Thursday, July 2, 2009

HOW NOT TO DIE IN THE PUBLIC EYE

Farrah Fawcett died on the 25th of June 2009 at the age of 62 from a 3-year battle with intestinal cancer, or anal cancer as Fox News so delicately phrased it. Farrah Fawcett was not a superstar, but she was a lot more famous than some other people who have died icons. Fawcett’s death is tragic and premature, which is a good start if you want to die an icon, however, she got a few things wrong. First, and most importantly, there should be some mystery surrounding your death and it is always good if it involves some sort of substance abuse. Look at Marilyn Monroe, many will argue that there is no contest here; Marilyn is far more famous than Farrah. This is true, but would she still be as famous today if she had died in hospital after suffering from a common illness for a long time surrounded by loved ones? I think not.

The truth is that Marilyn did suffer long term from a common illness: depression, a condition for which she was prescribed archaic and addictive medication. As opposed to Fawcett, and crucially, Monroe died alone. Such a beautiful, famous woman dying alone, it’s hard for us to accept. It is a mystery that has melancholic drama to it, which lends Marilyn’s death mass appeal. Also, she was younger than Fawcett, which helps. Marilyn did leave it a little late at 36, if you are to believe the experts, the optimum icon dies at 27: Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the list goes on…

If you are to die from cancer or any other long-term illness, make sure it’s a palatable type, no one likes intestines. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hear about anal cancer. There is absolutely nothing sexy about a bum disease. People prefer a tortured soul and mysterious circumstances, with some drugs, sex and alcohol thrown in for good measure, Michael Hutchence style. Was it suicide? Was it autoerotic asphyxiation? What drugs was he on? What was going on with him and Paula Yates? It was the kind of celebrity death that kept giving; there was the death of Paula Yates, the couple’s orphaned daughter, Tiger-Lily, the custody battle between Sir Bob and the Hutchences, and critically, peoples bottoms were sexy and free from illness. Rock n’ Roll deaths are almost always good; take Brian Jones for example, a founder member of the Rolling Stones, notorious for his hedonistic lifestyle drowns in his own swimming pool less than a month after Mick and Keith sacked him for being flakey. Instant icon. As if that’s not interesting enough, 30 years later, and on his deathbed, a builder called Frank Thorogood confessed to having killed Jones. Brilliant! Mystery, murder, drugs, Mick Jagger, swimming pools and lies; it is a perfect death of an icon as Brian Jones was a perfect 27 years old, optimum iconic death status age. Well done Brian, top marks!

Another way of achieving iconic status through your death is to involve an element of violence. Although extreme, violence is intrinsically dramatic, and drama will give your demise some edge, take the plane crash for instance: JFK Junior, Aaliyah, Buddy Holly, John Denver, Rocky Marciano and Otis Redding, have all gained added cult status from perishing in aviation events. The car wreck also lends that air of inevitability, which we find so alluring: Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopes, Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, Jackson Pollock, Albert Camus, Bessie Smith and most famously James Dean, all died in car crashes, Natalie Wood and Robert Maxwell both mysteriously disappeared off yachts, which is a nice, tragic and glamourous end. You could also get shot like Marvin Gaye, JFK or John Lennon, this is the epitome of iconic death.

Whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel, kick the bucket, fake it or otherwise perish on the same day as the King of Pop. Poor old Farrah Fawcett.

Mia Tagg 2009®

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