The 2009 Celebrity Death Parade Continues (December 22, 2009)

brittany-murphy-newjpg2

  • Steve McNair*
  • Michael Jackson*
  • Ed McMahon
  • Billy Mays*
  • Farrah Fawcett
  • David Carradine
  • Dom Deluise
  • Bea Arthur
  • Jack Kemp
  • Marilyn Chambers*
  • Natasha Richardson*
  • Jett Travolta*
  • Jade Goody*
  • Karl Malden
  • Oscar Mayer
  • Robert McNamara
  • Chuck Daly
  • John Hughes*
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver
  • Walter Cronkite
  • Don Hewitt
  • Les Paul
  • Ted Kennedy
  • Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein*
  • Patrick Swayze
  • Brittany Murphy* (pictured above)

* Denotes calendar age of 50 or less at time of death

I think we all know by now what I think of 2009 – i.e. a veritable suckfest with limited bright spots. But among other negatives for which this year will be forever remembered, it has also been the year of death. On a personal level, as you know, I endured the loss of a best friend, Jesika, as well as Snuggy, a beloved pet.

Celebrity deaths typically capture the national imagination, for however brief a time, due to the impact these cultural figures have had on most, if not all of us, at some point or another. Well-known people are lost to us every year, only to be repackaged and paraded through the Academy’s “In Memoriam” montage annually at the Oscar telecast. However, two very unusual circumstances make this year’s “death” list more atypical than most.

In the first place, the volume of timeless icons who passed away is more than noteworthy. From 70s pinup girl and Charlie’s Angel Farrah Fawcett, to King of Pop Michael Jackson, to trusted newsman Walter Cronkite, it was impossible to go through this year as a member of Generation X without feeling the loss of some piece of your childhood.

Perhaps most disturbing though is the overwhelming number of folks who died in the prime of their lives, usually the result of drug abuse. For arbitrary convention’s sake, I have chosen age 50 as the barometer. Not too many years ago, 50 years seemed rather ancient to me, but as life goes, the older I get (and the more immature I remain) half a century doesn’t appear as geezerly as it once did.

The latest and hopefully the last of these shocking celebrity passings, is actress Brittany Murphy who perished from “natural causes” at the age of 32. For now I will sidestep my opinion that 32 year olds do not go about dropping dead without a rather unnatural reason (longterm cocaine abuse?), and focus on the cultural void left behind.

Murphy’s career had slowed in recent years, but for those of my generation, her turns, especially in Clueless, but also 8 Mile and Girl Interrupted (for which the case could be made that she stole the show from Angelina) will never be forgotten.

The high death rate of both public and private figures has naturally had me contemplating my own mortality throughout the year. Do I like the legacy I am leaving behind? If my life ended tomorrow, would I be satisfied with the body of work, love and living I left behind? Reassuringly, I find that answer, for the most part, to be a resounding “yes.” I hope I have many years of troublemaking left in this body, but 2009 has trained me not to count on it. It’s cliche, but I plan to make every moment of 2010, and hereafter, count.

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