Celebrity Deaths Who Cares?


This week three celebrities died, Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. They died in that order like Death was doing some celebrity countdown. Each one was a bigger celebrity than the previous. When the week culminated in Jackson’s death, hysteria filled the air and digital waves. Twitter and Facebook spiked with everything from the major networks stories down to the smallest “I remember my first kiss was to a Michael Jackson song” tribute on MySpace.

Do I mourn these people. Sure I do, in a John Donne For Whom the Bell Tolls sort of way, sure. But I didn’t know these people and neither did the 99.9% of the people who pretended their deaths were the end of an era. No matter what fond memories you have of The Tonight Show, Charlie’s Angels, or the Bad album, you didn’t know any of these people. All the internet equivalent of throwing yourself on their caskets does only one thing. It makes me sad…for you.

Over 140,000 other people died today. Their lives were just as important as Michael Jackson’s. They just aren’t in your iPod. Do you mourn their deaths? This year over 300,000 women died in child birth leaving 300,000 motherless children. Many of those same children died of malnutrition or curable diseases before their fifth birthday. In fact, 5.3 million children under five died this year alone. Did you mourn them? Did you even donate to a charity that was trying to prevent their deaths? 22 million abortions were performed this year. Less than 3% were done because the mother was at risk. That’s more than one abortion every 3 seconds. Did you try to help those girls in distress? Did you offer them an alternative? Did you just picket a clinic and make them feel worse about their predicament? More than half a million lonely people committed suicide this year. Did you do anything to reach out to any of them and try to prevent their deaths?

I’d venture to say, someone in your neighborhood had a family member pass away this year. Did you take them food or even send a condolence card? I was expressing these feelings to my sister-in-law this morning. A member of her church died this week. She didn’t know them very well, but she vowed to at least attend and help out with food or the nursery so others could mourn properly. That is how you deal with death. That is real. That is tangible. That is mourning.

Sappy, crappy, faux feelings for someone you never even met because you feel they touched your life doesn’t impress me. It makes me kind of sad. There are people on your street who could change your life in infinitely more meaningful ways than a few entertainers, if you would just let them. When was the last time your even spoke to your neighbor? Do you even know their names? If you got their mail, would you know where to return it without looking at the address?

Do us both a favor. Don’t post another stupid ode to Michael Jackson on your blog unless you meet a neighbor you haven’t met. No more fake feelings on Facebook about Farah until you visit a nursing home or hospice this week. Stop acting like you know these people when you don’t even know the names of the people you work with every day. Make death personal and deal with the people involved face to face. Then you’ll have something of substance to talk or write about.

You can check these and more statistics at the World-o-Meter.

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29 Comments

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  1. Penny Popular June 27, 2009 — 19:18

    You are a very shallow little man. I pity you.

  2. You have SO touched a nerve here. Poignant points.

    LAN

  3. He’s not shallow at all. I agree with every thing he said in this blog. One thing I thought of was our military men and women are more of celebrities than these people are. Or they should be treated as a celebrity. I don’t know how many military personnel have died this month, but many of their deaths weren’t treated in such a manner as these three celebrities. The only people who mourn these peoples deaths are their families, friends, and the other military personnel who have served with them. To me that seems rather unfair considering they gave their lives for our freedoms and protecting us in the manner they have. Those same thoughts about our military personnel goes to our police and fire department workers.

  4. Excellent point about our military heroes, stuffer. I should have included them on the list. I wish Penny Popular would be more specific about how I’m being shallow. Penny, where have you been Penny? You weren’t with JJ. Where have you been Penny? Can you tell me how this is shallow?

    • bit late in the day but you are not shallow, my papa (grandfather) died two weeks before Elvis, so guess I have always had immunity to the Princess Di wail factor. PS my gran also bought me for some strange reason a Charlie Chaplin annual for Xmas and I remember opening it as it was announced he had died. Did I think it was the end of an era, no nor did I grieve for strangers.

  5. I know you would have if you wouldn’t have been so irritated by all the “nonsense” that goes on with celebrities; especially with their deaths. Being a fan of celebrity is one thing, but going overboard is another. Still can’t figure you as a shallow person of any sort.

