors consider implications of this research for investigating the growing international influence of celebrities through mass media.