Friday, June 26, 2009

Celebrity Passings Mark the Times of My Life — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died in 1977. I was a teenager at the time and his passing meant little to me. I had really only known the fat, drug-addicted, somewhat pathetic Elvis. Sure, I liked his music, but he was old (six years younger than I am now, yikes!)

In 1977, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was still flying high with his brothers, then known as the Jacksons, performing live at the Fourth Annual American Music Awards. He was about to launch his giant solo career. Everyone knew that Michael Jackson was way cooler than Donny Osmond, but not as cool as Led Zeppelin. Still, you never had to be embarrassed if you were caught dancing to a Jackson 5 record.

In 1977, Farrah Fawcett (then Farrah Fawcett-Majors) posed for her iconic poster, clad in nothing but a red bathing suit, big hair and an even bigger smile. Every boy of my generation hung that poster on his closet door or over his bed, and every girl spent hours in front of the mirror trying to get that hair.

In 1977, Ed McMahon was firmly ensconced as Johnny Carson's second banana on the Tonight Show. I wouldn't say I was a McMahon fan, or even a regular watcher of the Tonight Show. It's just that Ed and Johnny and Doc had always been there, my whole life, on NBC at 11:30, right after the news. It was a fact, something you could count on.

My grandmother used to say that celebrity deaths always come in threes. I guess that's true this week, unless you live in Chicago, where we are also mourning the loss of veteran newsman John Calloway. I was always bemused by my grandmother's addiction to the obituaries. "Oh, my, look who died. He was such a dreamboat," she'd say, pointing to the picture of some old movie star.

This week, I've heard myself calling my mom or my husband or my friends to say "Did you hear who died today?" My kids have asked "Who's Ed McMahon?" or "Who's Farrah Fawcett?" They all knew Michael Jackson, but only the weird, broken, somewhat pathetic Michael, not the beautiful young boy and man whose music we still like to dance to.

The gone-too-soon, tragic-story celebrity deaths, like Heath Ledger or River Phoenix are shocking to us, as we see young people eaten by fame. These recent deaths have been much more disconcerting to me in the sense that they are famous people who have died the way most of us will die: of cancer or cardiac arrest or the complicated combination of illnesses associated with old age. And no amount of money or fame will save you from it.

I find that I am feeling a bit hollow and sad in the wake of these deaths. In my head, I keep hearing that cheesy Paul Anka song of the '70s that served as Kodak's primary ad campaign. "Good morning, yesterday. You wake up and time has slipped away … ," Paul crooned as beautiful photos of idyllic families flashed across our television screens. It occurs to me now, that with each new passing, I will be ticking off the times of my life. Not my grandparents' lives, or my parents' lives, but my life. Do you remember? Remember the times of your life.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog Post. When Susan Bearman isn't scanning obits, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

1 comment:

Susan Bearman said...

Comment from the original Chicago Moms Blog post:

Karen Putz said...

In some ways, Michael Jackson died awhile back when he started changing so much. :( I've been watching the flashbacks on TV and it was sad to see the vibrant young guy turn into something so different.

Thankfully, we'll always have the music.

June 26, 2009 at 03:41 P