In light of the very shocking news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death (a death that really got to me. I'm for sure a fan.) it got me thinking about celebrity deaths and how the public tends to react. Usually when there is a celebrity death there is going to be an entire fanbase that will mourn. But I guess I do have some issues with how it is handled from time to time. Keep in mind this is mostly (if not entirely) going to be about the entertainment industry, and even then mostly film. It's simply what I know best and while I know how hard it was for people to hear about Nelson Mandela's death, I just don't have the political knowledge to comment on it properly. What I know are movies and so I will stick to that. But going then deeper into entertainment, I also realize how hard it was to hear of Pete Seeger's death, again I don't know his work well enough to properly comment.
I guess what I wanted to touch on first was the "I was always a fan" reaction to deaths. This is the type of death where you may not have heard about someone for some time until they died. Then you remember you REALLY liked one or two movies they were in, and then proceed to go on facebook and tell all your family and friends how bummed out you are because you were such a huge fan! The first one that comes to mind is Paul Walker. Now I haven't been a fan of his since I was of the right age group for the Fast and Furious movies. Never saw any of the new ones so I never kept up with him. But what I do understand is that he was also in a bunch of low-budget, not so great movies, and generally just getting by in the business. Then next thing you know the F&F movies are making a sweeping return, making more money than most modern franchises not based on a book. It's actually totally insane how popular those movies have gotten. But as a non-fan when I found out he died I first and foremost mourned for him as a human and his family. That and I found out he was one of the nicest guys in the world in the business so that was a bummer. But I never went out saying I was a fan, as I don't think people should just because something like this happened. In a way it's a bit of an insult to their death, telling lies to make you look better in the mourning of a celebrity. Did all those people posting on FB actually see any of his work outside of F&F? Did they ever see or even consider seeing stuff like (Just taking randomly from his imdb page) Joy Ride, Eight Below, or Takers? He was in all those movies among a bunch of other ones that many probably haven't seen or even heard of. Nope, just F&F. Personally I remember really liking Running Scared and have been wanting to see it again for a long time. I just hope I find it somewhat as good as I remember it or else I may feel guilty for changing my mind, especially with how hard he seemed to be working in the business.
Another that is a bit like this but also borderlines on another subject, that being the "insulting response" to their death, is Heath Ledger. I was in college when Heath Ledger died and I remember a ton of girls going nuts over his death. Now this may have been a misinterpretation but I seriously wondered how many of those girls actually knew and loved his works, and how many of them saw 10 Things I Hate About You and just thought he was cute. I probably don't need to go into it too much or else I'll start sounding like I did with Paul Walker. Also Heath didn't have a necessarily huge body of work and only so few were actually popular. So maybe the "big fans" really only had stuff like 10 Things and A Knights Tale to work with. It's different than with Paul Walker because his movies were at least somewhat advertised big whereas not all of Heath's were or he was a super small part in it. Well when he did die I was shocked mostly because he was such a young guy. Still one of the biggest responses pulled from the guys was related to Batman.
Now in a way this is understandable. Big fans of a certain franchise want to know how the sudden loss of a key character with change the end result. Well thankfully it was all done by the time he died but the conspiracies that came from it I found insulting. When his death was first reported it was all a bit of a mystery to how it happened. But the hardcore Batman fans (or at least some around me) seemed to speculate that it had something to do with him getting SO into character for the Joker that it wound up killing him, or had a hand in it. Now not only is that just absurd but it's also insulting. To think that your franchise is so precious and manipulative in character that it could result in someone's death is atrocious to even consider. Not even taking into consideration that he was already halfway through filming a completely different movie when the accidental overdose of Rx drugs killed him. Let me say that again... accidental. And a lot of people automatically made The Dark Knight his swan song. Did he put on a great performance? Of course, it was very innovative and unique in a genre that is known for being pretty stupid most of the time.
But next to no attention was given to his actual final film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. A movie that had to completely hault production and take the story into a completely different direction to make it work due to his death. And I thought the results were great. Parnassus is a damn fine film that had a much better outcome to someone's death than much worse productions. At least it wasn't like the choppy editting and cutaways in Wagons East (John Candy died during production of that) or the even worse Game of Death where all the original footage of Bruce Lee working on that movie only resulted in about 35 minutes of an actual movie.
