18th century obits created modern celebrity culture

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Public fascination with celebrity figures such as Kerry Katona and Jade Goody can be traced back to the rise of newspapers and magazines in the 18th Century and their popular obituaries section.

Obituaries provided an insight into the lives of high profile personalities who became the objects of scandal and public fascination, or the first "celebrities", according to findings published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Researchers from Warwick University challenge the notion that the 'modern celebrity' was born with the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, instead they say the cult of the celebrity began a century earlier.

Dr Elizabeth Barry, from the university's Engish department, who authored the paper said: "Celebrity – short-lived fame – became a feature of British society, and the untimely or dramatic death began to create as well as test this new kind of fame.

"The obituary plays a key role in this process and represents an important mechanism for introducing modern notions of fame and celebrity into British society."

Dr Barry idenifies 'The Gentleman's Magazine' in 1789 which gave an account of the life of Isaac Tarrat, a man who impersonated a doctor and told people their fortunes - wearing a fur cap and a worn damask night gown.

His death notice was read widely, according to Dr Barry, who added that people from all walks of life could now become famous for being eccentric, rather than for historically momentous achievements.

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