One of the things to despise about the end of the year is the annual Roll Call of the Famous Dead. What really sucks about this ritual is that usually half, if not more, of the people on such a list are totally unknown to you, and the recitation of their names leaves you scratching your head; just what the fuck did this person ever do to become famous? And if they really were famous, why haven't I ever heard of them?
Well, that's because most of them fall into a category I will call "Parochial Fame", that is, they were considered a luminary within the small confines of specific circle of people that most normal folks wouldn't associate with if you paid them. Most of your dead poets, obscure writers and philosophers, internationally-known-but-otherwise-back-bencher politicians, career journalistic hacks, and people who "revolutionized" a field that only about 17 people world-wide know about fall into this category. Recite those names in your circle of friends and family, and you'd be genuinely shocked if anyone recognized two of them.
Then there's a second category, which I will call "People Who Became Famous for Shit No one Cares About". You'll find amongst that number such "famous" figures as, oh say, a professional surfer, some dude who scaled Everest three times in his underwear, rich playboys who screwed their way through the all supermodels in the finer European resorts while squandering the family fortune and dying of a drug-resistant strain of clap, the Exiled Crown Prince Of Northeast Buttfuckistan. They would be people who went totally unnoticed in life by anyone who wasn't paid to kiss their ass.
Then there's the final category, which is "Those Made Famous By People Dumber Than They Are". You can put just about any self-help guru, maharishi, fire-and-brimstone reverend, Communist Guerrilla leader, flash-in-the-pan artist/musician or Film Director, into this bin. They'd be totally obscure to most of the general public, and if they were remembered at all, it would most likely be in the motif of "I can't believe I wasted $19.95 on that asshole's Book/Album/Movie/T-shirt".
Amongst the "honored" dead this year, there were, in fact some really famous people (and most of them deservedly so).People who are still household names, who after years have seen their careers have an effect upon the culture that will resonate in the future. They were famous because they actually DID something that made people think, or act, or just made them happy.
I ran across one of those "Dead Celebrities of 2010" lists. I really didn't want to look at it, but Lena Horne and Leslie Neilsen were on the top of the list. So, why not? I enjoyed the work of both. And sure enough, I didn't know about 120 of the 164 people listed. Of those I did know, I decided to take issue with some of them, with regards to their achievement of the "famous" imprimatur.
On the List That No One Could Argue With, we have: Lena Horne, Leslie Neilsen, Tony Curtis, Eddie Fisher, Patricia Neal, George Steinbrenner, Jean Simmons and Teddy Pendergrass. You can argue about the nature of their individual accomplishments, but you can't say none of them are "famous" in the sense that if you stopped 10 people on the street and mentioned their names, you'd get 7 who would recognize at least that much. Some of the names on this list had me asking "what drugs was the person compiling this list taking when he/she conferred "fame" upon this loser?". In no particular order:
* Blake Edwards; was nothing without Peter Sellers. At best, Edwards made his name making risque-I-guess-you-could-call-them-comedy films at the height of the Sexual Revolution (when the taboos surrounding sex were being torn down rapidly), and then nothing else. In the world of film directors, Edwards was a one-trick pony.
* Elizabeth Edwards: Give me a fucking break. So far as I'm concerned, the only thing she ever did was to enable a narcissistic douchebag who might have become President of this country, and then milk the sympathy extended by the public over the death of her child, and her cancer, for a shitload of money. I really hate to piss on her grave this way, but I'm quite certain that Hell has a special place reserved for her and her husband, the Breck Girl.
* Teena Marie - No fucking way. In the world of one-hit wonders, she was barely that. Her "gimmick" was to be a white girl singing R&B and soul music. In a day-and-age of American Idol -- where everyone tries to sound like a cross between Whitney and Aretha, even the Men --that is no longer a distinction, let alone a badge of courage.
* Captain Beefheart - if it wasn't for drugs and 1960/70's counter-culture, this man would have been locked away in a mental institution. If extreme eccentricity, deliberately cultivated as an affectation, is enough to make you "famous", then we're fucking doomed as a species.
* James Wall - never heard of him, have you? He was Captain Kangaroo's sidekick. Certainly a cultural icon. I remember thinking as a child that he was probably a child rapist, one of those people your mother told you not to take candy from. Or maybe that was Mr. Greenjeans? I forget. . He probably has a statue dedicated to his memory in some podunk town like Nosepicker, North Dakota...where no one will ever see it. Along with his carefully-concealed criminal history, and predilection for underage hookers. (Ed. Note: I don't know if any of that is true. It just sounded funny).
* Jimmy Dean -I'm torn. I mean, what would the world be without link sausage?
* Dennis Hooper - everyone has heard of Dennis Hopper, but he was a douchebag, and therefore, undeserving of the orgy of fake grief someone was trying to gin up by putting his name on the list. Sorry, but "Easy Rider" and playing Molly Ringwald's alcoholic father don't make you a great actor, because they were almost all exceedingly bad movies. After that, you pushed the idea that Baby Boomers were miniature gods who fundamentally altered the Universe. Which indicates that you not only made very bad movies, but took too many hallucinogenic drugs, Dingbat.
* Gary Coleman - well, if he wasn't a sick midget with a catchphrase, what would you remember Gary Coleman for, exactly?
* Lynn Redgrave - because no Dead Celebrity List is ever complete without at least one terribly bad English actress on it. Technically, Vanessa is/was worse, but she could at least pull off that vacant stare that could scare the fertilizer out of you.
* Corey Haim - an icon of the incredibly plastic and shallow 1980's. After that, he's only remembered for his addictions, which were numerous, and his appetite for self-immolation, which seems to have been boundless.
* J.D.Salinger - write one really awful book that Libtards love, and somehow this makes you immortal. Salinger was perhaps the worst American writer of the 20th Century, although it's a close-run thing considering there's Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alan Ginsburg, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut to consider. They are all, almost universally, unreadable.