I’ve spent a lot of my life in the pursuit of knowledge about famous people of all different types – usually, but not always, those in the entertainment industry. Take a look at my bookshelves and you’ll see that there are certain celebrities of whom I simply cannot get enough: in particular, Michael Hutchence, the Kennedy women, and fraudulent Australian author Helen Demidenko. In my trawling, I’ve discovered a good many pieces of information that will never leave me, such as Demidenko having once had the nerve to give a friend a box of chocolates that, according to the friend, looked ‘heat-stressed’; Hutchence having taken it upon himself to read several books about Margaret Thatcher in just one week; and Patricia (nee Kennedy) and Christopher Lawford installing their newborn with its nanny in an apartment across the road from them. The variety of celebrity information that can really eat into a person’s time, though, is discovering unexpectedly that a famous, or once-famous, person is actually dead.
I was given a most wonderful birthday present this year of the Heathers limited edition Blu-Ray. The discs are accompanied by a lot of excellent things on which I won’t elaborate here (although I will say that a t-shirt is included!), as I would certainly only want to be writing an advertorial for anything if money were changing hands. My point is that while I was looking at some of the attending literature, I was deeply shocked to discover that a couple of the younger members of the cast have died in the years since the film was released. I then found it difficult to think of much else for the following couple of days. While the tragedy of their deaths is unquestionable, my being so preoccupied with them seemed disproportionate, given that I doubt I had thought of these actors since the last time I saw Heathers, at some point in the previous century.
I suppose the issue is that, had I thought of these actors, I would have assumed that they were getting along just fine. Whenever I haven’t seen or heard of an actor for a while and consult the Internet regarding their whereabouts, I pretty much always find that they have amassed a long list of unflashy, but solid, credits on the IMDb; are on the dinner theatre circuit; or, alternatively, have got out of ‘the business’ altogether and have started a mail-order company of some description or are breeding horses somewhere. I would have assumed, as these particular two actors would now only be in early middle age, that they were in the world, and it was, strangely, a blow to find out that they’re not. Also, while watching Heathers with my newfound depressing knowledge, every line the two actors uttered seemed to have new significance. I was sitting there feeling as superstitious as a villager from medieval times; now it seemed to me a risky, fate-tempting exercise to appear in a film that revolves around death, which, in turn, left me amazed that the principal cast of Flatliners is still with us.
Then there’s the other type of shock involved in finding out that a celebrity is dead, which is discovering that they’ve died when, and I mean no disrespect by this, I had vaguely thought that they were dead already. The ninety-three-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor is a case in point. She has, unfortunately, been very unwell over the past few months, to the degree that she has been given the last rites, at least once and possibly twice. Her publicist, John Blanchette, has stated in a way that, were I Zsa Zsa, I would consider to be a little too breezy, ‘She had a great run.’ Yes, this is true enough, considering that Zsa Zsa has been married nine times and that in one instance it was to the magnificent George Sanders; is the oldest celebrity to have appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show so far; and had a long-running feud with Elke Sommer that, apparently, began when Elke said that Zsa Zsa had ‘a large behind’. Still, no matter how good my innings, had I a publicist I would be disconcerted to find out that they were referring to me in the past tense.
It is, of course, with the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the Oscars that the phenomenon of people suddenly occupying your thoughts simply because they’re dead, as well as discovering that humans you thought had died ages ago actually only died recently, reaches its zenith. As I’m sure is the case for many other viewers, I find it impossible not to keep an eye on the Applause-O-Meter during this segment. Of course, it appears to be studio executives who always seem to warrant a mere smattering of hand claps and I hope for their sakes that the dead don’t, in the words of Mrs Danvers, ‘come back and watch the living’. Having said that, it is satisfying to think of there being life after death if it is in a form that permits you finally to see what others really thought about you when you were alive.
It is a well-known fact that newspapers and television stations keep ready for action obituaries of, and specials on, well-known individuals who are old and/or infirm. I have to say, that if it were I who was the famous person in question, I would find it impossible not to call up these media representatives and demand to read or view what they have on file. It is difficult to imagine that Kerry Packer, in particular, never availed himself of this opportunity. I simply can never believe it when I hear about famous people who don’t pay attention to their own press, and am entirely confident that if I were famous I would pay attention to my press all day long. When the young Warren Beatty and Joan Collins were a couple, they would, I’ve heard, while away many a pleasant hour studying their media coverage. This urge would go double for me, I’m sure, and, if the end were near, quite possibly triple.