CELEBRITY DEATHS & AN AWAKENING

Sleep was heavy on my eyes when the text message from a friend beeped through the morning of June 25: “Michael Jackson passed away. Such a sad day.”

“Michael Jackson, the King of Pop?” was my feeble whispered query as comprehension tried to break through the fog of sleep cloaking my mind. The fog quickly lifted as the crystal-clear news alert from Channel News Asia flashed “Michael Jackson dead at 50.”

Although the morning sun was streaming through the glass door, it did little to dispel the darkness. And as if that daybreak wallop wasn’t enough, also making rounds through the Internet was the news that an angel had ascended to heaven – Charlie Townsend lost one of his first angels to anal cancer. The sultry, crime-busting Farrah Fawcett was gone as well.

It was déjà vu of double whammy, hurling me back almost years ago to my childhood past. Double whammy was the title of an editorial I perused in a magazine that paid tribute to the untimely demise of two of the world’s beloved legends, Elvis Presley and Bruce Lee. The icons of that time left millions of followers bereft of inspiration with their deaths. A child then, I didn’t fully understand the impact of their deaths, of why it was double whammy, as they were strangers who became familiar only through newspapers and magazines, radio, film and television. I only realized what the lost of their talents meant to the industries they each represented later on.

And it’s double whammy again with the deaths of two celebrities that figured prominently in my childhood. What has changed is the impact of the phrase, which now sank in together with intimations of mortality. Michael Jackson was the pop star in the 1980s and his rise to stardom was meteoric as his plummet into ignominy. The King of Pop was a little boy when I first met him as the youngest member of the Jackson Five group. It was a vicarious meeting through the all-star Motown Christmas album (yes, the vinyl record with the cardboard-like jacket) that be played during the Christmas holidays. His voice resonated strongly through I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and the line that ended the song “And I’m going to tell my dad”.

Then it seemed that Michael disappeared only to surface in a red ensemble in an MTV video I chanced upon. He was back with an album called Thriller. Gone was the tiny boy with puffy cheeks and huge, frizzy hair, and in his place was a svelte, hip-thrusting, groin-grabbing, moon-walking singer dancing with a group in synchronized precision. Breaking away from the Jackson Five, Michael precipitated a youthquake in the 1980s, igniting numerous young copycats sporting the ubiquitous white glove and moon-walking all over the place.  He fuelled the music scene and the growth of fans esurient for his landmark album and choreography.

Meanwhile, as Michael happily moon-walked all over the globe, an angel named Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett in real life) was locking horns with criminals and their egomaniacal dreams of world domination in the TV series Charlie’s Angels. Any young girl at that era suddenly took to the idea of women being crime-busting agents who could wrestle adversaries to the ground or shoot them down without hesitation. Farrah and the other angels were fanning the flames of the nascent beginnings of feminism in television and, in the process, deconstructing the archetypal roles for women in the acting industry. Incidentally, big, curly hair and wide smiles became in fashion too.

Michael and Farrah formed a part of a childhood that excluded a chip on the shoulder and jadedness, which, with their deaths unleashed an avalanche of thoughts of mortality and life’s imperfection. Against the background of Michael’s music and Farrah’s knack for righting the wrongs in the world, the two pop culture figures filled a generation of youngsters with bravura, hope, dreams of grandeur and a vision that the world is at their beck and call. The world was beautiful then and, when you’re in your 20s, life was saccharine-sweet.

But the fairy-tale success stories of these two artists hid another side to it viz. the demands of fame and fortune; the tribulations to overcome; and mortality. Who wouldn’t collapse under sheer emotional pressure after being leveled with accusations of child molestation twice? But Michael showed them all, sallying forth with equanimity. Unfortunately, he couldn’t sidestep the quagmire of the accusations and the eccentricities that eventually knocked him off his pedestal. The King’s reign was coming to an end.

The angel, on the other hand, was not spared of personal and professional problems but, unlike Michael, hers were perceivably surmountable. Like a phoenix, Farrah rose to the challenges, reinventing herself as a serious actress through numerous television movies and even dared the conventions of show business with her pictorials in Playboy in 1995 and 1997.  She still had the feisty streak in her and wasn’t going to down without a fight, as she also showed to the world in her battle against cancer until her last days.

Both their determination to succeed despite the obstacles is inspirational. Their lives, as played out in news papers and television, showed that celebrities are not immune from trials and challenges, which is puzzlingly forgotten. Whoever said that celebrities although popular are not infallible?

With their deaths, it drives home the fact of life’s brevity. Death doesn’t enter the mental frame work until someone who happens to be part of your generation – friend, foe, stranger or celebrity – is said to be making the journey on the River Styx with Charon. It forces you to take stock of your own life, to get over long-time guilt and transgressions, and, possibly, forgive those who have wronged you. It pushes you find that beauty and sweetness of the world you once held 20-30 years ago and, most importantly, it forces you to live.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lou on July 5, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    That’s one reason the death of someone we know, een peripherally through the media, is ultimately saddening and instructive. We are all connected in the loops of time.

    Reply

    • Posted by rgarcellano on July 6, 2009 at 2:35 pm

      And the sad thing is we only realise that we’re connected in the loops of time after a death occurs.

      Reply

  2. Posted by I_am_aoisoba on July 6, 2009 at 9:42 am

    I’ll give this piece 8 hankies rating 🙂 i know it’s cheesy, but somehow a part of my childhood did died after those news

    Reply

    • Posted by rgarcellano on July 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm

      Oooh a new rating system – hankies! 😉 As Lou said, we’re all connected in the loops of time. When one link weakens or distegrates, the loss is felt through the ripples in the loop.

      Reply

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