  6. I agree with all of it. Which may mean you are shallow, ’cause I sure am.

    And you know what else pisses me off? Celebrities who take up the cause of fighting the disease they get. Sure, all those years with all that money, all those connections, all that publicity, and could they be bothered to try and help anyone? No sir. But let them get terminally ill, and suddenly, it’s all, “OMG we have to cure this! It’s so horrible! It devastates so many lives! Umm, just like it’s doing to me, incidentally.”

  7. If only this piece didn’t get flushed out by all the MJ media, people would probably learn something. I admit some minor guilt in this arena, but also innocence. Being a writer, I feel that mentioning these particular celebs draws people together to discuss what can be learned from their careers/lives. And there’s plenty things to take away there in order to make one’s life better. It doesn’t have to be said that MJ’s superstar life has so many things not to do with one’s life goals, it could become a life manual in staying away from anything resembling show business.

    Other than one piece on Jackson today, I’ve attempted to write mostly other things this week because I know the media saturation cancels everybody out. I’ll never write about a celebrity, though, without providing something of substance there that can be used in someone’s life. No contrived or simplistic memorials from me.

    I’ll end by saying that I hope most of the populace does what you said in addition to the inevitability of assimilating the life of celebs to live vicariously. Nobody said both can’t be done in a sane and healthy way.

    Anyway, bravo for the sobering view without heading into absurdity. Then again, reality moves closer to absurdist comedy every day…

  8. I totally agree Randy. Although I feel for their (celebrity) families I also feel for other families who’ve lost their loved ones. But then I also feel for the people who have nobody to mourn them, and all those anonymous thousands who die daily from hunger and disease, or war.
    The ones who perhaps were not famous, but were equally important; they were humans too.

  9. I agree with you. It is amazing to how much more wonderful they are in death than in life. We have had a lot of tragedy to friends especially this last year. We are very supportive to them and very supportive to the community. There are a lot more important things to worry about in our lifes and worlds than the death of celebrities. It is sad, but like you said, we really didn’t know them. As far as Farrah being as angel, well I doubt it. Not saying she wasn’t a good person in many ways, and probably as heaven bound as any of the rest of us, but come on an ANGEL, just because she was a Charlie’s Angel, makes a better headline though.

  10. Thomas Forthe June 28, 2009 — 06:16

    I agree, Michael Jackson was an artist, but why should he recieve more attention than our fallen soldiers?

    If all you can remember about a kiss is who was playing on the radio… you were doing it wrong.

  11. Tamara L. Waters June 28, 2009 — 06:33

    I couldn’t agree with you more Randy – and I don’t think you’re shallow. It’s sad to watch the news and see grown adults – who never knew Jackson – bawling hysterically. Sure, he had a place in my heart when I was 12 – but I grew up. I didn’t cry for his death, I felt a slight twinge of sadness as I remembered how much I loved him years ago.

    You are right – people get overwrought with grief over people they don’t know, but when someone “real” to them dies, they don’t show the same grief. People have lost touch with the reality around them and instead immerse themselves in the mirage presented by television and the Internet and the media.

  12. There seems to be something about American culture that exalts the famous above the anonymous. This is wahy, when two of my freinds died recently, I wrote eulogies for them on AC that rivaled any NY Times announcements about these celebrities. True, I chimed in with my ‘RIP, MJ’ to a few articles, but I understand that so many people seem to put more importance on a celebrity’s death than they do a 90-year old grandma who raised her kids and grandkids, volunteered at her church, and ran a Goodwill store. Thanks for the much-need dose of reality and common-sense here, you shallow little man (said the desert to the grain of sand)!

  13. Amen.

    Everything about celebrity mania escapes me. I appreciate their talent (well, some of them) but can’t fathom why their lives, or deaths, are more important than anyone else’s. I don’t care what their political views are. I will not support a cause just because they do. I do not take marriage or parenting advise from them.

    Their songs, or faces, or (scripted) words are background for some of my cherished memories and as superficial as that connection is, I do a feel a twinge of sadness at their passing. But I realize that my connection was really to the song that moved me, not the singer; the hair and body that a younger me wished was hers, not the actress; the jokes that made me laugh, not the entertainer.

