Friday, June 26, 2009

In Search of...some celebrity farewells

It's been an odd week, and one rife with enough drama and tragedy to trump any made for TV movie anyone could possibly fabricate.

Amid a bad economy and discussions of healthcare reform, we've seen horrifying images of an Iranian government massacring their own citizens in the streets for dissenting from those in power. We've seen the rare cancellation and happy ending of an amber alert for two children who were found a day later unharmed and in good condition somewhere on the Appalachian trail where we'd still be looking for Mark Sanford had he not come clean about being in Argentina with his mistress. We're still treading uncertainly with an unstable leader in North Korea who would rather figure out how to deliver bombs than feed his own people. And lastly, we've lost three very familiar faces whose departure marked in some ways the end of something in each of our lives that we would rather not have said goodbye to.

I spend a lot of time pondering the meaning and lessons that can be gleaned from personal loss, and for those not interested in pop culture I'm sure it is baffling why the loss of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson would be personal at all, or mean anything of importance to any of us, but they do, and here's why: we relate these people to a time in our lives. And in Michael Jackson's case, he was a very real part of the soundtrack of many of our lives. The clothes and hairstyles we were wearing, the people we were in love with, and the dreams we had for our own futures are inextricably intertwined with these public figures and their work, and so their deaths feel personal.

Though Ed McMahon lived a pretty long time and a seemingly good life, his passing marks the end of an era that somehow was still within reach as long as he was alive - it was the era of Johnny Carson. Truthfully, I've thought Ed was the luckiest guy on the planet to have a career based on no discernable talent whatsoever other than being able to say, "Here's Johnny." But Johnny Carson was as much a part of my life as coffee...something I have every day, and somehow Ed McMahon's passing put a final end to that staple I grew up with. It is now solely a thing of the past that can only be revisited on reissued DVD collections, but will always be viewed with a tinge of melancholy.

Then there was Farrah Fawcett, someone who surprised us all more at the end of her life then at the height of her superstardom. I could talk about how she had the biggest selling poster ever or how she symbolized the all American girl next door, or how her enviable hair and bright perfect smile became the thing a generation of girls, myself included, aspired to, but all those things are trumped by her courage, zest for life, and willingness to be publically vulnerable and put a very real face on cancer. And seeing Ryan O'Neal by her side through it all makes their thirty year love affair one of the great romances of all time, in my opinion. Her documentary showed a bravery that I don't think I remotely possess, and for all her commercial sex appeal, I think that her bravery was and will remain the most attractive thing about her.

I was in midtown Manhattan last night when I heard the news of Michael Jackson's death. For some reason it didn't surprise me like it seemed to everyone else. I always knew he would die young, and the circumstances, though at this time still a little sketchy, are pretty irrelevant. He's gone.

At first I thought I must be in shock because I didn't feel anything in particular, but then I realized that I've always considered him a tortured soul in an unhappy life, and his death might be the first chance he's had to know any kind of peace. Maybe heaven for Michael Jackson is total anonymity. Maybe he's in a place now where no one needs him to sing and dance for his supper. Maybe he can walk down a street somewhere in solitude. God knows he never had that in his life here on earth.

For all the criticism and speculation in Michael's adult years, I've often wondered how he could have turned out any differently. He never had a childhood. His own massive talent was rewarded by all accounts by an abusive father cracking the whip so to speak...or maybe literally, who knows. So while we were all blissfully dancing around our little bedrooms to the Jackson 5, they were working their butts off, giving up the opportunity to be kids, let alone normal ones. And maybe fame and fortune is reward enough for some people, but a child as young as Michael Jackson was when he started has no ability to make that determination, and by the time he reached adulthood, what else did he know?

And as for all the allegations of child molesting, we'll never know for sure. The only ones who know for sure are the ones who were there, and I've always had my doubts about the veracity of the allegations, not because he was a celebrity, but because of a parent who would leave their child with a stranger to begin with, famous or not, and one who would take a cash settlement and walk away. If I had a child and someone abused them, no amount of money would silence me or make me stop until that person was behind bars. And because that didn't happen, I've always wondered about it. But that's just me.

As we say goodbye to the emcee, the actress/sex symbol, and the pop icon, I think it would be a fitting tribute if we took a cue from one of Michael Jackson's songs - "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change." - (Man in the Mirror)

I don't know the religious or spiritual beliefs of any of these three celebrities who died this week. However, my own beliefs are that they are in a better place, free of the physical, psychological, and often very public emotional pain that they knew in this lifetime. So to all of them I say, "Rest in peace."

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

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