The passing of friends
Ann B. Davis died recently at the age of 88. She came to prominence for her role on the Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959) for which she won two Emmys. She was best known for playing the housekeeper, Alice Nelson, in The Brady Bunch. She also played in movies and on stage.
One of the more interesting phenomena occurs when a well-known person dies, especially someone who is an entertainer. For many, it is almost as if a good friend or a member of the family has passed.
When Elvis Presley died in August 1977, I was a social worker for the Tennessee Department of Human Services in Greene County. When the word came to our offices, a number of the women wept uncontrollably. A few even went home and took several days off, such was their grief. I imagine that the scene was repeated all over the country.
In a very real sense, we do experience a personal loss when a famous person dies. In the modern world of cinema, television, radio, internet, and magazines, the most very intimate parts of a person’s life are exposed for the world to see.
Princess Diana’s photos were everywhere and, although very few Americans ever met her or even had an elementary understanding of the life of royalty, her death in a car crash became immediate worldwide news.
When ex-Beatle John Lennon was gunned down on Dec. 8, 1980, as he prepared to enter his New York apartment, the world, for millions of fans, stopped. For those who had grown up in the ’60s and ’70s, Lennon was an iconic figure. His face was known across the western world and his music appreciated by tens of millions. When he died, it felt personal. And, for many, it was.
Famous people provide entertainment. But it is often more than that. When John Wayne punched bad guys or died the heroic death at the Alamo, common people lived vicariously through him. Sylvester Stallone says of his character, Rocky, that “There’s a little of Rocky in everybody.”
The same has always been true of characters in literature or myth, of course. But in the modern versions, we can see them, hear them, watch them cry, or bleed, or sweat. We feel the pain and madness of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in the final scenes of the final Godfather movie. Our heart breaks when Rocky visits Adrian’s grave in the opening scene of “Rocky Balboa.”
When the heroes prevail, we prevail. And, often, reality and fiction become confused. Often, it is not the actor that we miss when he or she dies — it is the characters that led us through hard times or took us to wonderful places in their work on screen.
James Arness cleaned up Dodge with his guns and fists. Andy Griffith and Don Knotts took us to a gentle and friendly place. William Shatner and Patrick Stewart have taken us “where no one has gone before” into an amazing future. They too will be remembered someday.
Sylvester Stallone said that, during the screening of the final Rocky movies, a lady in the neighborhood came up to him, grabbed his hands, and said, “Rocky, it’s good to see you back in the neighborhood.” As she walked away, Stallone, in “Rocky” character and accent, said, “Yeah, it’s good to see you again too. You’re looking good.”
Every generation has its cinematic or musical heroes. The characters, the music, the people, the memories all blend together and become part of our life experience. When they die, something in us dies with them.
The good news is that, with re-runs, DVDs, and CDs, we can visit our old friends again and again. For in the make believe world, unlike the real one, no one ever permanently goes away.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]