In the summer of 1954 our family took a trip to California. Among the many memories of that journey is a tour we made of Forest Lawn, the cemetery to the stars. As such things go, the ostentatiousness of the monument varied with the popularity of the departed at the time of departing. My father wanted particularly to see the grave of Jean Harlow, a popular film star of the 1930's. For some reason I remember the guide saying he could tell how old a visitor was by whose grave they wanted to see. In time they are all just graves, the occupants forgotten as their fans themselves die off.
There's an old tabloid saying celebrities always die in threes. We saw this recently in the concurrent deaths of Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper and Rue McClanahan. And we were reminded most flamboyantly of the first anniversary of another trio who died one year past.
First, whose name leaps to mind every time the doorbell rings, was Ed McMahon -- long time TV host and co-host, sometimes actor, and long-time pitchman for "you may be a winner" sweepstakes. Overlooked in his celebrity is his record as a veteran of the Korean conflict. According to a Wikipedia biography:
"As an officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning 6 Air Medals. After the war, he stayed with the Marines, as a reserve officer, retiring in 1966 as a Colonel, he was later commissioned to the rank of Brigadier General in the California National Guard."
The second to pass one year back was multiple Golden Globe and Emmy winning actress Farrah Fawcett. Her natural good looks and effervescent appearance enabled her to rise from model to TV star to accomplished actress. In this opinion the high point of her career was portrayal of an abused woman in "The Burning Bed" back when the subject of abuse of women was not often discussed. You missed something worthwhile if you did not see the documentary made to celebrate her courageous fight against the cancer which claimed her.
On the anniversary of her passing new offices were opened for the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, which she started before her death but was too ill to pursue. The stated mission of the Foundation is to provide funding for alternative methods of cancer research, clinical trials, prevention and awareness.
Last week we also had a big splash in all the media reviewing the passing of popular entertainer Michael Jackson. Certainly there are those who can point to memorable accomplishments of Jackson compatible to distinguished military service and inspiring others to pursue a cure for cancer. I leave it to others to say what those accomplishments might have been.
To commemorate the day monuments and a mausoleum were dedicated for Jackson's devotees to pay homage and leave oblations, perhaps also to say a prayer for (to?) his soul.
As their remembrances faded from the news cycle I thought again of that Forest Lawn guide: He could tell how old a visitor was by whose grave they wanted to see. In time they are all just graves, the occupants forgotten as their fans themselves die off.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.