You can probably date me pretty precisely by the fact that I had zero reaction to Michael Jackson’s death yesterday, but was saddened a bit by Farrah Fawcett’s passing. I remember the Jackson Five, but Michael’s solo career came along during a period when I wasn’t listening to popular music, and to the extent I heard him later on, he made little impression. I understand he was influential as a dancer, but if you ever saw me dance you would realize that, too, was lost on me.
Farrah Fawcett was another matter. I never met her, but still felt a sort of personal connection, for several reasons. My Congressman and friend John Kline was her high school classmate in Texas. (A thought: maybe he’d be willing to come on my radio show tomorrow to reminisce.) And I knew, slightly–OK, very slightly–the woman who replaced her when she left Charlie’s Angels. Mostly, though, I felt a personal connection with Ms. Fawcett because her picture adorned my dorm room for a year when I was 18:
Sure, you could say it’s pathetic, but it’s hard not to feel a sort of personal connection when the last thing you see before you turn out the light is Farrah’s toothy smile.
No doubt there is a more serious reason why the death of a celebrity who had nothing to do with us nevertheless induces sadness. A physical specimen like Farrah Fawcett seems indestructible; still more the gleaming poster image that remains fresh, decades later. We’re all getting older, and we know it. But it’s still a bit of a shock when the flesh–even hers!–proves corruptible.
All of which makes me wonder–thinking back to the icons of my youth–how is Raquel Welch doing these days?
PAUL adds: Jackson’s death gives us all another occasion to note how strange it is that he became the cultural icon for at least one generation of Americans — and to avoid reflecting on what his iconic status tells us about America.