    I will not embarrass myself by pretending that these connections to song, or face, or joke is any kind of real connection to the person. I won’t fool myself that by weeping and wailing over their death, I can somehow establish a connection with their celebrity that I never had during their lives. I didn’t know them. If I had died before them, they would not have even noted my absence from this world, much less mourned for me.

  14. In the midst of all the celebrity hoopla, I admit to Twittering about Michael Jackson,too- but, at the same time, my heart is heavy for a member of our family who is quickly approaching death. No celebrity death is more important than that. No celebrity death is more important than the woman who lost her husband suddenly, a young man who just sat down and died (heart attack), leaving her shocked and in deep grief.

    Even so, some celebrity deaths touch a chord in me, especially if their work served as one of many reference points (or background music) to my life. Michael Jackson had a 40 year career and I always felt sorry for the child who seemed so famous and yet so out of control over his life (until he got old enough to become free but with a damaged psyche). But I don’t fool myself into believing I knew him. It is hard enough, perhaps a lifetime job, to get to know one’s self, let alone anyone else.

  15. Randy I understand your angst on this issue. Let me try to explain.
    Growing up, we lived with family in a tiny house until we got our own apartment in a horrible neighborhood. Mom worked 3 jobs to pay rent. We had no babysitter since that cost extra, so at age 6, I was alone with my 8 yr old brother in charge. We could not go outside to play as the neighborhood was too bad. So we stayed inside and played Name That Tune. MJ songs came up quite often. MJ played in the laundromat while sitting for hours. With mom in a bad mood, she would get up and dance with us to his music, that was the most fun.

    See, when you are dirt poor, celebrities were all you had to take you away.

    I am not ‘shattered’ by the death of MJ, I knew he would likely never record again. I never saw him in concert. I did have many of his records (purchased when I was much older and wanted the memories of dancing with my mom). My mom is gone now, and I thought immediately of the laundromat and how she seemed to escape for just a few minutes.

    I did not know neighbors growing up as it would have been a threat in that neighborhood. Now I do and my neighbor mows my quarter acre lawn for no money, just to be nice. I thank him and offer to help him if I can.

    I feel for every serviceman that is injured or dies. I defend them as I would a member of my family and I never met 99.999% of them. I was raised that way.

    When MJ or any celebrity that brings back a great memory of my mom passes, I feel like I lost just a tiny piece of myself. And I feel very mortal.

    • Christine,

      As you so eloquently wrote, your memories aren’t of Jackson. They are of you mother and siblings. The music could have been any random song. It was dumb luck that it was Jackson at that time. I guess that’s what the real issues is. For most, like you, it’s the representation of the loss of innocence and childhood. It’s the realization that growing old and dying are going to be everyone’s ultimate fate. I just find so much of the hoopla over the top. People act like they lost their best friend when they never met the man. Those same people are probably stepping over the homeless everyday, cursing them for making them late for work.

    • Christine’s response touched a chord in me, especially when she wrote: “When MJ or any celebrity that brings back a great memory of my mom passes, I feel like I lost just a tiny piece of myself. And I feel very mortal.”

      I would extend that to the death of a celebrity whose music was played for over 40 years – at the pool, in stores and (of course) on the radio. It is hard not to remember certain days – or moments – when Michael Jackson’s Thriller wasn’t being heard.

      His death brings back memories of those times. He is a part of musical history and of our lives. But I agree, Randy, that people need perspective on the death of a celebrity. We do NOT know these people and I suspect that I would NEVER have wanted to be privy to the tormented mind of Michael Jackson. Still, I have sympathy for him because I think he could have been a very different and equally talented person if given a chance. He might not have been famous but he might have been happier.

      • Only to explain a little further. I think (at least I hope) we do mourn our relatives or those that have personally touched out lives more.

        You are correct, Randy, that it could have been anyone that brought back the memories of my mom… but it was not. It was Michael Jackson. Seems silly, I know. The radio was on all the time and it was his music that brought out a ‘boogie’ in my mom that I had never seen before. It was awesome! Had it been someone else and they passed away, I would mourn them. As a way of thanking them for giving me those memories.

