When Princess Diana died, I remember feeling like I’d been kicked, hard, in the heart. I was immensely sad. And I remember not being able to believe the news that I’d just heard.
When JFK Jr. died, I sat in front of the TV slack-jawed at the possibility that yet another member of the Kennedy clan met their demise in a freakish and sudden way.
And much longer ago, yet just as impactful on me: Karen Carpenter. Her death was the first time I felt intense, emotional pain at the loss of a celebrity.
And there have been others: Jim Henson. John Lennon. Heck, even John Denver.
And how about the comedians: John Belushi. Chris Farley. Phil Hartman. John Candy. Andy Kaufman.
Each of these people contributed something to society. They made an impact and they made a difference. And their deaths — most very premature — left an enormous hole in my heart and in the hearts of millions.
So why did I feel that same twinge of grief and shock when I heard the news today that Anna Nicole Smith– a celebrity by proxy; famous simply for being famous; and someone whose only main contributions to society were TrimSpa and The Anna Nicole Show on the E! Network– had died at age 39?
Maybe it’s because Anna Nicole’s story has a deeply tragic underlying current that matches those of other personas: Karen Carpenter and Princess Diana come to mind, as does Marilyn Monroe, who is the celebrity legend most often compared to Anna Nicole. Each lived their lives in the presence of a great deal of struggle and pain, and each died much too young; each never able to rise above their celebrity far enough to get past the struggles that pained them througout their living years.
Anna Nicole may not have been a great actress, or an actress at all for that matter. She may not have been all that coherent or intelligent, and she may not have made the best choices in her lifetime. But she was a human being who dealt with a great deal of criticism, pain and suffering– more than some of us could ever hope to bear. And yet she tried to carry on with her life and make something of it.
Sure, marrying an octagenarian millionare seemed like it had to be a publicity stunt. But Anna Nicole was probably more savvy than anyone ever gave her credit for. Besides, she had a son to raise, and what better way to secure his future than to marry a multi-millionare? I mean, who among you would say no to financial security?
But with every success there was tragedy. An abusive father. A failed marriage. Heaps of litigation over her inheritance. And then the blow that probably finally did her in: The death of her son, just days after the birth of her daughter.
So why do I mourn Anna Nicole? Why do I care?
Maybe it’s because, like any good gay man, while I admired her chutzpah and her ability to promote herself the nth degree, she fought a hard battle for a better life, had success, but inevitably lost the battle. And for some reason, I have always been attached emotionally to people who struggle to make something better of their lives. Take a look at the list of names at the beginning of this post. Each had a burden to bear in life. Each had wild success. And each died much too early. Maybe they had done everything they set out to do by the time they left this world, but one can’t help but wonder how much more they could have done if they had just been given the chance to live.
Anna Nicole’s contributions to society may not have matched those names above; but for some reason I think she’ll be remembered for a lot more than just being tabloid fodder and a “blonde bimbo.” She may have seemed that way on the surface, but deep down she was just like one of us– struggling to make a living and working hard to make life better.
What can be more honorable, and what can be more human/American/real than that?
Rest in peace, Anna.