They alway come in threes or so the urban legend goes. Earlier this week it was announced that former Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon died. This morning, we all learned of the passing of Farrah Fawcett and before I could get home from work, it was announced that Michael Jackson died.
The crowds and the traffic snarls around the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were indicative of who was the most popular among those three, in spite of the fact that McMahon also died at Reagan UCLA.
The real tragedy isn’t that Jackson was the youngest of the three. The real tragedy is that his death will eclipse that of McMahon and Fawcett in the days to come. The truth of the matter is all three were culture icons in America – McMahon for his 30-year stint as second banana to the King of Late Night Television Johnny Carson, Fawcett for her clingy red swimsuit poster and flowing blonde hair, and Jackson for his ... for his ... uh, crotch grabbing among other things.
Is it just me or is there an inverse correlation between the level of raunchiness of a person’s public image and the number of people who will publicly mourn that person’s passing?
Ed McMahon’s comedic timing was perfect in the role of straight man. He had the uncanny ability to set up any joke Johnny Carson needed and make Carson look good. Never did Carson’s humor cross over into filth, but it certainly peered over that blue line a lot. And McMahon was there to keep hold of Carson’s belt to prevent that tumble. Nothing associated with McMahon could be considered scandalous, unless you count the financial problems he encountered in the last several months. But he never did anything nefarious, illegal or underhanded nor could anyone accuse him of that.
The same could be said for Farrah Fawcett. The closest thing to scandalous associated with her was the aforementioned red swimsuit poster. The worst thing she ever did was take on too many roles where her character was a victimized woman. Had it not been for the movie The Burning Bed she might never have gotten the recognition she deserved. On a personal note, while I thought she was attractive in some ways, she never “did it” for me. Not like Cheryl Ladd or Lynda Carter did, but then I guess I was too young to appreciate Fawcett when she was in her heyday.
Then there’s Michael Jackson, former son-in-law to the King of Rock-n-Roll, Elvis Presley. What can’t one say about Jackson? His alleged perverted activities with young boys and subsequent legal trouble regarding the same were quite possibly the end of his music career. While he was never convicted of molesting children, his public, on screen admission of sharing his bed with young boys certainly didn’t help his cause. Some claim he was a phenomenal singer, songwriter and dancer – I can’t bring myself to agree with that assessment. He had some good songs in his career and he certainly deserves credit for his Thriller album – the number one selling album of all time – but his genre never fit into my personal liking. And that was before the allegations.
One thing is for certain, Jackson’s death will certainly take the headlines away from McMahon and Fawcett – especially Fawcett even though she died the same day. It’s no secret that culture icons have varying levels of popularity depending on the medium in which they work. In ranking these three, the number three spot would have to belong to Farrah, McMahon would easily handle number two and I will have to concede that Jackson would out rank all of them.
Frankly, Farrah deserved better than to have Jackson “steal” her final moment in the spotlight, but we don’t generally get to pick when we step over that line into the dark abyss. It’s just more proof how fickle the clamoring hoards can be and reaffirms that popularity is only around until the next big thing comes along.
Rest in Peace Ed and Farrah – not everyone has already forgotten you.