So Michael Jackson has died, and we're knee-deep in wall-to-wall media coverage that isn't as intense as 9/11 (so there, Ocho Cinco) but is every bit as intense, if not more so, than Princess Diana's 12 years ago. Honestly, I can say I was never that big a Michael Jackson fan; I think it goes back to when the "Thriller" video was released in 1983 and that final scene, where Jackson looks back at the camera with those glowing yellow wolf-eyes, frightened me about as much as anything I can remember from my childhood and scared me off of the King of Pop for quite a while. (Seriously, I was only six at that point and I was probably sleeping with the lights on for a solid week after that. Agghhh, that shit still scares the living crap out of me!)
So anyway, I'm not going to be one of those folks camped out in front of the hospital or in front of his mansion in L.A., not that I've ever been the type to get so worked up over a celebrity's death to do that anyway. But that doesn't make Jackson's death any less sudden or sad, and I'm certainly not above being affected by the death of a celebrity to some extent. And that's the subject of this week's +5: the Five Celebrities Whose Deaths I Took The Hardest.
Phil Hartman (1998)
Easily my favorite "Saturday Night Live" cast member of all time. In fact, I can't remember a single thing I've ever seen him in where he wasn't funny, whether it was any of his numerous "SNL" sketches, "NewsRadio," his voice-acting on "The Simpsons," his cameo as "Vicky" the tour guide in "So I Married an Axe Murderer," or anything else. And the thing was, he didn't go the coke-binge-and-numerous-unsavory-sexual-partners route that so many really popular comedians seem to go down; by all reports he was a faithful husband and a good dad. So that made it only that much more shocking when his wife (who apparently was drug-crazed) shot him and then committed suicide in the spring of '98. I'm convinced that if Hartman were still alive today he'd be hailed as one of the best comic actors on the planet, and maybe he'd have a recurring role on "30 Rock" or something.
Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel (1991)
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Dr. Seuss is still my favorite writer of all time. I've still got bunches of his books proudly displayed on my bookshelf, and he saved my ass when I was taking the AP English exam during my senior year of high school, when the open-ended question was something like "Choose a book that deals with the topic of discrimination in society and how that book's depiction of a certain type of bigotry added to its message." Obviously we'd read a ton of books that year that would've worked for that question, but we'd covered the various eras of English lit in chronological order, which meant that the most recent material -- and therefore the stuff I remembered the best -- was postmodernist stuff that I couldn't make heads or tails of (while the older stuff I'd understood better was too far back in my memory to be able to pick out specific details). So I went for what NFL draftniks would call "a reach": I picked out Dr. Seuss's 1961 story "The Sneetches." I wrote the hell out of that essay, and you know what? I got a 5 on the test and got to exempt out of all the freshman-comp classes in college. Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for being a brilliant writer whom even doctorate-level literature scholars apparently have to respect.
Ann Richards (2006)
I've liked or agreed with plenty of politicians and elected officials; rarely, though, have I been naïve enough to admire any of them. But Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, was a major exception. She was unashamed of her liberalism on a number of issues and unafraid to call out people whom she thought were full of bullshit no matter where they sat on the political spectrum. And she was one of the last of an era in which certain Democratic politicians could actually be described as "badasses." Hopefully that era is on its way back, but either way, we could still use someone like Ann Richards right about now.
Optimus Prime (1986)
OK, yeah, Optimus Prime is a fictional character. But Transformers and Legos regularly traded the titles of my favorite and second-favorite toy when I was a child, and the "Transformers" TV cartoon was must-see after-school viewing all through elementary school, so when Prime finally bit the bucket in the feature-length animated film of '86, that was a biiiig, big deal. This Slate article explains it pretty well: As much violence as there was in the action cartoon series of my childhood, nobody ever actually died. But not only did Optimus Prime die in the movie (and not come back), he was gone from the subsequent season of the cartoon show, and didn't return until the three-episode "Rebirth" arc from the fourth and final season in 1987. Man, that show was a lot harder-core than I realized.
Johnny Cash (2003)
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of country musicians I've ever actually liked (and probably still have enough fingers left over to do this). But I love Johnny Cash. And his death, less than four months after the passing of his wife June, was one of the saddest and somehow most romantic deaths of any popular musician that I can recall. He and Nanci Griffith are probably still the only two country artists whom I've deemed worthy of having entire albums' worth of material on my iPod.
Speaking of which, here's the Ten:
1. Nanci Griffith, "Love at the Five and Dime" (fancy that)
2. Underworld, "Born Slippy (NUXX)"
3. Pet Shop Boys, "It's Alright"
4. Radiohead, "Karma Police"
5. Dead Kennedys, "Short Songs"
6. Wu-Tang Clan, "Clan in Da Front" (which reminds me, Ol' Dirty Bastard should get an honorable mention on the above list)
7. Underworld, "Juanita/Kiteless" (live)
8. Elton John, "Bennie and the Jets"
9. A Tribe Called Quest, "Find a Way"
10. Talk Talk, "It's My Life"
Your turn, folks -- the celebrity deaths that had the biggest effect on you (Michael Jackson's is eligible, by the way) and your Random Tens go in the comments.