In memoriam. . .

I was called into work last Thursday so as I’m rushing around to get ready, I’m not paying much attention to the news. I jump into my car, flip on the iPod so I can listen to week old Rush Limbaugh shows (it seems I never catch up). I finally get to work around 1PM and we all start to say our “Hi’s.” Someone mentions Farrah passed away that morning. Farrah’s story is sad since she was in so much pain for so long. But at least her pain has stopped now. I remember the sensation she was back in the 70’s. Being raised in a strict Christian home, I wasn’t allowed to have her rather seductive poster in my room. I seem to recall a few Fonzie posters, but no Farrah. Did I mention I was 13? She was important to me because at the time, she was married to the Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors. I was a HUGE SMDM fan (that’s another story for another time) and was fascinated by Farrah for her connection to Lee. Really! That’s it! No other reason at all. What in the world could be fascinating to a budding 13 year old about a bouncy blond doing crime fighting with her two gorgeous friends? I remember watching “Charlie’s Angels” with my dad during the height of the Farrah mania and my very staid father said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. . .Her neck is too long.” I promise this is what I said, “Neck? I haven’t gotten up that far!” Yeah, I was a wise ass even back then. Over the years Farrah proved to be committed to her craft and much more than just another pretty face. It’s always fascinating to me to watch how people handle fame.

So as we discussed the passing of Farrah, I mentioned, “Well that’s two. We lost Ed McMahon this week also,” referring of course to the tradition of bad news coming in three’s. I loved Ed McMahon as well. I always thought he was a dear soul. He was absolutely a big part of the reason Johnny lasted so long. But even without Johnny, Ed carried the ball very well, especially as host of “Star Search” and pitchman. Ed will be missed, but at least Johnny has someone to introduce him now.

I have to be careful with my premonitions. Once about six years ago, I was flipping through some channels and came across an old Hepburn/Tracy movie. As I’m watching it, in walks Charles Bronson. I’m looking at this and said to my wife, “Geez, how old is this movie? Gotta be late 40’s right? And Charles Bronson is in this movie? How old must this guy be? He’s gotta be at the top of the ‘death’ list.” I was shocked the next morning to find out that Charles Bronson had died the night before. As I read the story, it turned out that he died at virtually the exact time I said that! In our house, we call that “The Night I Killed Charles Bronson.”  So, imagine my surprise when my premonition about a third death in the same week came true.

Within about an hour, news broke that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital and that his condition was very bad. Obviously, he passed as well. This one I took a little harder. I have been a proud Michael Jackson fan since I first saw that little kid back in the early 70’s. He had it! I was watching the night he dazzled with the Moonwalk on the Motown 25 show and as we all realized we were seeing something we’d never seen before. I also watched him dazzle a Super Bowl crowd in a way no else has before or since. I have enjoyed his music for its joyfulness, it’s tenderness, and it’s technical prowess. But with Michael, it was always about the videos. Because of his vision, what could have been a very trite format has become a rebirth of the movie musical – in short form. Fully developed stories in four to five minutes, and maybe longer.

But as easy as it was to be a fan because of the music and the performances, it was also hard to watch what he was doing to himself. He was obviously in some sort of pain and his constant attempts to remake his image into something he found pleasing proved futile. He destroyed himself. He also left himself open to constant criticism because of his behavior, especially with children. For the record, I have always believed that he really does love children. But no adult man should ever have strange children spend the night with them. He obviously didn’t see anything wrong with it, but it is.

Having said that, I have defended him against the most vile of accusations and he has been acquitted. Let’s put those awful rumors in the grave too. I will always choose to remember his brilliance as a singer, dancer, and performer. Not only that, but for how he changed the music industry and society in general. Before Michael, if an artist could get one song from each album on the singles charts, you had a hit album. Michael not only had multiple hits from each album, but on multiple charts. From a societal standpoint, just as Elvis made white people accept black music, Michael made white people accept black artists. He paved the way for mainstream access by black artists from a variety of genres. By the late 80’s/early 90’s, the pop charts were being dominated by black artists. That’s Michael!

So just when I thought it was safe to read the news again, an old acquaintance of mine passed at the end of the week: Billy Mays. I worked with Billy on the Turbo Tiger infomercial in the late 90’s. The thing I remember most about that shoot was Billy’s constant habit of dropping his pants. He always wanted to have his sky blue shirt properly tucked into his khaki pants. So just before every take, he would unzip his pants and tuck. On this particular infomercial, he was working with a rather modest lady co-host who seemed a bit unnerved at Billy’s peculiar habit. Finally annoyed enough she exclaimed, “Could you at least warn me when you’re going to do that!” LOL He and we were all amused at that. Anyway, a few weeks later my wife and I were selling at the Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park, Florida, and in walks Billy Mays. He’s just strolling the aisles, looking for bargains like everyone else. As he passes my booth, I catch his eye and say, “Hi!” Well he seems to remember me from the shoot and we chat for a couple of minutes. He was very nice to work with and very nice in person. His is maybe the most tragic of all those deaths this week since it was so unexpected and really at a time in his life when he was really hitting his stride. He had a new family and a new series on Discovery with his partner “Sully.” He was also relatively young at 50.

All these people had tremendous gifts and I felt a connection to each of them. They brought joy to me and millions like me. My prayers are with their families.

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1 Comment

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One response to “In memoriam. . .

  1. I was unaware you had worked with Billy. I too, worked with Billy on an OxyClean Commercial in the early 90s. At the time he was doing DR (direct response) ads for HSN’s informercial division and I had the pleasure of a half-day shoot with him. We had a snafu with the product and Billy would not cheat as the company wanted him to do.

    A friend of mine worked closely with Billy and Sully right up to his death and she was featured prominently in two episodes of Pitchmen.

    I didn’t know MJ and was never a fan of his music so I guess I’m just a callous old fart. Sorry.

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