        I also think it says a lot about our family structures here in the US and what has become of them. For so many to mourn celebrities with such zeal means we are being raised on them. Not good.

        The love sword cuts both ways though. If young people are to cherish their family instead of celebrities, there needs to be some family present and taking an interest in them. When children are left on their own, they remember those who got them through the tough times. Be it a writer, a singer, an artist or a parent/grandparent.

  16. I agree with you 100%. And with many of the good points in response here. His music is going to be here forever. With the push of a button or flick of a switch on the CD player the music can take one back in time. It bugged me how so many parents had introduced their children to his music that was recorded long before they were born and then drug them out to publicly mourn someone they didn’t know. How about the next time one your parents or grandparent is telling a story about their childhood pull out a recorder and get those oral histories on record. Have them burned on CD’s and stored in electronic formats so when they are gone their voice can live on and let grand or great grand children be introduced to someone who really had something to do with their even being here on earth.

  17. You made good points about effecting those you HAVE met in a positive caring way. How will “I” be remembered is more important to me than how a celebrity who got publicity is remembered. It is all about money….always.

    • What Mitch Albom had to say reflects many of my feelings. I felt sorry for Jackson. At the same time, his music was very popular. Talent and mood disorders and/or mood disorders are sometimes combined in some very creative people. Example would include (depending on your perception of these people’s talent): Van Gogh, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and…perhaps…Michael Jackson. Spector seems a shadow of his former self but does that cancel out his contributions to music? Jackson’s inability to know normalcy….does that cancel the way his music resonated for people or some of his groundbreaking videos?

      I’m ambivalent.

  18. CNN didn’t broadcast my grandfather’s passing. He was a hardworking dairy farmer who didn’t drink, smoke, or….diddle little kids.

  19. I am glad you wrote these thoughts. Its how I feel about most celebrity news that media brings you. Who cares? We were travelling on holidays with our kids and I talked about funny things I remembered about my grandma. We created our own family memories. Who cares about a celebrity that I heard when I was a kid?
    Songs bring back memories but in fact our olfactory sense (sense of smell) is actually stronger and will bring back memories. A diesel gas smell reminds me of travelling in Norway after university and having a fantastic life experience. I do remember listening to MJ in Norway but I also remember jogging through a mountain tunnel while listening to other songs. (I could smell the diesel gas smell as I jogged and its illegal to jog in these tunnels). Songs do help make memories but I am not mourning the singer. I am mourning our lost sense of community and relationships that you spoke of.

  20. You are awesome!!! i was just now being so annoyed with my friends on FB being fake sad about Patrick Swayze…UHG! it’s so annoying! I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t get sad over when celebs die…It’s creepy and weird that people do and I think it is a testiment to the sick world we are living in. thank you for writing this:)

  21. I’m saddened by Swayze’s death. Having thought about why the death of celebrities, people I don’t really know, can cause some sadness….I’m come to conclude that the mourning may be tied to reminders of moments we remember so well. I sometimes sit and watch old movies with my aging mother and she is saddened by the deaths of so many she used to to watch on live television.

    I think their passing is a reminder of her own mortality and a part of history that she remembers so well. Change, life, aging, death. Celebrity deaths can remind us of certain key moments in our life. The song playing on the radio during our first romantic kiss.

    I’m still thinking about this, not sure I’m articulating it very well. Dirty Dancing was certainly not a pivotal movie for me and neither was Ghost.

  22. I just got a notification that there was a new message here. So I’m leaving this because the last new message I see is September 15. Weirdness.

  23. Exactly! If there’s a simpler and more frank way I can put this; let me now. Otherwise, celebrity deaths are of no concern to you, no matter how great of a person that celebrity was. Let the friends and family mourn, because would Michael Jackson and his family really want “his number one fan” at his funeral? This was not a malignant or vindictive article; it just shows that we should really be indifferent and that our mourning doesn’t contribute to anything. Besides, when did celebrities become holier-than-thou anyway? Is it just because they’re famous?

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