Dick Clark died this week at 82. I am sorry for his family.
It’s interesting to watch and listen to people’s reactions when a celebrity passes away. For one, while tens of thousands die everyday, some in extreme and avoidable circumstances like war, the world pays little attention. When one celebrity dies, the world notices.
People worldwide are tweeting, writing, and talking about Clark’s life and legacy. I don’t have a problem with this. It’s a way of expressing respect for a human being. I have nothing against Dick Clark. I even liked some of the things he did and is remembered for in entertainment. None of what I say here is really about him. It’s just that his passing triggered these thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder at the comments offered when a celebrity dies. When John Lennon was killed in 1980 the world fell apart, and it was indeed a tragedy. Eventually I read a piece praising Lennon for his “generosity” because he’d given $65,000 to nonprofit work. I remember that number clearly. I’m glad he gave, and this amount of money was worth more then than now, but frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Reason was, I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations all my adult life and I’ve seen people give hundreds of thousands and even multi-million dollar gifts numerous times, attracting no media. But then again, these folks didn’t give to make the papers.
One article I read waxed rhapsodic about Dick Clark, saying his influence was profound, that there’d never be another like him. Again, no disrespect intended to Mr. Clark, but “profound”? Dick Clark was a television host and producer. He’s most remembered for “American Bandstand” and his lifelong youthful looks. There will “never be another like him”? There already is: his showbiz heir, Ryan Seacrest. Frankly, while Mr. Clark’s contributions to entertainment are admirable, there are many unsung heroes in this world whose influence is or will be much more profound.
People are moved when a celebrity dies in part because it’s an inescapable reminder of their own mortality. It’s a reminder that you can live for the Devil if you want but eventually your life comes to a close and an accounting. As such, celebrity funerals are sometimes an exercise in denial.
At Frank Sinatra’s funeral in 1998, Kirk Douglas told the media heaven would be rockin’ tonight because Frank was there with the Rat Pack. Excuse me? Frank and the Rat Pack? What in or about Frank’s life, great talent though he was, would lead anyone to think he’s partying in heaven? I hope he is, but there’s no evidence in his life to suggest it.
None of this is to minimize the importance of any individual. When Whitney Houston died of drug abuse earlier this year in her 40s people rightfully mourned. They mourned the silencing of an incredible voice, a rare gift. They mourned the passing of a human being. They grieved that one had departed too young.
All this is good and appropriate. But we sometimes go over-the-top when a celebrity passes. We seem to lack perspective, an ability to honor and appreciate and reminisce while also understanding right, wrong, and consequences. America’s celebrity-watching seems to have morphed into celebrity-worship, something unhealthy for both the celebrity and the culture.
All human beings matter. All are worth celebrating—at least for their humanity if not always for their humaneness. Perhaps that is what we should ponder in the wake of a celebrity’s passing.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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