Identifying with Stardom: Is it Real or Is it Memorex?

By Rona Edwards

It happens all the time. But it never ceases to amaze me. That when a celebrity of stature dies, the whole world falls to its knees. Even though it’s true, they never knew him. And yes, sometimes they made fun of her. But when someone we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, whether on stage, in sports, on the big screen or on television, is cut down way before their time or even when they have lived past their prime, the public adorns them, grieves them and feels such loss, as if their own brother, sister, father, mother or lover has died.

Such was the case in June, on the same day actually, when Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson passed away - both quite tragic in their own way. One fought like hell to stay alive and lost her battle with a deadly disease while the other, struck down before his big comeback concert. Both stars of magnitude – one a major television actress who inspired a hairstyle for generations to come and whose pinup was every boy’s or man’s dream of the perfect woman.

The other, someone we grew up with as a young obscenely talented adolescent boy to a troubled middle-aged somewhat freakish-looking performer – though when you see the facial progression, he hardly seemed like the same young man from his Thriller days. No denying, his music and artistic skills changed generations and the way we view music, videos and possibly the world in spite of his personal demons.

But why is it the world stopped that day. With Farrah, we knew it was coming. We were touched by her documentary, that aired on national television, in her own words, about her inspirational fight against a cancer that was deadly and her refusal to give up right down to the bitter end. Her great love story with an actor who stood by her side through it all was to be envied even though it was a journey through hell for both of them. The documentary was a way for the public to get ready for her death.

But little did we know that, on that same day, another tragedy, one most unexpected, would prevail over the news so that the climatic end to one noble fight would be eclipsed by another who didn’t fight death at all. No one could have predicted that Michael Jackson would die on the same day, let lone pass at such a young age. And the world was not ready for it. Tears, hysterics, genuine loss was felt worldwide, so much so the family had to come to terms that their private grief must be shared publicly with Michael’s adoring fans. They were generous to a fault when they gave out those tickets to his memorial, and it was organized in a way that was respectful not only to the man himself but to his audience who had been with him for more than 40 years.

We were reminded this wasn’t a free concert tribute, it was his funeral, just by merely seeing the casket rolled in by his brothers, and it was televised on all the major networks and cable television stations around the world. A memorial fit for a King or a Queen of a nation, let a lone the self-proclaimed King of Pop. True, the city of Los Angeles foot the bill at a time when that city, as with every city, is suffering from the economic downturn. There were people who did not share their grief with the Michael followers and therefore were pretty pissed off by the cost of such adulation.

But I imagine the fans outnumbered the complainers. There were viewing parties in taverns and homes everywhere from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the States. And you have to admit the tribute was touching, especially when Jackson’s daughter, Paris, spoke emotionally about her daddy. The scroll at the bottom of my CNN screen had emails rolling by extolling the public’s two cents because in this day and age, everyone needs to let everyone know what they’re thinking, feeling doing every minute of the day on the net whether we care to read it or not. They were praying for his children and declaring Jackson the best entertainer ever planted on this earth. No one dared to mention the accusations of child molestation and prescription drug use that followed this much-loved singer for the latter part of his life.

With all the pomp and circumstance for the King of Pop, it was ironic that that very same night after Farrah and Michael died, a Barbara Walters’ special on Farrah Fawcett was broadcast and won the ratings over the Michael Jackson coverage and specials that aired against it on every other network. Neither of these two stars was eclipsed in any way. They both got their due and received plenty of news coverage.

But while the world stopped to grieve, I pondered why did these deaths affect people in a way that was reserved for a very close relative? Why was it so personal?

People needed to feel closure, finality if you will, because they felt close to him, to her, even though they most likely never met either one of them. It’s the power of Hollywood. Each week, we get to know these stars, or listen over and over to their songs, and know them through their music or their film work, and sometimes their unbecoming exploits.

More and more TMZ, Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood shows pop up so we can follow their deeds: snare at their downfalls and cheer at their comebacks. We may not have met them personally, but we knew them vicariously through the rags at the market checkout lines or their blogs, their websites and their Tweats. In fact, the history of Hollywood is laden with stars whose publicists made sure that we had gotten to know them in a way that seemed intimate and therefore, “real.” It was how they maintained their stardom by the public becoming invested in their successes as well as their failures.

Fans screamed when Paul McCartney got married, turned against Ingrid Bergman for getting pregnant out of wedlock and, to this day, still mourn the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Tyrone Power, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendricks, Janis Joplin and James Dean - all taken before their prime; all somewhat tragic demises. We are involved in other people’s lives that we know nothing about except what is presented to us by carefully crafted tinsel town idolmakers.

But there is one thing we must take into account. These celebrities also represent the parts of our lives we can never recapture. They represent our youth, our innocence long gone. So when they die, a part of us dies with them and we have to admit we’re one step closer to the great beyond - and that we are growing older. And perhaps, in some cases, must grow up


We can remember where we were when either Kennedy brother or Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered or when Princess Diana died. Or the first time we saw Elvis gyrate on The Ed Sullivan Show or Michael Jackson dance the moonwalk for the first time on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. We are not just observers of pop culture; we are pop culture. So we take all of these deaths to heart because they are a big part of our lives; the way we view the world in its entirety and the way we associate them with different chapters in our own lives. So maybe, we’re not just mourning their deaths but also the deaths we die each day - the dreams we’ve never achieved, the possibilities that we’ve never attained; the youth lost and the people we love gone. We see life passing us by. They remind us of our own mortality and that life is precious. Gratitude should be shown and thanks given for what we do have and will continue to have in the time left on earth. And maybe, just maybe, we are stars in our own universe and we need to start attending to our own world so as not to be wrapped up in some stranger’s sphere that is only due to our imagination and not our reality.

Motion picture/ television producer Rona Edwards also writes music reviews for the Folk Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME) on the net, feature articles for Produced By Magazine, a column for the Los Feliz Ledge, and co-wrote the critically acclaimed book, I Liked It, Didn’t Love It. (Screenplay Development From The Inside Out) for Lone Eagle Publishing. She is also the co-founder of (ESE FILE WORKSHOPS ONLINE). You may also Check out Rona's blog..

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