I was getting a prescription filled when I was startled by a comment from a fellow patient who, like me, was watching the news as it cut between Iran riots and images of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon on the lobby’s wall-mounted TV screen.
“Why are the people in Iran doing this now?” she asked, apparently to anyone within ear-shot. ” Don’t they know that we just lost three icons in this country? They should have more respect.”
I told her I didn’t think the Iranians knew — or cared very much — about Michael, Farrah or Ed. And the small number of their Iranian fans probably didn’t choose Iran’s post-election turmoil as a platform for their grief.
“Well, that’s why they’re foreigners,” she said.
I didn’t have an answer for that one. Not in small part because I had not been a true fan of any of the three who died within a day of one another last week. That’s why I was surprised to discover that I will miss them, for completely different reasons.
As one who dances like a chicken in the throes of death, I believe Disco should only be played on telephone recordings and in the elevators and grocery stores of Hell, so I was never a fan of Michael Jackson’s music. I was offended by his cratch-grabbing dance moves, his falsetto-orgasmic vocals, his lies about his race-denying pigmentation changes and refusal to be “black,” and finally, for the child-molestation charges that had been lodged against him.
I was too jealous of Farrah, the Angel with the smile and hair that I could never achieve if I had all the money in the world, to be in her fan club.. I also thought — and still do — that”Charlie’s Angel’s”was sexist, no-substance giggle TV at its worst, the blueprint for Baywatch, etc..
Ed McMahon, I thought, never had a real job. He made and lost a fortune for a single line introducing late-night king Johnny Carson, and spent the rest of the time sitting in a chair beside the Great One, or later, promising to show up with a Publishing Clearning House check that never seemed to arrive on my doorstep.
As one who had always prefrred John Lennon’s music, grippingly dramatic acting from people with Brisish accents and the comedic stylings of Monty Python or Sasha Baron Cohen, I was at a loss as to why I should miss any one of them, much less all three. It puzzled me.
I guess that once you see a glimpse or two of a famous personality and the talent that lies beneath the TV tabloid veneer, you can’t turn away once that person and their talent are abruptly gone.
For Michael Jackson, who died while awaiting the launch of a come-back tour the Thriller was reportedly thrilled about, the tragedy of his life, his no-childhood slavery to a back-breaking, no-real-school schedule created by his reputedly abusive father, ARE mitigating factors in his own lack of parenting skills (i.e., dangling a baby out an upper window).
I did admire his ability to excite his fans and win 13 Grammys.. And, in truth, I got all misty-eyed at his ballad sung to a rat in the movie, “Ben.” I also thought that it was also impressive that Fred Astaire called him the world’s greatest dancer. Fred should know.
What could he have achieved without the weirdness?
My jelousy of Farrah’s blond locks in the late 1970s evaporated when my Navy public affairs officer spotted her at a tennis tournament in 1980, “her hair all stringy, dirty and straggly.” But I didn’t get a single strand of joy or satisfaction from her hair’s condition after her chemo treatments, which she faced bravely, even as she faced her inevitable demise from annul cancer with grace and courage.
In between Poster Farrah and her death, she also became a good actress in complex roles such as “The Burning Bed,” an important film about spouse abuse, and her multi-layered portrayal of a real-life woman who murdered and attempted to kill her children to make herself more attractive to her married boyfriend. As far as the substance of the plots she chose, Farrah went from male heart-throb in lighter-than-air, bubble-headed scripts to air bubbles straight to the heart.
I understand Farrah was a tough little girl from Corpus Christi who walked to school, as she later told Ryan O’Neal, stepping on scorpions along the way.
What a tough, kind, spirited and beautiful woman, inside as well as outside, she turned out to be.
And Ed. No, he never showed up with a check at my house, but he did keep his Budweiser pool clean and was reputed to be a really good family man, at least a good grandpa. Late in life, he proved to be as bad a financial manager as I am, but he got to keep his mansion because of a a few truly good friends who came to his rescue. Anyone who can generate friends that will pay off your mega-million manse has to have something going for him.
On the Carson show, he did his job, which was to make the audience clamor to see the star and to laugh at Johnny’s jokes, even the frequent ones that lampooned McMahon. According to Larry King, he was the greatest second banana in the world.
If there’s any justice in Heaven — and, of course there must be, since it’s Heaven — Johnny Carson is intoducing Ed to St. Peter about now.
“Heeeeeeeere’s Ed,” he’ll say before he and McMahon go into a really good Carnac routine even Iranians could appreciate..