But that doesn't quite give the response that something like an embarassing death gives a person and their career. At least the people I've mentioned before had a respectable going out. Whether or not their fans were "true" fans they had people worshiping them at the grave as they went out. And that's not to say people who had an embarrassing death aren't remembered fondly for their work. They found Elvis dead on the toilet after he gained a ton of weight and was doing drugs but people still adore his work. But the one that usually comes to mind for me when I think about an embarrassing death is David Carradine, aka Bill from Kill Bill. Maybe this death isn't as well known since as an actor he is mostly known to people of my era as simply Bill. He was in a lot of Kung Fu stuff like... Kung Fu the TV show. And was also in a lot of B-Ticket stuff which I think would give him a cult following. But when I found out he died after accidentally hanging himself while attempting auto-erotic asphyxiation (or in simple terms, jerking off while choking yourself) it kind of put a different light on him. And when I say that I mean it is one of those things that's hard to get out of your head knowing it happened. Like when the big O.J. trial happened it's hard to look at him any differently no matter what he did before or after it. It spoils the image of the person or characters they played. And this doesn't work only when they died embarrassingly. It also works when the death is especially tragic.
But if you want really tragic then look to Judith Barsi, the girl who played Ducky in The Land Before Time. Even younger (10 years old) her father became abusive as her career started taking off. In the end she was shot to death along with her mother by her father, who then took the gun to himself. Try watching The Land Before Time again and not think about that when Ducky comes on the screen. Or when you're watching All Dogs Go to Heaven cause she's in that, too as Anne-Marie. The orphan girl.
Of course it's hard to look at any celebrity the same when their death came sooner than anticipated. There's a whole laundry list of folks who could have been around longer but are gone for one reason or another (in no particular order): John Ritter, Brittany Murphy, Michael Clark Duncan, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Graham Chapman, Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, River Pheonix, Richard Jeni, Jim Henson, Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes, and the list goes on. Heck, even my beloved Stanley Kubrick could still be alive or alive a little longer than he was if it weren't for the heart attack that killed him. But I doubt he'd still be alive today. If he were he'd be 84.
Then there's the one that bugs me the most, which is when a celebrity is honored in death in a completely different way than they were in real life. Example. Shortly before Amy Winehouse died I saw tabloids all over the place that showed her in the worst possible state, with headlines that may as well have said, "Look at this fucking piece of white trash bullshit!" They were slamming her left and right with what seemed like no levity whatsoever. Then suddenly she died (unsurprisingly) from alcohol poisoning. Within days I saw those same tabloids show her on the cover in the best possible light they could show. And I felt it was one of the most contradictory things I'd ever seen from tabloid to tabloid. I mean, the difference was like night and day it was so extreme. And I know Amy Winehouse had her music fanbase that cared about her a great deal. And I'm not here to bash them for looking at her in a positive light. It just drives me nuts how this will happen just because a celebrity dies. If you didn't like them when they were alive chances are you won't like them when they're dead. Not to say they wish death on these celebrities and neither do I. That's sick. But when I think back to that drastic change in appearance on the magazine covers it makes me wonder. Makes me wonder how the magazines would show off, let's say Justin Bieber if he were to die tomorrow by whatever means. He's been slammed by most people in the world for the last few years for being an arrogant, spoiled little prick who has no respect for his fans or for much of anything other than himself. He's a little douchebag who has no doubt been a negative influence on his young female fans. But what would the cover of people magazine say if he were to die tomorrow? Would it say "An influence to young girls" or "A musical treasure who will be missed"? I don't know but it certainly wouldn't be saying all the things people have been saying about him for the last few years as he progressively gets worse and worse. Again there will be the hardcore fans who will say he was the new Elvis Presley or something like that but it doesn't mean everyone will be thinking that. It can be really off putting when the perception of someone is changed just because they died. If you were a fan of someone, act that way when they go. If you're not, then you don't have to change your mind. But at the very least have some humanity and don't act like the assholes who sing praises when someone they didn't personally like dies. That's just... dark.
...there may be some exceptions for the greater good of our people...