Sunday, June 28, 2009

RIP Ed McMahon/Farrah Fawcett/Michael Jackson

By Rick Morris

Assuming that no other celebrities pass from the scene in the next few days, we have rarely if ever seen a better example of the "deaths in threes" theory -- nor a more eclectic triad -- than what happened this week with Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. In one of the all-time examples of "jumping the gun," The FDH New York Bureau emailed me right after Farrah's demise proclaming the celebrity threesome to be Farrah, Ed and former pro wrestler and announcer Billy Red Lyons. If only that had held up for Jacko's sake!

Taking them in the order they passed away ...

Ed McMahon is best remembered for his time on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but he actually had lead and supporting roles in many prominent TV programs over the years. Speaking more directly to his worth as a person, however, were his roles in support of the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon and his long tenure in the military helping to defend this country (including World War II and the Korean War). In recent years, health and financial woes had been battering him at various times.

Here is an obituary video produced by the Associated Press.

Farrah Fawcett had a long career in Hollywood, but was fated to always be best known for her breakout performance on Charlie's Angels back in '76-77 when she was THE female on everyone's lips. In my early, early youth, I remember a relative who almost never owned any trendy T-shirts who wore a Farrah Fawcett T-shirt. It was as if there was no free will involved in the process; everyone just bought in because they were so much into the image she created.

Tiring almost immediately of that image, though, she set out to try to escape it. She would have mixed success in this regard, as she came to be regarded as an underrated actress, although she clearly aspired to more than that. Late in life, however, she found what might have been her most important role as an advocate for patients' rights when she was victimized by jerks at the UCLA Medical Center who leaked her health information to the National Enquirer. The State of California passed a law protecting the rights of others in the same situation when she personally spearheaded the movement. She fought through her bouts with cancer very bravely and was an example of courage to others in that regard.

For a look at Farrah at the height of her fame, here is a TV feature with Telly Savalas in 1978 narrating about the phenomenon.

Michael Jackson may have been the most famous man in the world. Comparisons were often made creatively to Elvis (not least of which because he at one point married Elvis' daughter!) and now, sadly, will be made in terms of how their personal sagas ended.

Because the "backlash culture" has become a staple of the Internet, it has already become fashionable to decry the vast coverage of his death because of his personal misdeeds. Indeed, radio host Mike Gallagher was in full shock-jock mode on Friday calling him a monster and a child molester. In so doing, he unknowingly revealed his ignorance of the Christian truths he was claiming to defend, as the notion that MJ may have passed without "settling his spiritual tab" would only be a subject of sadness and sympathy to any true Christian. It is worth noting as well -- not as a means of defending anything he may have done with any of the boys who stayed with him, because any of those deeds surely would be the most vile ones possible -- that he was severely scarred by what could only be termed severe abusiveness by his father when he was young. As studies have shown, child abuse breeds further child abuse as the cycle repeats itself with the victim becoming the perpetrator -- a notion worth remembering in terms of trying to reconcile our feelings about this man even slightly.

And as much of a cliche as it is, it really is true that we have to separate the man from the music when sorting out our feelings on his passing. He really was a genius, creating some of the most durable melodies in history and in some ways helping to create the bridge of black culture to the rest of society -- first with the Jackson 5 in the early '70s and later with the monster crossover success of Thriller that is credited with singlehandedly integrating MTV in its early days. So it's possible to feel sadness over this event without feeling a pathetic kinship to someone we never personally knew; it's possible to feel some loss because his music is inevitably intertwined with so many memories in our lives. Personally, I liked his music better before he moved away from more organic-sounding instrumental backing in the late '80s, but everyone has their preferences.

Here are my five favorite tunes from him over the years: Wanna Be Starting Something, Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, ABC (Jackson 5) and the criminally underrated PYT and Torture (Jacksons).

Hopefully as time goes by, it will be easier to remember the man for what he achieved creatively rather than the circus his life had become over the past two decades.

The one common thread between Ed, Farrah and Michael was undoubtedly that they were American originals. We're not going to see anybody exactly like them anytime ever again! RIP to three legends with a capital "L."

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