Friday, June 26, 2009

Randomness of Death

As a friend put in her status update on FaceBook – "It's been a busy week at the Pearly Gates."

The world of entertainment and celebrity lost Ed McMahon (86 years old), Farrah Fawcett (62), and Michael Jackson (50) this past week. At the moment, Walter Cronkite is having a very difficult time with his health and isn't expected to survive much longer. Frankly, I would have guessed the passing of Walter Cronkite before Michael Jackson.

So let's just get this out there. There are a lot of people who claim that "celebrity deaths always happen in threes!" Let's examine that for just a moment and see how true that can be.

Other celebrities who passed away this month: David Carradine (72), Koko Taylor (80), Bog Bogle (75), Johnny Palermo (27), Barry Beckett (66), Huey Long (105), and others. Let's also not forget Mellvina Dean (97) who passed away on May 31st and was the last survivor of The Titanic tragedy.

I might update the FB status to reflect – "It's been a busy month at the Pearly Gates."

I've also heard the saying that "family and friends deaths occur in threes." I have to say that either way, family or celebrities, I don't believe it. Death happens and it happens to everyone. I see no pattern in who dies when, unless we're talking about environmentally-induced or environmentally-influenced illnesses. The thing is, whether expected or not, we feel that we need to attach meaning to someone's death and make connections that are tenuous. Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson will be forever linked now because they passed away on the same day even though their deaths had nothing in common nor were they connected personally. But the connection will be made simply because they died on the same day.

You could argue against that, of course. Do you remember when Mother Teresa passed away twelve years ago? No? Maybe because she died during the same week as Princess Diana, who died in a car crash caused by paparazzi just days before.

It's hard to measure death. Obviously those closest to us and had the most impact on our lives are the most important to us. That's how it should be. But what about when it comes to celebrities? I find it "more" of a loss to lose someone like Mother Teresa and Princess Diana Spencer of Whales for their humanitarianism and the amazing causes they not only supported but lived for over someone like Michael Jackson. Sure, he affected the world of music and opened a lot of doors for African American artists and he was world-renowned. Sure, he affected millions of fans and inspired many people and he donated money to many charities. But he was also followed by some pretty sick scandals that for me overshadow the earlier parts of his life, and he died leaving behind some pretty major debt. Frankly I never understood the superstar worship he engendered even during the heights of his career.

Anyway, this isn't supposed to be an introspective about Michael Jackson. It's just some thoughts floating around about celebrity death and what seems to make it so powerful to people. So many people are hit just as hard by a celebrity dying as they are by the loss of family and friends.

I'm more affected by the news this afternoon that a friend I knew from elementary school through high school passed away (presumably this morning). We lost touch after high school and weren't ever close, but still a loss that I find even more shocking and sorrowful than that of even the most iconic celebrity. He was only a year or so younger than me, which would make him about 33 years old (although I think he was closer to 34). Paul Dube, my prayers for you and your family, your wife and children, your brother Glen, your parents, and your friends. You will be missed. Rest in peace.

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