Michael Jackson, age 50, died. Surely you heard about it, the story was in all the papers. Nothing assures notoriety like dying while popular.
When asked about all the hoopla surrounding his death and funeral, the name Anna Nicole Smith came to mind. No matter how spectacular the celebrity, time does its inevitable work -- the story falls off our radar and a new, hitherto unknown celebrity arises. The newest celebrity's story, if there is even a hint of scandal, will take over the news cycles.
The one thing I heard that actually touched me was Jackson's daughter's loving tribute for her daddy. No accomplishment attributed to one's life is more worth having than it being said one was a good father. In all that was said, good or bad, everyone close to the situation seemed to agree Michael Jackson was a good father. This, not all that other stuff, was his accomplishment.
A great deal of hyperbole was expressed at Michael's memorial service. Included was a statement heard from a well-known preacher that Michael Jackson was "the greatest entertainer of all time." It would be fair to point out, though, that "all time" is a very long time, indeed; and entertaining over the centuries has taken innumerable form.
My father, who died in 1966, fervently believed the greatest entertainer of all time was a man named Gene Austin who first recorded "My Blue Heaven." According to Wikipedia, "The song was published in 1927 and became a huge 1928 hit for crooner Gene Austin, when its was charted for 26 weeks, stayed at No. 1 for 13, and sold over five million copies." I can clearly remember my dad saying this was the best selling record of "all time" and probably no one would ever sell more.
Although the story will linger on for quite some time (there always being a market for the evil which lives after a man), Michael Jackson will fade from our consciousness. There is the point following anyone's death when all you can do is turn and silently walk away; a moment when the crowds have gone and life goes forward. In the end this life may well have affected many millions, but he changed the lives only of three young children.
My candidate for "Most 'Important' Entertainer of the Electronic Age" is Elvis Presley. Not because he was the best, best selling, or even because his compartment of entertainment was our most vital. Rather, he is my candidate because of the change in our world he was and still represents. I first heard of his death from newsman David Brinkley who came on the air with these words. "Elvis Presley died today. Whatever you thought of him, he changed your life; because he changed the way the world listens to music."
Presley proved an entertainer could sell a lot more than 5 million records, that there was real money to be made in selling records (that would be CDs to you, children). Because of Presley moneyed people arose ready to back potential stars of any genre, and the market for artists like Michael Jackson now existed.
After the tributes, after the story, after the crowds have gone, the world of entertainment will never be what it was when my father listened to a 78 rpm record of My Blue Heaven by "the greatest entertainer of all time."
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.