Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson are dead. They comprised a panoply of America's most acclaimed and recognized stars.
So definitive was McMahon's "Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny!" that we continue to hear distant echoes of it even now during the routine introduction of the red-headed Irish brat who is currently the host of the "Tonight Show."
In the mid-1970s, Fawcett was the sultriest pinup girl in America. I remember that my sister-in-law, who was a teenager at the time, shampooed her own flowing locks before retreating to the sandy shores of Padre Island, and attempted to justify the crazy practice by retorting, "Farrah does it!"
Around a quarter century ago, Jackson's "moonwalk" was regarded by popular dance enthusiasts as the eighth wonder of the world. I was then strolling through a local mall one day, when I noticed a throng of people congregated around a television. They were watching, as it turned out, a performance by the "King of Pop" and were responding to his new dance step as if they were witnessing a feat of magic.
Here we are at the end of an era, and all in the blink of an eye too! As I contemplate this denouement in the annals of popular culture, there is sadness, and not for the obvious reasons. McMahon earned millions of dollars as Carson's sidekick, but in the final months of his life he was obviously living beyond his means. While he was fighting eviction from his home, his young, fashionable wife was spending his money as if there were no tomorrow.
Fawcett, endowed with striking natural beauty, never enjoyed a stable and lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex. She tended to gravitate to men who were given to abuse and violence. The disease which finally took her life was one that was scarcely mentionable among Hollywood's beautiful people.
Jackson, a prodigious dancing and singing sensation, was widely regarded in his final years as a freak show. His face, the product of numerous surgeries, told the story of his profligate lifestyle and weird existence. He also spent untold millions paying off the victims of his incorrigible pedophilia.
Popular culture is a wasteland. Those who inhabit it die in its clutches. In the mean time, these victims live in a self-defeating inverse reality: the greater their acclaim, the more notable their decline.
Countless stars of movie, song, and dance bear a resemblance to those who now bask in the glory of political power. They all enjoy a bubble popularity. It expands to sensational proportions and then bursts into nothingness. It's the antithesis of greatness. I think in this regard of Spiro T. Agnew, the former governor of Maryland and vice president of the nation. At one moment he was spouting vitriol before ecstatically cheering crowds, and during the next moment he was resigning from office in disgrace.
Not only in American, but also in European and world history, the pages are replete with spectacular "flashes in the pan" – men like Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin, to name but a few. They prove that apparent heroes are often far from the real thing.
The true heroes among us were, in fact, often loathed while they were here. What irony! Sam Houston, on his deathbed, considered himself an abject failure. Winston Churchill was castigated by his fellow citizens for courageously warning against the mounting threat of fascism. Harry Truman left office a poorly regarded and deeply loathed public servant. True prophets continue to be slain, and the Savior of the world crucified. As the Preacher once intoned, "There is nothing new under the sun."
Well, maybe there is one thing. Some of us foresee a dark future when the truth may never prevail except in the mind of God. The meaning of words will remain subverted. Historians will lie when they themselves do not realize it, because they will have been endoctrinated with an Orwellian "duckspeak." "In this dim unknown, will we be 'sheep without a shepherd'?" you ask. Yes, we could very well be living at the end of a staff. Whether it turns out to be a scepter held by a caring magistrate or a bludgeon wielded by an authoritarian slave master you yourself must decide.
Of one verity I am certain. The true heroes will be those who are alert to the crisis America faces and who respond with courage to it. They will fight for freedom to the end, all the while realizing that their names will scarcely live except in the air of liberty that those who survive them may be fortunate enough to breathe.
June 26, 2009