Death in the Links (and It's Not the Title for a Golfing Mystery...)

I have a friend -- a very dear friend of just over a quarter century -- with whom I have very little correspondence anymore. I send the occasional email but get little response. Every once in a while, I receive an email from him pertaining to something within our group of friends back in my old stomping grounds; I will often respond, in that way that I do, with a snarky comment or two, but he hardly ever gets back to me regarding this bad behavior. Whether I have annoyed him or done something deeply to offend him at some point I am unaware of, and if I have, then it would be a surprise, for the behavior which caused it would be par for the course for me, because, as it states in the long-running contract that I signed with my dear old gang, this is exactly what I was hired to do: annoy and offend, but in a playful, friendly manner. I say I hardly ever hear from him, but I do receive a constant stream of a certain type of email from this friend of mine. If a celebrity dies, usually within an hour of their demise, sometimes mere minutes in the case to which I am referring, I will receive an email bearing a subject line that declares the celebrity's death, and then in the body of the email there will be nothing else but a link to a popular news site carrying the full, sad story. For a while, I, the rightful king of spontaneous annoyance, became annoyed myself by these intrusions into my state of well-being, wishing them away so I could keep from spending the remainder of the day in a negative mood which would keep me from concentrating on the work at hand, and dwelling instead upon this crushing state of mortality under which we all exist.

After a while, I began to develop this image in my head of my friend spending his evenings plowing through the news sites, hoping beyond hope to discover any mere mention of even the lowliest celebrity just so he could grab a link to it and send it ASAP to his email-trapped compadres. I began to feel sorry for him, believing him to be caught in some strange new form of addiction, like those people who have to pass on every single piece of spam that lands in their mailboxes, only my friend's seemed more proactive in design, and therefore, possibly far more dangerous to his person in the long run. And then anger overtook me when he would send emails for celebrities that I didn't give two shits about, and it would become compounded when he would completely miss on an author or an old-time actor whom I felt deserved more attention, and then would totally ignore their demise for that of what I would consider to be an inferior being.

And then, eventually, I stopped feeling sorry. My friend wasn't an addict, and he wasn't sad. We wasn't mutating into some bug-eyed, drooling, blithering death-beast, hiding in the dark praying for Chaka Khan to drop face first into her bon-bons. He was merely a good friend of mine passing on information about famous or influential people whom he believed some of his pals and gals loved or admired, or even people we may have hated but of whom he felt we would find the notice of their untimely passing of some mild interest. We would, for the most part, hear about these things on our own, but he was still providing a valuable if trivial service (and, in a sick way, sort of fun... like we were on the info end of one of those "dead pools" you hear about... which we aren't). Because, despite the lack of replies to his initial charge, he was, at the very least, attempting a connection in some small fashion.

He's still providing this service, the latest volley of which I discovered on one of my personal "national" holidays: Oscar-nomination day. Caught up in speculation fever, this time, when I read the email, I thought he was joking. It was about Heath Ledger, not long after he was discovered in his Manhattan home. The news of this swept from my own agape jaw to that of my office-mate Raw Meat, and then it rocketed through our building, pretty much carried by me as I made my way through the halls, acting pretty much as the human-viral version of the email my friend sent in the first place. Some people found out on their own, but I did the main work, and when the deed was finished, I was shocked more by my immediate reaction to this news than the news itself.

Certainly, we, as a society, have grown increasingly inured to tragedies of this sort. We would perhaps not care half as much if the media didn't jump onto the story without hesitation and flood us with every single rumor concerning Mr. Ledger's demise before even checking a single fact. We would not care at all if there were no media to do so, but, inversely, were there no media about, Mr. Ledger would not have his career, and we would therefore not know him at all. Now, I have enjoyed Mr. Ledger's presence onscreen over the past few years, even if his movies (even the notorious sheepherder film which launched him to superstardom) did little for me. I was excited by the prospect of his playing the Joker in the next Batman film, if only because I had long given up hope that Paul Reubens would one day play the character (his, though, would be bound to be a more traditional version of the Clown Prince of Crime), and I agreed with Ledger's left-field casting only because I thought it might prove interesting at the least. I must admit, in trying to name films in which he appeared to people who were a little unsure of who he was, I was hard-pressed to come up with more than three right off my tongue. He had become a major celebrity in my personal view of the media, and yet, I had little regard or remembrance of his work at large. Mainly I remembered him from the media's tendency for gossip, a system I try vainly to avoid. Of course, I can't, and neither can most of you. It is the age we live in.

And so, we will get deluged with report after report of celebrity misdeeds, overdoses, murders and accidental deaths. It is our lot, and every once in a while, I will hear of a celebrity who has fallen into such misfortune, and I will react in the way that I did to Mr. Ledger's: sadly and confused. He seems like someone I should be sad over, but I don't really know why. I watched Suzanne Pleshette in far more things than I did Ledger, even growing up watching her and having sort of a crush on her as a youth, and the news of her death the day before shocked me far less than Ledger's. (Suzanne Pleshette, by the way, was a celebrity my friend was remiss in reporting to the rest of us, though he did tag the racist schmuck Bobby Fischer a couple of days before.)

It may have been Ledger's youth that triggers this reaction in us, though the even younger Brad Renfro's recent o.d. didn't shock anyone. Of course, Renfro had never been nominated for an Oscar. Personally, I feel it was a combination of his youth, ascendancy as a celeb, and my own grappling with getting gradually older: eyesight starting to fuzz a bit, knees giving me more pain than before, back aching at increasing intervals. I hear of the death of someone -- anyone -- and I think even more about the brevity with which we all tackle life. Locked as I am in a fascination with horror stories and movies, you'd think I would have a better grip on this subject, perhaps even approach this with a more cynically detached and blase attitude towards the subject of mortality. But, I don't.

[This paragraph removed at the last second in one of my more calm, reflective and thoughtful moments. It was in bad taste compared to the piece, though it did prove a point about my reaction. Perhaps I will print it later.]

So, I plunge headlong into the future, knowing that should Bobby Brown, Stephen King or Tiffany meet some cruel, shocking fate, my good friend will be there to inform us of the news of their passing. I am strangely comforted by this now. Though I am sure he will miss telling us about Carl Hiaasen...


Mark Otis said…
Myself, I had a strange reaction to the fallout of Heath Ledger's death. I was actually honestly surprised by the way my workmates gossiped about it. I just wanted to get my work done. But I am a workaholic, not a Heath-aholic.

I only saw him in one film: "Brothers Grimm", which I only endured about half an hour of - and I love Gilliam's stuff... well, don't count "Tideland" in there, either.

On the bright side: this shouldn't hurt the turnout for the new "Batman"... (I promise, I was gonna see it anyway).

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