Thursday, June 10, 2004

Dead Celebs

I meant to write about socialized medicine today. Or maybe Pinter vs. Ionesco. But those will have to wait...

I just found out that Ray Charles died. Sad. I’m watching it on MSNBC now, and I guess because they already had stock footage available they’re playing Ray Charles appearing at the Republican Convention, so it’s this kind of double-whammy of Charles and Reagan merging in a kind of orgy of nostalgia.

Is it true that Charles went hysterically blind upon watching the drowning of his younger brother in a lake? I heard that in college, but I basically might as well have gone to “Urban Legend University”. I remember when a story went around that Dave Matthews had died. No one seemed particularly upset except for the guy who smoked a lot of pot and lived on the third floor of my building. And then there was the time when we were told that Mayim Bialik (star of TV’s blossom) died of a drug overdose. She didn’t, by the way, she just primarily works in voice over now.

Perhaps it is this constant sense of fake-death that keeps me alienated from real-deaths of celebrities. Or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t know them. It didn’t used to be this way. The first one of my heroes whom I remember dying is Jim Henson. My mom told me, and I was playing in my little nook in the family room. I said “oh” and five minutes later I burst into uncontrolled sobbing, unable to stop, really beyond being comforted just thinking about how sad it would be to never see a new entertainment with Kermit the Frog in it.

Then, shortly thereafter, was the tribute to Jim Henson. The whole idea was based on “The Jim Henson Show” a short-lived (but surreally brilliant) TV program hosted by Henson made up of two equal halves. In the first half, Kermit and pals had various misadventures in the backstage of a TV show you never see. In the second half, we were treated to the magnificent John Hurt as “The Storyteller” as he told (and various muppets reenacted) various folk tales. Anyway, the idea was Kermit is on vacation (or something) and they have the job of paying tribute to Jim Henson. They don’t know who Henson is. Then the muppets look down, notice there are people underneath them and collect a bunch of celebrities to pay tribute. It featured, amongst other things, an amazing performance by Ray Charles of “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.

And then… Kermit walked in. And it wasn’t Henson but someone else and he said “You did it, guys! You paid tribute to Jim Henson!” and I burst into tears again, for about half an hour, unable (once again) to stop or be comforted. It was like they had murdered Henson on screen.

Of course, I was in grade school then. Now I’m not. What I’m amazed by is that our entertainment/news industries appear to be in the same place I was in fourth grade. They treat each death of a (beloved) celebrity as if we should be rending our clothes and lighting widows on fire. A good example: during the televised service for Reagan in California, the three networks suspended the crawl at the bottom of the screen. That’s right, people, Reagan’s death is pretty much the only thing since 9/11 solemn enough to suspend the crawl. I think it’s about time we collectively get a grip here, people.

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