When the icons die
That was going to be my opening sentence for a commentary I’d planned about the concurrent deaths of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.
Ed McMahon was the voice of “The Tonight Show”. Johnny Carson may have been the host, but would it have been the same without Ed’s “Heeeere’s Johnny!” and the outstanding chemistry between these two men? I think not. McMahon was also a Marine aviator during War II, and left college to re-enlist for Korea. He was an all-around patriot and nice guy.
Farah Fawcett was the poster girl for the 1970s. She transcended her assigned role as eye candy, worked hard at her craft, and went on to become an accomplished actress.
Michael Jackson, for all his weirdness, was a superb entertainer. He sang well, and danced like nobody’s business, as we say down South. I was never a big fan, but he was extremely good at what he did. The numerous allegations about his predilections for children, and the cosmetic surgeries, put me off, as the British say. Two of my favorite jokes about him—and there were many—were:
“Michael Jackson is suing the Marine Corps. He made a substantial donation; then he found out ‘Toys for Tots’ isn’t an exchange program.”
“America is a great country! Look at Michael Jackson! Where else can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman?”
I almost got slapped for thoughtlessly remarking that he was jealous and up and died because Ms. Fawcett had grabbed all the celebrity headlines last weekend.
I am older than Michael Jackson, and although I considered him creepy and definitely not a role model for anyone, I would not have wished his fate upon him. In this marvelous age of advanced medicine, when even a reprobate waste king like me can be successfully treated for cancer, he died too young.
By the way, when asked by doctors, I list Demerol as a drug I’m allergic to. Despite all the LSD I took during my misspent youth, Demerol is the only drug that ever made me hallucinate. When I suffered my life-changing injury in 2000, the doctors dosed me with it as a pain reliever. I reacted very badly, and changed into a chair-tossing werewolf. They switched me to pure morphine, and my recovery went quite well afterwards. There weren’t even any withdrawal symptoms after they kicked me out of the hospital, lending credence to William Burroughs’s argument in Junkie that the purity of legally obtained opiates determines their addictive qualities.
Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon were all American icons. Each in their way represented a facet of American culture, and they will not be replaced.
I had not gotten this far in composing my eulogy when word came of a fourth death. There is apparently no counting bad things when they accrue to celebrities.
Billy Mays was the same age as Michael Jackson, give or take. He couldn’t sing, dance, or act. He was essentially a carnival barker, with a style that made me reach for the TV remote whenever one of his commercials came on. I wondered aloud if he even knew how to speak in a normal tone of voice, and groused that if he wanted to sell me something, he should not holler like a mouse was crawling up his trouser leg.
Then, I gained a measure of respect for Mays, through his Discovery™ channel program “Pitchmen”. He could speak normally, had a great sense of humor about what he did, and was a considerate, caring man. The stridency was just his style, and if you’re going to be in the public eye, you definitely need a sense of style. In his own way, he was as much of an icon as the other entertainers who have died recently.
The passing of Ed McMahon and Farah Fawcett was not unexpected. Both were in bad health. They died quietly, surrounded by loved ones.
Michael Jackson’s death was a shocker. Amidst his big plans for a comeback tour, he was called home to answer before God for what he may or may not have done. Ironically, his dying may have been his biggest comeback.
Billy Mays died in his sleep of an undiagnosed heart condition.
When my time comes I hope to go out like Billy Mays. My second choice would be having someone I love hold my hand when I say goodbye. For all the violence, accidents and general strangeness that have clouded my life, I have thus far avoided becoming a statistic. The older I get, the more I treasure serenity, tranquility, and the prospect of slipping into a final sleep without pain, fear, or bloodshed. Death comes to us all, but like these public figures that have passed away in rapid succession, a sense of style matters.
Farah, Jacko, Ed, Billy, you will be missed. May God bless and keep you.