President Obama can forget about getting much attention for his health-care reform efforts over the next few days, as two celebrity deaths — Farrah Fawcett, which had been anticipated; and Michael Jackson, which came out of the blue — seem destined to dominate the conversation for a few days.
While the onslaught of coverage tied to Fawcett’s death at 62 after a long illness felt more than a little excessive, the 50-year-old Jackson’s sudden death warrants the wall-to-wall coverage that local TV and cable news are already showering upon it.
Few public figures over the years have been more tragic, bizarre or fascinating than Jackson, a cautionary tale about the effects of child stardom if there ever was one. Enormously talented as a singer and songwriter, Jackson’s legacy will forever be sadly tainted by his personal quirks and excesses as well as allegations of abuse and child molestation that repeatedly dogged him.
For years, Jackson has been most famous as an oddity, and in that context, the instant media spectacle surrounding his death — the frantic search for news, insight and analysis, as well as the crowd surrounding UCLA Medical Center — seems strangely appropriate. There was CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, left soberly introducing clips from the “Beat It” and “Black or White” videos like some aging, bearded veejay.
ABC and NBC had already announced Fawcett specials, but one suspects those plans are in flux. It seems inevitable that Jackson will be primetime news on the major networks tonight and — given the treasure trove of high-rated interviews conducted with him over the years — perhaps for days to come.
Having grown up with the Jackson Five, I would love to say that I’ll remember Jackson for the sweet-voiced little boy that he was. There is, after all, a strong impulse not to speak ill of the dead. Unfortunately, no comprehensive discussion of Jackson’s legacy can hold to that gauzy, nostalgic image for very long.
Update: And tonight’s lineup: CBS News has scheduled “The Life and Death of Michael Jackson” for 10 p.m. NBC will air a two-hour “Dateline” devoted to both Jackson and Fawcett, bumping its previously announced Fawcett encore, “Farrah’s Story,” to Friday. ABC has set its own hour, also titled “The Life and Death of Michael Jackson,” for 9 p.m.
Second Update: I went to Westwood on Thursday night to see the play “Farragut North” at the Geffen Playhouse. Not only was traffic mucked up by all the satellite trucks surrounding the UCLA Medical Plaza, but a group of a-holes were standing on the corner adjacent to UCLA selling Michael Jackson memorial T-shirts. Then again, what’s the point of having a media circus without a bunch of parasites to sell concessions?