Yesterday America lost two of its most beloved icons, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. There aren’t enough words to express the shock and sadness that most of us are feeling about these two tragic events. For those of us who came of age in the 70’s and 80’s, Farrah and Michael were staples of our pop culture collective. You couldn’t turn on the television or radio without hearing or seeing one of them. While there were dozens of talented entertainers during the 70’s and 80’s, what made Farrah and Michael special were their unique presences and iconic images.
Farrah had a 100-watt smile and a large, feathered golden mane. “Farrah Hair” in the styling world of the 70’s and 80’s was what “The Rachel” was in the 90’s. Every woman wanted to have her tresses, sex appeal, and glamour. And while her image was that of a blonde sex kitten, Farrah possessed a strong screen presence and depth of emotion rarely seen in other actresses who were employed for their visual assets alone.
Michael was the undisputed King of Pop entertainment. While not the traditionally masculine male presence, back in the day his “good boy with bad boy moves” image sent the pulses of fans beating. Unlike most of his male contemporaries, Michael had natural style and grace and could bust a move like nobody’s business. People in the entertainment world wanted to copy his style and performance innovations: while many tried they were always a facsimile of the real thing. Michael also helped shatter the color barrier in the music industry with his top selling albums and cross-community appeal.
Though Farrah and Michael were in different arenas of the entertainment world they shared many personal traits in common, primarily in the area of struggle and tragedy. Both had their personal lives turned out in the streets by the media, and were easy targets of praise or crucifixion in the eyes of a judgmental public. Both were victims of physical and psychological abuse: Farrah at the hands of an ex-boyfriend in the 90’s and Michael at the hands of his father in the 70’s. And both suffered from medical ailments that resulted in the end of their careers and lives. Farrah battled cancer off and on for the past three years, while Michael battled a series of ailments, many of which remain shrouded in mystery and speculation, for the past fifteen years. In what is the most tragic similarity of all, both died on the same day, in the state of California, just hours apart.
Farrah Fawcett was only 62 when she died, almost the same age as my Mom is now, and spent her last years on this planet fighting for her life. In the backdrop of her struggle was the turmoil of her only child, Redmond O’Neil’s, substance addiction and public arrests. Until she died, Farrah didn’t have peace, and for those of you who’ve ever lost someone to cancer you know it is a terrible disease that destroys the individual from the inside out, leaving them a shell of their former self and in a lot of pain and fatigue. Before the onset of her cancer, Farrah was still actively pursuing life and acting. Had she been able to survive, she would have continued to pursue new and challenging roles.
Michael Jackson was 50 years old when he died, an age too young for anyone to be passing at. He too didn’t know peace until the moment of his death. Beginning in 1993 his career and image took a blow in the form of child molestation allegations followed by lawsuits regarding debts. Michael was trying to put together a 50-show UK tour, the strain of which is speculated to have induced his fatal cardiac arrest. Had he lived to make the tour a success, it could have been the turning point in his career and left a better legacy than the one of debt and eccentricity that he became known for.
As a person and a fan, the saddest thing for me about Farrah and Michael’s respective passing is the circumstances under which they occurred. Neither had peace or much dignity in the end, as the media hounded them up until the last hour of their death. Nobody should have to suffer in the way Farrah and Michael did in the end, especially considering all of the wonderful things they gave and left the world through their talent and passions. As we mourn their loss, and prepare for events celebrating their lives and careers, let us remember that we have not only lost two icons but two members of our collective cultural family; Two individuals whom we were not always as kind to as we should have been. Let’s keep that in mind the next time we revel in the fall of a genuine talent in our entertainment industry. When you get right down to it celebrities are human beings like the rest of us, just with higher profiles and better professional contacts.
On that note I’ll close by saying this:
Goodbye Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Thank you for what you gave us. May you both rest peacefully now and know that despite everything you were loved and will be missed.
~ Guy Friday