How Celebrities Face Their Worst Fears

What are the strange things that scare famous people the most? The answers may surprise you.

The Fear: Whoopie Goldberg wasn’t always petrified of flying. But sitting on a hotel balcony in San Diego in 1978, she witnessed a mid-air collision so terrifying it grounded her for the next thirty years. Her New York-to-LA treks would entail a luxury bus, two drivers working in shifts and 24 hours of nonstop travel. In 2009, faced with her prospect of producing Sister Act overseas, she had little choice but to take on her fears. Sensing a major PR coup, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson convinced Whoopie to take his firm's one-day “Flying Without Fear” course—on live TV! Flight simulators would help her recognize fear patterns; a touchy-feely treatment called Thought Field Therapy would relieve negativity through annoying taps on the upper body and hands. Finally, a short test flight would “update” the flying experience, complete with sedative-wielding doctors. The Resolution: “No, I haven’t gotten over it,” Goldberg later admitted of her aviaphobia. She managed to pull off the transatlantic jaunts, but still craves wheels and pavement. “I feel like I shouldn’t be flying,” she told CNN. “I should be rolling in my bus.”

The Fear: Yes, he’s ok with flying. But Richard Branson has demons of his own: Despite his image as a spotlight-craving badass, Branson has a lifelong dread of public speaking. When he launched Virgin in the early 80s, his mentor, entrepreneur Freddie Laker, told him he had to make himself the public face of the company. “I remember thinking, ‘That's easy for you to say,’ because I was utterly terrified,” says Branson. The Resolution: Branson relies on a slew of mind games to get him through his numerous speaking gigs. He forces himself to imagine he’s in his living room, chatting with pals. He spends weeks writing and rehearsing seemingly off-the-cuff speeches. And he relies heavily on videos and Q&A’s to shift attention elsewhere. Branson’s methods have been so successful that now he delivers speeches on—you guessed it—“The Art of Public Speaking.”

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