Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adios to Ed, Farrah & Michael

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Whatever happens the rest of this summer, June ‘09 will be remembered as the time when icons of three generations passed away in a couple of days.
Some of us wondered, at first, what (in order of their departure) Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson would have to talk about in heaven.
My guess is: quite a lot. They all had multigenerational impact and appeal, and were a part of our lives for several decades.
Though I never met any of the three, with a week’s pondering, I came up with a one degree of separation link with each. Like many Las Crucens who witnessed his 2007 farewell performance with Mariachi Cobre and the Las Cruces Symphony, I’ve spent quality time with Ed’s “Tonight Show” colleague and friend Doc Severinsen. I also promoted Doc’s concerts when I worked with the Palm Beach County Council for the Arts.
Though the “Tonight Show” trio were closer to my parents’ age, most Baby Boomers may have logged more hours with Ed than with many of our own friends and relatives, as we grew up watching Ed bantering with Johnny and Doc and later as host of “Star Search” and those ubiquitous commercials.
The one degree with Farrah came when Ryan O’Neal jogged past me when I was visiting Jess Stearn in the Malibu Colony, where they all lived. Though we entered the planet just a few days apart, (I’m younger, something I used to cheer myself up by noting), Farrah was actually the coming-of-age pinup of boys my son’s age. I admired my fellow Aquarian’s uppity and sometimes eccentric choices in life. We both tackled the cause of domestic violence, she on film, at a time when I was reporting that there were more laws on the books to protect animals than women and kids.
Strangely enough, Michael, a decade younger than Farrah (and me) seemed more like a contemporary ... maybe because we’ve all known him since he was a little kid. I noticed in recent weeks that there was a Baby Boomer upper limit on this. Friends just a few years older didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.
I remembered trying to make sense of Michael’s one-time Oscar date Madonna, during her “Truth or Dare” period, finally coming to the conclusion that she entertainingly articulated societal confusion.
Michael was tougher to peg. Fame on such a scale at such an early age was like subjecting a small child to repeated rape and electrocution. Expecting anything close to a normal life to ensue would be as insane as his childhood.
Somehow, he still managed to produce art that was innovative, entertaining and healing.
I thought about his work that moved me the most: “Ben,” his sadly wistful childhood love song to a rat amigo. And I remembered listening to his “Thriller” and “Bad” album tracks during one of the most difficult periods of my life, when I was working with people addicted to power, cocaine and other toxic substances in some of the world’s darkest capitals of arrogance and greed. I found that retreating with Michael’s music on my Walkman helped me cope with the impossible, something Michael had been doing for a lifetime. He knew the dangerous territory, the worst war zones of the Me Generation.
It may be too soon to try to make sense of their lives, but if their triad of departures could be summarized in one-liners, it could be argued that they died as they lived. Ed set the stage and made the announcement. Farrah brought glamour and then (surprising-to-some) depth and meaning as she showed courage and innovation in her choice of roles and the way she played them. And Michael, poignantly, had some surprising and innovative moves and timing, even in his last act. To the end, he was still trying to cope and heal himself enough for one last comeback, one last message from a maimed insomniac sentinel in a spiritually narcoleptic world.
Maybe his ultimate legacy will be to compel us to reflect on the way we treat our most talented children. I hope so.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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