This category includes movie stars, elite professional athletes, and the heads of major corporations. Tom Cruise is one; that character actor you recognize instantly but can't quite name is probably not an all-purpose public figure.

As with public officials, the passage of time does not cause this class of individuals to lose their public figure status as long as the original source of their fame is of continued interest to the public.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures

The second category of public figures is called "limited-purpose" public figures. These are individuals who "have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved." Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (U.S. 1974). They are the individuals who deliberately shape debate on particular public issues, especially those who use the media to influence that debate.

This category also includes individuals who have distinguished themselves in a particular field, making them "public figures" regarding only those specific activities. These limited-purpose public figures are not the Kobe Bryants, who are regarded as all-purpose public figures, but rather the journeymen basketball players of the league.

For limited-purpose public figures, the actual malice standard extends only as far as defamatory statements involve matters related to the topics about which they are considered public figures. To return to our basketball example, the actual malice standard would extend to statements involving the player's basketball career; however, it would not extend to the details of his marriage.

As regards figures who become prominent through involvement in a current controversy, the law is unfortunately rather murky. In general, emphasis is placed not on whether the controversy is a subject of public interest, but rather:

The depth of the person's participation in the controversy.

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