I keep hearing over and over again that bad things come in 3’s, and this past week was one of the saddest examples of it. With Ed McMahon passing last Tuesday, that represented another end to the Carson era of The Tonight Show. This morning, we were informed of the passing of Farrah Fawcett who lost her long hard fight with cancer. At that point many of us were wondering what could happen next. We all felt like the worst had yet to be heard. Later that day, the worst finally happened, and it spread like the nastiest of wildfires:
“Oh no! He’s dead? Michael Jackson?? Oh no, I liked him!”
The news of his death first came through TMZ, and I was immediately skeptical. Why the hell is everyone going there for their news?? It’s not exactly the most reputable of news services for crying out loud! Everyone in the office I worked at suddenly created a lot of noise and none of us could believe it. I refused to believe it just because goddamn TMZ said so. All the other news websites reported that he suffered cardiac arrest, but none of them confirmed his death right away. An hour later, it was all but made clear that the “King of Pop” had indeed passed away. It’s still too much of a shock to take in. Despite his controversies, he left quite a legacy that will never be forgotten.
But along with the deaths of Farrah and Ed, it continues the tradition that Hollywood really has tremendous respect for the dead, but none for the living. Until they passed, they were collectively being ridiculed for a time for their various troubles. Ed was having problems with paying off his house, and the media made him look like he was holding out on a lot of people he owed money to. Plus, he broke his neck in an accident which made it very difficult for him to work. As for Farrah, she did that bizarre video for Playboy and then made an even more bizarre appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. People seem to remember the most embarrassing moments of a celebrity’s life more so than the good ones. As for Michael… well, it’s a long list.
It’s sad that it takes a death of a celebrity to sometimes truly appreciate what they left us with. This is not to say they were never respected at all, but sooner or later we get into the habit of taking these big names down off their pedestals. That is, if they don’t do damage to themselves first. We love to see our heroes suffer, perhaps to see if they can somehow pull themselves up out of the muck.
“People love it when you lose, they love dirty laundry.”
“Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down,
Kick ’em with a stick, kick ’em all around!”
-from “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley
“You know what the problem with you bums is? You never leave a guy alone unless you’re leaving him alone!”
-John Tuturro as Herb Stemple in “Quiz Show”
Being a big star seems so great when you’re young, something to aspire to. But as you grow up, you come to see that being one is a big pain in the ass. You want the love, and you do get it, but you may also get a ton of hatred in the process. How does one deal with that? God knows that has got to be a lot of process. Even if you are seen as a legend, the media finds new ways and stories to make you squirm. When a star finally dies, those bad stories seem to be far less important as compared to the good they did.
Now look, I’m not saying that I’m above all this because I don’t think anyone is. I found myself picking on these guys from time to time, especially Michael. Perhaps it was just a defense against the pain of seeing these people who had such a big influence on me when I was young being brought down hard. I can’t really apologize because that wouldn’t be incredibly honest and would seem like you were insulting the intelligence of others. But still, it’s kind of a shame that we don’t respect the great things about these people when they are still living, but there is a cruel streak in all of us. It may very well be resentment more than anything else, but whatever it is, perhaps it’s a collective group of people who want to remind us all that these stars are indeed human.
So enough talk about that, and let’s talk about the things they left us.
Ed McMahon, thank you for being the best of second banana that late night talk shows ever could hope to have. Also, thanks for all that time you spent with Dick Clark on “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes,” one of my favorite shows as a kid. You brought a class to “Star Search” that no one else could have. Any show like that these days would have no class, but you could have made it seem like it did. As for all those times you did all those Publisher’s Clearinghouse commercials where you were giving away millions of dollars, I still believe you owe me some of that cash. My wallet is open, please donate freely.
Farrah, I can’t say that I followed your career too closely, but I still got to thank you for being on “Charlie’s Angels” even if it was just for one season. Thanks for all those posters that I should have bought when I had the chance. But most of all, thanks for your brave fight against a disease that have common to despise so much, cancer. It showed that disease is not something to hide from, but to face with a strong will and to not give in. You would have made Gilda Radner proud.
Michael, I can’t say that I respected you as much over the past few years, and I still feel like I can’t figure you out. But even if it became profoundly uncool to like you or your music around the time “Bad” came out, thanks for the music you gave us. But even more so, thank you for “Thriller” the album, not to mention the music video you did with director John Landis. Thank you for the moonwalk that you did at the Motown Music Awards all those years ago. I watched it again not too long ago, and I still can’t figure out how you did that.
Many will say that Michael’s death (or the media’s attention to it) has taken the spotlight from Farrah and Ed’s passing, but it’s not like Michael really planned on this happening. We didn’t exactly give him two weeks notice you know. Simply put, the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon were expected as they had been in declining health for sometime. Michael’s death was different because no one could have expected it. It came out of nowhere, and we will be in shock about it for sometime. It’s a sad day for music you say? Well, it’s really been a sad week for entertainment.
There will be other celebrity deaths in the future. We will greet them with the same sadness and shock that we always do, and we will take the time to appreciate the great things about them that we should have appreciated while they were still alive. They will get picked on, and we will find ways to bring them down, and then we will find a way to love them again even before they leave us. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
RIP Ed, Farrah, and Michael.