This word for a celestial ball of flaming hydrogen dates back to the Old English word steorra. From the Vespasian Psalter, c.825:
Hergað hine alle steorran & leht.
(Plundered him all the stars & light.)
Stars, of course, have various metaphorical senses. The association of stars and astrology is ancient and the use of star to refer to an otherworldly influence dates to the Middle English period. From the poem The Owl and the Nightingale, c.1250:
Hwat constu, wrecche þing, of storre?
(What do you know, wretched thing, of stars?)
The use of star to mean one’s destiny is Shakespearean. From 1601’s Twelfth Night (II.v):
In my stars I am aboue thee, but be not affraid of greatnesse.
And from 1602’s Hamlet (II.ii):
Lord Hamlet is a Prince out of thy Starre.
From here it is a short leap to someone of great ability or celebrity. A quote upon the death of actor David Garrick in 1779, published in George Selwyn and His Contemporaries (1844):
The little stars, who hid their diminished rays in his presence, begin to abuse him.
By the early 19th century, this sense had progressed from actual metaphor to simple noun. From the 1824 A Complete History and Development of All the Extraordinary Circumstances and Events Connected with the Murder of Mr. Weare:
Carter...was at a loss for a star in the pugilistic hemisphere to produce him a crowded house.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton