ONLY THE GREAT DIE YOUNG
I don’t know about you, but for me, this celebrity death thing is getting really old. Every day, it seems like another celebrity is dying. And then there was that one day when you read about Farrah Fawcett expiring in the morning, and Michael Jackson in the afternoon. What, one celebrity a day isn’t enough? The real story, though, wasn’t the deaths themselves but the way they were covered in the media. For some of these celebrities, it’s as if they passed away with as little fanfare as my uncle Irving. And then for others … you’d think we had witnessed the passing of Christ or the Buddha. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the mainstream media has been infiltrated by aliens … and I’m not talking about people from Central America. More like Central Andromeda.
If you’re not into sports, perhaps you think the craziest part of the past fortnight was the way the media has dealt with the man formerly known as Jacko. We now know him as the World’s Most Important Artist. Rembrandt? Michelangelo? Mozart? Caruso? Forget about ‘em. They can all move over in Heaven and take their proper place to the side of the King of Pop.
Mind you, like most music lovers, I can appreciate a number of Michael Jackson’s songs. Thriller was unquestionably a great album. Off the Wall had its moments too. And who can criticize the best of the Jackson Five? But folks, those albums were all in the can a quarter of a century ago. And since then, when this artist should have been at his creative zenith, he decided to take a journey to Jupiter and Beyond. Suddenly, the relevant music stopped, destined rarely to return. It was replaced by dangling his baby from a balcony, and by allegations that Michael molested little boys, enticed them with “Jesus Juice” (a/k/a wine), and ultimately paid one accuser and his family $25 million to hush them up. If the words “the appearance of impropriety” could ever have a face, Michael Jackson’s would be it.
At a time when unemployment in America is sky high, China seems hell bent on burning up the planet, North Korea is playing with nukes, Iran’s mullahs are attempting to film “Tiananmen Square: The Sequel,” Israel is freezing the Palestinians out of Palestine but not the Settlements, and health care reform is bogging down in an orgy of intense lobbying, you’d think that Michael Jackson could die a relatively quiet death. But you couldn’t be more wrong. Our first obsession was his alleged addiction to prescription drugs, which seems to be the proximate cause of his death. (You mean a mensch like that was a drug addict? I’m shocked. Shocked!) That was followed by the speculation that his doctors were enablers. (Another shocker.) The next momentous topic was the will … and the question of who would get the kids … and well, by then, I have to say that your humble narrator was doing his best to stop paying attention. But I couldn’t avoid it altogether, and I certainly couldn’t avoid reading the accounts from his memorial of just how incredibly fantastic a person he was. God’s gift to charity. God’s gift to love. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that we were speaking about the death of a superhero, rather than a human being. Perhaps there is something about imbibing Jesus Juice that makes a man great.
If so, maybe that might explain the greatness of Steve McNair. If you’re not a sports junkie, you probably wouldn’t put McNair and Jackson in the same sentence. Certainly, you would have heard less hype about McNair’s death than Jackson’s. But … if you are a fellow sports junkie who watches shows on such networks as ESPN and the NFL Network, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve heard McNair lionized as much if not more than Jacko himself.
Over and over again, we heard the same words used to describe McNair. He was a “gamer” on the field. A real “warrior.” And “as great as a player he was on the field, he was an even greater person off of it.” The “great” Steve McNair lived a double life. On the one hand, he had a wife and four children. Shortly after his death, he was even described on TV as a “family man.” But according to more recent reports, this “family man” had one girlfriend in Minnesota and another in Nashville, or was it two girlfriends in Nashville? He even bought a car for one of his mistresses and registered it in their joint names. What he didn’t buy her was a gun – she did that for herself, supposedly because she was jealous that she had to share him with other women. And that is how this “great” “family man” met his maker.
The King of Pop was only 50 when he died. The Great Steve McNair was only 36. Whatever you think of their eccentricities and tragic lapses of judgment, they surely deserved better than to die at ages so young. But as we look at their deaths and back on their lives, I have to say that neither of these gentlemen seem to merit 1/100th of the hype they’ve been getting.
What makes them so great as human beings? That the Gloved One was gifted with the ability to sing, write songs, and dance? That he was gifted with the ability to remain young at heart even in middle age? Those are all commendable qualities, but they hardly seem to transcend the decadence of child abuse or drug addiction. And as for Steve McNair, how does a man treat his wife and children so shabbily? For that matter, what does it say about a guy when he can’t even stay faithful to his mistress? Did he really think he could keep his lust life quiet from his family when he was publicly buying cars in the name of girlfriends? The word isn’t Greatness. The word is Hubris.
We can lament all we want the cult of celebrity. We can lament the fact that so much attention is being paid to a few individuals, when our society – and indeed, our planet – has been placed in jeopardy in so many ways. But let’s not forget that by focusing on individuals who are truly exemplary, we can often gain inspiration for how better to treat the collective. So with that in mind, let us take advantage of the fact that Jackson and McNair weren’t the only celebrities who died during the past few weeks. We’ve seen the passing of other well-known and beloved figures, figures like Ed (Hiyo!) McMahon and, as I’ve indicated, the gorgeous Ms. Fawcett. But for my money, one of our recently deceased celebrities stands above all the others as a role model. I remember watching this actor as the star of a TV show from my youth, and as the priest in one of my favorite movies of all time. He seemed perfectly cast in that priestly role, because he always seemed to me to be a holy man and a true man-of-the-people -- as much a rarity in Hollywood as in the NFL.
So, with that as an introduction, and with all due respect to the “great” men who die young … I give you an obituary of a very, very GOOD man who died very, very old. He passed away with virtually no fanfare from the “journalists” on television, as these other figures discussed above stole his spotlight. But what do you say we pick that spotlight up and shine it back on him one more time: