Friday, June 26, 2009

This week's troika of celebrity deaths: McMahon, Fawcett, Michael Jackson

Isn't it bizarre, how often celebrity deaths happen in threes? This week saw the passing of Johnny Carson's sidekick Ed McMahon, whose death was quickly overshadowed by the passing of actress Farrah Fawcett, who will now be pushed aside because of the death of Michael Jackson.

McMahon's celebrity largely rested on another's talent: the quick-witted quipster and twitchy talk-show host, Carson. He was the butt of Carson's affectionate jokes, and largely served to make Carson look good. (I once employed McMahon's role in a post about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.)

Farrah Fawcett grabbed the spotlight because of her great beauty, dazzling smile, a poster every teenaged boy (including me, as I recall) had on his wall, and some acting stints. Beyond the report that she was subjected to the (at-best) meaningless deathbed magic of Rome, I know nothing of her spiritual state.

Michael Jackson — well, what do you say? He definitely dwarfs the other two, in our culture, and for a strange amalgam of reasons.

He started out as a talented child in a talented family driven to success by a reportedly tyrannical father. He ended up as a bizarre, pitiable, enigmatic, repellent figure. Many question-marks will follow him to his grave.

Raised a Jehovah's Witness, Jackson appended a disclaimer to his history-making video for "Thriller" disavowing belief in the occult. In his later videos, Jackson went out of his way to distance himself from any notion of moral boundaries. They were a mixture of sweetness and creativity, and depravity. Catchy tunes and engaging inspiration were mixed with obscene or otherwise jarring imagery, in videos for such songs as "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Black or White" or "Bad." A Jackson video came to be like a dazzling table setting, spattered with dung.

I can't easily think of someone who less needed to degrade himself, who more eagerly seemed to invent ways to do so.

Nor can I easily think of a more talented figure who displayed his unhealed brokenness so openly and yet unwillingly at the same time.

All one need do is look at the succession of photos of Jackson as he aged (or see here) to observe the misery in which he clearly lived, and the self-despising and self-destructive steps he took in the misbegotten hopes of dealing with it. This was a man unable to find peace with himself or the world.

Jackson starts out as a handsome young black child; then a handsome young black man. Then both Jackson's face and his skin-tone, as well as his masculinity, morph and change, like some sad creature caught in a transporter accident on a Star Trek movie. But whatever harm Jackson endured at the hands of others, those changes were self-inflicted, experienced under his own hands, at his own command.

To rephrase my observation in the meta of Justin Taylor's sensitive note of Jackson's passing,
Jackson was an individual equally remarkable for his giftedness, and his brokenness. To see Jackson over the years is to see the chronicle of a man who did not take his pain and sin to the Cross, and instead of experiencing God's regenerating grace, attempted his own handmade makeover. It was sad, tragic, and painful to watch.

What Jackson did to himself is what we all do to ourselves outside of Christ. The difference is that Jackson's failed attempts were all worn obviously, in public view, on the changing tapestry of his face, while we may mask ours better.

As you shrink from the Frankenstein shock of Jackson's visage, reflect: mankind was created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28), and still bears that image (Genesis 9:6). But in seeking to take God's place and make themselves gods (Genesis 3), our foreparents did to their whole beings what Michael Jackson did to his face: they horridly disfigured themselves and all of us, leaving a repulsive mockery of what we were meant to be.

The only solution for us is not a succession of endeavors to remake ourselves. Each attempt leaves a worse spectacle than the previous, and moves us further from what we truly need.

The only solution for us is the solution to which Michael Jackson never submitted himself, as far as is known: to be born anew, under the good hand of our Creator. We do not need new faces. We need new natures. We need the miracle of regeneration, not the tragedy of manmade makeovers.

And this can only come through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Anonymous people from at least six continents pass through these pages every day. My prayer for you, whoever you are, is that you will take your hurts and brokenness and crimes against God to the only place when you can find forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation: to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(This week's Hither and Thither should go up around noon, PST)


DJP said...

To say what I don't think I need to say:

1. No dancing on Jackson's grave. Justin Taylor was ridiculously accused of doing that simply because he lamented Jackson. If you want to see real horrible mockery, check the threads at FreeRepublic. Some of their commenters are at their worst at times like this, and it won't happen here.

My regulars don't need to hear that, but we have visitors all the time.

2. I know, I could have said far worse, and shown worse pictures. Let's stay in the neighborhood suggested by the post, shall we?

deekdubberly said...

Excellent and respectful post. It is indeed a sad spectacle. Thanks for bringing out the truth of the gospel.

danny2 said...

well written dan.

Fred Butler said...

Then both Jackson's face and his skin-tone and his masculinity morph and change, like some sad creature caught in a transporter accident on a Star Trek movie.

I think it is more akin to Smeagal/Gollum as he was transformed by the corrupting power of the ring. I thought the third LOTR movie captured this well in the opening moments of the film. In like manner MJ's fame and wealth drove him to a corrupting isolation.

Solameanie said...

Well, well said, and amen.

CR said...

Well written post.

I agree with what you said about MJ starting out as a handsome child and young man. It was particularly painful to see him in the later years whether it be in interviews or even last night showing him in past interviews. Ugh.

MJ's former rabbi - schmuley boteach said that most of what MJ did, all the dance moves and changing his looks was all so he could be loved.

The king of pop, dead. What a travesty.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Well done, Dan ~ I've been struck by the varied commenting of family, friends, media concerning the passing of all three. Prayer with thanksgiving unto Gospel-elevating worthy.

Anonymous said...

I, too, had the Farrah Fawcett poster on my wall when I was a teenager.

As for the King of Pop, I think it only fair that Prince be made the new king. Or did he renounce his right to the throne when he became The artist formerly known as Prince? Of course he later renounced that name as well.

Royalty is so confusing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I greatly enjoyed Michael Jackson's music. Went to a concert, bought some CD's, tried to do his famous moonwalk dance.

I deeply respected his talent/gifts and the hard work that he must have put in to produce the impact that he had.

Excellent post and message, DJP.

Jay said...

Ed McMahon: The epitome of a faithful sidekick. I can't recall that Ed ever said or did anything in disrespect or hurtful in regards to Johnny Carson. A true friend to the end. We all need an earthly friend like that.

Farrah Fawcett: Beautiful, talented person. "The Poster" also adorned my wall. She actually made more money from sales of that poster than all the money she made from the tv series Charlies Angels. Ah, but beauty is fleeting for all of us, subject to the ravages of time and life.

Michael Jackson: My wife and I were discussing last night and said many of the same things Dan said - handsome child and young man, talented and somewhere along the line hopelessly lost to the darkest sides of the fame and fortune of this world. The saddest of these three lives that ended this week.

Three famous people, gone like countless more this week with no apparent relationship with Jesus Christ. It's a tragic end for all who died without knowing Him this week - famous or not.

CR said...


Ed McMahon was a member of Crenshaw Christian Center where Fred Price preaches (health and wealth prosperity preacher). So, I don't think we can say he had no relationship with Christ.

Anonymous said...

Attending a bad teacher's church does not necessarily make one an unbeliever. That said, it surely doesn't help one's case before God.

Another part of McMahon's life I find interesting is his military service. From wikipedia:

During World War II, McMahon was a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps serving as a flight instructor and test pilot. He was a decorated pilot (six Air Medals) and was discharged in 1946, remaining in the reserves.

After college, McMahon returned to active duty... He was sent to Korea in February 1952. He flew unarmed OE-1 Bird Dogs on 85 tactical air control and artillery spotting missions. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1966 and was then commissioned as a Brigadier General in the California Air National Guard.

Several of his ancestors, including the Marquis d'Equilly, also had long and distinguished military careers. Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta was a Marshal of armies in France, serving under Napoleon III, and later President.

Jay said...

I believe the phrase I used was "no apparent relationship". Membership and attendance in any church is not the measure of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Matthew 7:21

Let's not even go down the road of the type of teacher Mr. McMahon sat under at that church.

DJP said...

Let me quibble with myself, rather than going back and editing it.

I said The only solution for us is the solution to which Michael Jackson never submitted himself, as far as is known: to be born anew, under the good hand of our Creator.

Now, I believe in monergistic regeneration. That is, I believe the Bible teaches that God causes us to be born again, and every movement we make towards God comes from that work of grace (see John 1:12-13; James 1:18; 1 John 5:1, etc.).

So I don't think that dead, lost, blind, God-hating people who are unable to submit to God's law ask God to make them born again, and then He does in answer to their request.

But I do think that a first, and probably instantaneous response to divine regeneration is submitting to divine regeneration! For instance, I remember vividly crying out to God to create in me a new heart.

But how could I do that? I was a dead God-hating Gospel-despiser. I did it because God had already acted in my heart.

So all that to say this: Paul sometimes describes Christians by the root (2 Corinthians 5:17), and sometimes by the fruit (Romans 8:14).

Me too... if less elegantly.

CR said...

I couldn't agree more, Stan.

Didn't know about the military service. I don't know if he was in the entertainment business already when he served. It was a different age then. Back then, entertainers, US Supreme Court justices volunteered to fight in wars. My how times have changed.

Jay - I agree that membership doesn't mean relationship with Jesus, but given that he was a member of that church, I don't know we can say with any certainty that he had no relationship with Jesus. The health and wealth prosperity teaching is a great perversion of the true gospel. But I think it's possible for one to be misled and still trust in Christ alone.

GrammaMack said...

I hope that Michael Jackson's children will now be cared for in a loving and healthy environment. Can't imagine what their lives have been like.

Angie said...

In Jackson's defense, he was diagnosed in the mid 80s with a skin condition called Vitiligo. It causes depigmentation of the skin, often very patchy. When he was diagnosed there were fewer treatments for the disease and even now 20% of patients with the disease opt for complete depigmentation of the skin. I met someone a couple of years ago with Vitiligo and she talked with me rather extensively about it. I'll give him a pass on the white skin thing - nature would have done that on its own. The rest of his cosmetic changes and the fact that he was so that I cannot answer. How very sad, indeed.

The Squirrel said...

Well said, Dan.

Jackson's death certainly overshadows the other two. He was a talented individual, and was on top of the world back in the early 80's. I have Thriller, both the album and the video, on my iPod. It was the height of his career.

Then, he just got weird. You can almost see the point at which God gave him over to a depraved mind.

The mockery of the world does not surprise me, even though the world shares his lostness, he seems to have wondered farther afield then most. I felt sorry for him in many ways.

It is always sad when someone dies. All we can hope for is, no matter what we think we know of them, that they really did know the Lord. Also, may God use these deaths to open someone's eyes to their own mortality.


Rachael Starke said...

I wonder about the timing of Jackson's death with what seems like a deluge of stories of "toe-in-the-spiritual-water" Christians like Carrie Prejean and the Gosselins, etc. I'm particularly praying the Gosselin family would read everything that's being written about Jackson's wretched father as being so complicit in many of Jackson's issues.

Also, I know of at least one person who works almost like Esther amongst the Persians - a committed believer who is a very close member of another huge music figure's entourage. I know these kinds of things do give people in the entertainment business pause, and so I'm also praying that my friend is given boldness to speak the truth in love.

Stefan Ewing said...


I was wondering yesterday how you would point this tragic news towards the Gospel. Well done: your illustration is extremely apt. There are lessons and reminders in there for all of us.

On a less serious note, it's a bit odd that these three celebrities were all at the peak of their careers within a few years of each other (late 70s-early 80s).

Paula said...

I've been on the couch with a migraine the past couple days and have watched a lot of the fall-out on TV. It really shows you what a bubble those folks live in.

Winona Judd just keeps murmuring, "We're losing all our legends, we're losing all our legends."

Al Sharpton, of course, had to blame Jackson's disturbed existence on racism.

Jackson's spiritual adviser talked about what a "spiritual" person Jackson was.

ALL of these people just seem to want to get their faces on TV.

In some ways we can look at his life and say he (or his parents, or his 'handlers') reaped what they sowed. And we can hold him up as a warning to our children about the perils of a life of excess.

But as I look at the front page of our newspaper today I see LeBron James. It talked about how Shaq (who is now a member of the Cavs - yay!) came to see LeBron play when he was in HIGH SCHOOL! LeBron was on Sports Illustrated - named "The Chosen One" when he was in HIGH SCHOOL! He's been under intense pressure, not unlike Jackson, since middle school. But unlike Jackson, he's handled it with poise, business acumen and (mostly) exemplary character (except for the not marrying the mother of his children thing). If anyone should have cracked under the pressure, it should have been James, who was a bazillionaire at age 18.

The contrast is a good lesson for our children:

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45

Paula said...

....and meanwhile, Cap and Trade may sneak through the House while everyone is in mourning. It's sort of shocking that even Fox is ignoring it due to the MJ story.

Susan said...

1. I remember in an elementary school assignment, there was a question asking for my favorite star. My answer? Michael Jackson. (But of course that was before he turned really weird--just like George Michael...sad.)

2. Has anyone seen the inmates of Cebu prison (Philippines) dance to "Thriller"? Quite interesting. (Be warned, though: I think the girl was played by one of the inmates as well!)

3. Good reminder, Dan, about taking our brokenness to the Lord and not reinvent ourselves on our own. So often we are hardened and broken by circumstances, people around us,and of course our own sins and allow the harmful effects to continue to permeate our lives without dealing with them biblically. (I speak for myself, for one.) Yet our Redeemer can turn even those things into good. May He remind us of His sure promises and His abundant grace and restore us in due time. (I think of Joel's "locust years", Nebuchadnezzar's regained sanity, Hosea's plea to return to the Lord, Zephaniah's joy over a restored Zion...)

Anonymous said...

recent events have been a reminder of how fragile our existences on earth really are

Redmond said...

Wow. Praise God. Glad to find this blog. Like it lots.

Just want to say (shout to the world actually, if I could) that Michael Jackson's tragic life and death are exactly what you'd expect when a child is not brought up in the love, wisdom and admonition of God's Word, is unprotected during his formative years, is used as a cash cow by parents who violated probably every child labor law in existence, is subjected from about age 7 to females throwing their bras & panties at him outside terrifyingly mobbed concert venues, and so on. He was a sweet, eager to please, hardworking child who could have benefitted from more education, sports activity and a more normal, grounded and loving life - centered in Christ of course.

I had a crush on him in childhood and so hated to see him live tragically with no wife to love & support him in his career, and help him live a godly life and maybe even make music the Lord would have approved of.

I believe the same powers, disembodied evil spirits/fallen angels that took control of Elvis Presley's life also took MJ's. They will now be seeking their next victim at this time.

Parents pay attention. Especially if you have sensitive, artistic children. Be the godly covering they need!