When I covered the death of Mother Teresa, a cameraman turned to me and said without a touch of irony, “They’re talking like she’s a Saint. Give me a break!” Understanding the cynicism of media types, I did not bother to mention that indeed, Mother Teresa is a candidate for Sainthood.
At the other end of the spectrum, I covered a requiem for a Godfather, John Gotti. One neighbor of the mob boss told me, “You know he’s not like they say. He’s not all bad. You know, every July Fourth, he throws us a big fireworks show! Pretty nice.”
I thought about telling this guy that I’d be glad to mention the patriotic party in the obit, somewhere in between the dozens of torture-murders he ordered. Instead, I just smiled. I was not sure if he was a made man, but he made me nervous.
People say the strangest things about dead people.
Which brings us to Michael Jackson. He was no Mother Teresa, and definitely not John Gotti, but like the rest of us, falls into the great middle (hopefully we’re all closer to Mother Teresa).
The salute to Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was touching and beautiful. It reminded us of the young boy who grew up before our eyes to become one of the greatest entertainers in American history.
However, Jackson led a troubled life, which led Representative Peter King of Long Island to call him “a lowlife, a pervert and a pedophile.” He added, “You wouldn’t want your child hanging around with him.” In fact, many people did, and Jackson admitted he slept with boys in his bed. Jackson was charged but never convicted of child molesting, even though he paid off a few of his victims. In addition, we all saw the bizarre video of him dangling his child over a balcony.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with reporting the truth, although some did object. P-Diddy said, “We didn’t do Elvis like that. We didn’t do JFK like that.”
As for Elvis, his drug use was well documented, but when he died, there were no 24/7 news channels. Indeed, Elvis certainly was more than a bit weird.
There is the legendary story about his visit to the Oval Office. White House officials say he actually showed up outside the gates unannounced and asked if he could drop in on President Nixon. Secretaries eventually found time, and Presley and Nixon had what witnesses say was a very awkward meeting. Nixon didn’t know what to make of Elvis, but the “King” made himself right at home, and even asked the President to give him a drug enforcement badge. Nixon was dumbfounded, but managed to get someone to scrounge up a badge. At that point, Elvis demanded souvenirs, and aides say when Nixon produced a few pens, Presley said, “Mr. President, I got lots of friends. What else you got in your drawer?”
President Barack Obama was as usual pitch-perfect in his comments on Jackson, and when pressed for more at a nuclear summit in Russia, he said, “You know this is part of American culture. Michael Jackson, like Elvis, like Sinatra, when somebody’s captivated the imagination of a country for that long passes away, people pay attention, and I assume at some point people will start focusing again on things like nuclear weapons.”
Well, Mr. President, do not be so sure. Not before there’s a little more weirdness. In Stockton, CA, the deification of Michael Jackson has begun. A family says the image of Jackson has appeared in their tree stump the day the King of Pop died. But why would Jackson appear instead, say, of a religious figure on the order of Mother Teresa. A neighbor answered, “To Stockton, Michael Jackson meant more to us than Jesus. I think they’re both about even.”
With celebrities, everything is over the top.