I feel compelled this morning to write something about the deaths yesterday of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Let me say right off the bat that these sad events are not about me or you or any of their fans; they’re about the individuals themselves and the people who knew and loved them. My thoughts and prayers today are with their souls and the people who are grieving them.
Having said that, I’ll now proceed to make this about me — specifically, my memories of them. For Farrah Fawcett, my memories begin and end with The Poster, and if you were a teenager in the mid- to late-70s, you know exactly what I’m talking about. She was an insanely gorgeous blonde in her late 20s; I was an adolescent white boy. Need I say more? I shared a bedroom with my brother Rick, and one of us hung that poster on the wall; I honestly don’t remember which one of us it was (it could well have been me.) I really have no memories of her as an actress; I’m sure I must have watched Charlie’s Angels, but I don’t remember a single episode. I understand from the tributes I read yesterday that she was able to transcend the eye candy image with her later movie roles. More important, I think, is the courage she showed in the last months of her life, especially the TV documentary that aired last month. I know how rotten I look when I have a head cold; she let cameras film her as she was fighting cancer, when she felt a million times worse. Don’t underestimate how hard that must have been for her.
With Michael Jackson, I remember the Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon. I remember when I was 10 or so, I got a small paperback about the Jackson 5 from one of those book orders kids get in school. When I was in sixth grade, my homeroom teacher used to give us a half-hour or so once in a while to spin records and just hang out. Someone used to play Michael Jackson’s record Ben over and over. It remains one of my favorites of his, even if it was the title song for a movie about a rat.
Flash forward to 1983. I moved to Washington, D.C. for my last semester of college to do an internship and lived there for a year after graduation. Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was the soundtrack for that summer. This morning, I heard the opening seconds of Want To Be Starting Something and I was instantly transported back to that humid Washington summer. It’s hard to overstate how ubiquitous his music was in 1983-84. The album produced seven hit singles, and I still know most of them about as well as I know my own pulse. He was, at that time and at age 25, probably the most idolized man in America.
Like so many others, I lost track of him in ensuing years. His follow-ups to Thriller were progressively less successful, at least in terms of airplay. I bought a copy of the Bad album for my wife during her first pregnancy; unfortunately, she listened to it during her morning sickness period and forever after associated that music with nausea, so it seldom got played after that. His reported eccentric behavior made me wonder what exactly was going on with him, though I tried to keep in mind the remote possibility that the media might just be distorting the story a smidge. The things we know for certain, that he had young boys at his home for sleepovers, showed incredibly poor judgment. The molestation trial, on charges for which he was acquitted, was an almost inevitable result of that. And anyone who has ever been a parent (and a good many who haven’t) still shudder at the video of him dangling his infant child over a hotel balcony railing in Berlin. It was an unbelievably reckless thing to do.
Still, how much did any of us really know about Michael Jackson? He lived his entire life with a spotlight on him. If I couldn’t drive to the mall without attracting a crowd, I’d get a little weird within about 10 days. He lived that way from age 11 on. So those of us who used to make him the butt of jokes (I plead guilty) should be rethinking our behavior today.
We lost yesterday two very talented people at young ages. Farrah was only 62, and Michael was but 50, and since I’m only a couple of years from 50 myself, I really feel that 50 is very young. Today, I’m not not feeling quite so young. Two parts of my youth left the stage for good, one of them very unexpectedly. Two more very important reminders of how fleeting and precious each day is.
Rest in peace, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.