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Comedian Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend the Steve and Marjorie Harvey foundation benefit at the Valentino Boutique on November 29, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
Comedian Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend the Steve and Marjorie Harvey foundation benefit at the Valentino Boutique on November 29, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

When gurus fall, betrayed devotees drop the gloves Add to ...

"Men respect standards - get some!"

Wise words from Steve Harvey, who penned his massively successful relationships tome, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, in 2009.

Many women, especially those in the black community, loved the book, seeing Mr. Harvey as some benevolent mustachioed wingman, a loyal seeing-eye dog guiding them through the Machiavellian male brain.

His image has taken a bit of a nosedive, thanks to three brooding YouTube videos posted by ex-wife Mary Harvey last month. From a lilac-striped couch, Ms. Harvey accuses the relationship guru of infidelity and generally roguish behaviour throughout their marriage, which ended abruptly in 2005 as Mr. Harvey took up with Marjorie, his current wife.

Mr. Harvey is hitting back: He has taken his ex to court for allegedly spreading false information and breaking a gag order on speaking about their failed marriage. Marjorie, meanwhile, plans to sue her predecessor for defamation.

"I was who I was, and I am who I am and I am cool with both," Mr. Harvey tweeted on Tuesday.

"I know God ain't through with me yet. I am not perfect. I am just trying to do the best I can," the born-again Christian continued Thursday.

But the damage has been done, and fans feel scorned.

"Trying to act like a minister whilst he got dirt under his fingernails," one wrote on the urban website MediaTakeout.com.

"I seriously hate Steve Harvey right now," wrote another. "I was such a big fan of him. My whole fam and I used to listen to the Steve Harvey morning show every morning."

It isn't the first lapse for a self-help demigod or role model: Think supergolfer Tiger Woods, televangelist Jim Bakker or even Phil McGraw, who has been embroiled in several lawsuits related to his methods on the Dr. Phil show. The cases make clear the tenuous relationship between icons and the fans who treat their advice like gospel, as well as the profound betrayal fans feel when their idols fall.

The reaction is "rooted in the expectation that the other person is and represents something," says Cornel Sandvoss, author of Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. "If that's no longer the case, the bond between fan and fan object breaks down," says Dr. Sandvoss, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Surrey.

Self-help fans are particularly vulnerable: Often consuming the literature in times of great distress, many treat the "expert" as infallible.

"A lot of women view these books as 'how-to' guides and fail to give them critical consideration," says Jareesa Tucker, who blogs about relationships at Black Girl Unlost.

Ms. Harvey, after all, claimed she was compelled to speak out on YouTube a full six years after her divorce thanks to a self-help book, and this one had history: Shanae Hall's Why Do I Have to Think Like a Man was a direct rebuttal of Mr. Harvey's teachings.

"Women are extremely invested in the marriage debate and black women even more so, given the dismal stats regarding black women and marriage," Ms. Tucker, 28, said from Minneapolis.

The percentage of married African-American women had declined, from 62 per cent in 1950 to 36.1 per cent in 2000, according to a survey from the Joint Center Databank.

"Steve fulfilled a role of father/uncle/older brother for a lot of women, in terms of the advice he gave and the way in which he presented it. Women who didn't have those types of male influences around seem to be the women who were really invested in Steve's message.

"In some ways, they felt like they'd learned their father or uncle had a checkered relationship past."

Much of the fan reaction comes down to "abandonment and betrayal - who can I really trust?" said Marion Goertz, a Toronto-based marriage and family therapist.

However, she points out that, "Trusting the external expert isn't a new concept, someone out there who the hype tells us has the answers that we are seeking. Look at the Bernie Madoffs of this world."

Still, Ms. Goertz and other therapists suggest self-help addicts should try trusting their own instincts more often.

"Some people live their lives through self-help books because they don't trust themselves or their own way of thinking," says Vikki Stark, a Montreal-based family therapist who is herself the author of a self-help book, Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal.

"We want to imbue these people with a certain godlike ability as if they have the answers to our lives, the way people become slavishly addicted to Dr. Phil or Oprah without recognizing that you really have to think it through for yourself."

Still, Ms. Stark believes the allegations shouldn't "totally negate everything that [Steve Harvey]had to say."

"Even flawed people can sometimes say valuable things."

Indeed, that's how other fans see it.

As one tweeted, "Oh please. Who better to teach the ladies the game than a (hopefully former) player? Who better to put women on to the tricks dogs play than a (hopefully former) dog?

"I'm still riding with Steve. His book was quite informative."

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Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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