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Monthly Archives: June 2009

In one week in September, 1991, Miles Davis and Theodor Seuss Geisel died. That Sunday night, on the radio show Idiot’s Delight, host Vin Scelsa said the thing he often said after a week like that. As I remember it, he played music for 30 minutes or so before saying anything – and it wasn’t Miles Davis he played, either, but maybe Beethoven or something – and then he opened the mic, and it was pretty quiet, and pretty reflective, and pretty sacred. Eventually he spoke, and it wasn’t heavy with oratory or morbid or overly sentimental or any of that.

“What a cool week it must be in heaven, you know?”

This is the ebullience that I like to remember when I think of all the emotion around, well, death. It’s an easier response when the person you want to celebrate was an artist, because you’ve still got something of theirs, and it’s likely vivid and even dates from a moment in their life when they were perhaps beautiful, or vibrant or anyway not decrepit with age or physically mangled by accident or addiction. It’s something I think of when Jerry Orbach or John Spencer shows up on TV — two actors whom I certainly miss. It isn’t too hard to see that both men have, by virtue of the weirdness of the re-run, probably never been as ubiquitous, so accessible for study and appreciation, as they are today. That is a true legacy.

This past week, another odd couple died. First, Farrah Fawcett, who was remembered in the New York Times in a column that was monstrous, even if it had the ring of truth. The sentiment, if you missed it, was sort of a bad-joke-epitaph: “Here Lies Farrah Fawcett, Who Wasn’t Very Bright Or Talented, But She Tried Anyway, So I Guess One Should At Least Acknowledge That Much.”

More could have been said about Fawcett. Writing for The Daily Beast, Amy Wallace shares some recent correspondence with Fawcett, in which it becomes clear that Fawcett had a pen-pal friendship with Ayn Rand, and that Rand was impressed with something she saw in the young actress. It wasn’t the first time that Rand had seen a diamond buried deep in what was already widely recognized as a diamond. She wrote an encomium for the deceased Marilyn Monroe, (this, unearthed by Brian Doherty at Reason) in which she discovers the murderer of Monroe to be the world of Salieris who begrudge beauty, genius and talent its fame:

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

Wallace shares some of Fawcett’s thoughts on Rand (in addition to watching the film version of The Fountainhead, Fawcett did read the copy of Atlas Shrugged that Rand sent her), and the quotes that Wallace shares are decidedly not those of a bimbo. Wallace and her editors may be overstating it a little when they use the word “brainy,” to describe the actress (Fawcett: “I remember liking the movie [The Fountainhead] because it was unique in that the characters seemed to be the embodiments of ideas as opposed to real flesh and blood people with interests and lives. Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Ayn was drawn to Charlie’s Angels. Because the characters that Kate, Jaclyn and I played weren’t really characters (the audience never saw us outside of work) as much as personifications of the idea that three sexy women could do all the things that Kojak and Columbo did. Our characters existed only to serve the idea of the show (even “Charlie” was just a faceless voice on a speaker phone).”)

She’s definitely onto something there, but while Charlie’s Angels may well have been about something else — something more — than it seemed, one senses that Fawcett took her foot of the intellectual gas pedal when she settled on her alternate “three sexy women” reading of the show. She’s much closer to something interesting when she observes that Charlie was an invisible, disembodied voice, and maybe she was getting revved up to observe that in a society that objectifies women totally, the show she was on was both complicit and commenting on the Freudian complications for successful women as they try both to live up to their Goddess status and live down to the expectations of men who see them as a collection of attractive distractions.

In any event, within hours of the news of Fawcett’s death, Michael Jackson’s death kicked everything from Iranian political protests to North Korean sabre-rattling to the philanderings of the Governor of South Carolina and, yes, the death of Farrah Fawcett, completely out of the spotlight. Much, much more will be written about Jackson in the next few days and weeks, and he will always retain a critically important place in the history of the past few decades, as a truly remarkable artist, as a talented businessperson, as a thwarted, twisted and troubled personality, and an almost mythical, self-defeating, self-destroying eccentric.

But in a way, both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died of the same disease: living beyond their years. (It’s debatable, of course — Jackson was planning a comeback. One wonders if Fawcett, deep down, may also have been planning one, too.) What are we to make of this? When someone’s death is still on our minds, we wonder whether their memory will ever eclipse the news of their death. Quite by accident, I turned to Herodotus today. And here is what I found:

He that is greatly rich is not more blessed than he that has enough for the day unless fortune so attend upon him that he ends his life well, having all those fine things still with him. Moreover, many very rich men are unblessed, and many who who have a moderate competence are fortunate. Now he that is greatly rich but is unblessed has an advantage over the lucky man in two respects only; but the latter has an advantage over the rich and unblessed in many. The rich and unblessed man is better able to accomplish his every desire and to support such great visitation of evil as shall befall him. But the moderately rich and lucky man wins over the other in these ways: true, he is not equally able to support both the visitation of evil and his own desire, but his good fortune turns these aside from him; he is uncrippled and healthy, without evils to afflict him and with good children and good looks. If, in addition to all this, he shall end his life well, he is the man you seek, the one who is worthy to be called blessed; but wait till he is dead to call him so, and till them call him not blessed but lucky.

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