American entertainment suffered an unlikely trifecta of superstar passings in a single week. The loss of three significant pop culture icons had led to an outpouring of mourning well beyond Hollywood; today we pay tribute to these three memorable performers.
Comedy legend Ed McMahon died at 86, his best-known gig being a 30-year run as the straight man for Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” His classic “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” intro was a magical moment for so many late-night television fans, who came to understand that two-word cue as a promise of the comedy greatness that would follow.
McMahon will also be remembered for hosting American Idol precursor, “Star Search” – an 80’s phenomenon that gave America its first taste of talent show reality television (no, we’re not counting “The Gong Show“) and introduced us to performers like Britney Spears, Dave Chapelle, Justin Timberlake, Rosie O’Donnell and Alanis Morissette.
Best known as Jill Munroe on Charlie’s Angels and for a pin-up poster that adorned the bedrooms of countless teenage boys in the mid-1970’s, Farrah Fawcett lost her long battle with cancer at 62 on June 25th, 2009. She had been battling the disease since 2006.
That memorable poster (at right) – first published in a 1976 issue of LIFE magazine – remains the best-selling pin-up poster of all time, with 12 million copies sold.
Fawcett’s long-term partner, Ryan O’Neal (himself a leukemia survivor) was at her bedside when she died. Their stormy relationship engendered many a tabloid headline, but with her diagnosis it seemed that he and Fawcett took on her cancer fight together. O’Neal summed it up by saying, “It’s a love story. I just don’t know how to play this one. I won’t know this world without her. Cancer is an insidious enemy.”
The King of Pop died at age 50, just before he was to take the stage again in a worldwide comeback tour. The cause of death and the circumstances around it are still unclear. News reports originally stated that Jackson had died, then revised to say that he was in a coma, then re-revised to confirm his death.
Michael Jackson’s many contributions to Motown and pop music will always be remembered, and despite his controversial personal life his fans are mourning his loss worldwide. With a lifetime of iconic imagery, music and dance left as such a significant legacy, it’s safe to say that the world won’t soon forget Michael Jackson.
And so it is that June 25th, 2009 will be remembered by some as the day America lost a King and an Angel, and by others as the day the Moonwalk died.
UPDATE 6/29: Billy Mays
Boisterous TV pitchman Billy Mays died suddenly on Sunday, June 28th. The man who made us all want Oxi-Clean and Orange Glo (“Long live your laundry!”) was in good spirits on Saturday after a harrowing landing at the Tampa airport, as he noted on his Twitter page. He was found in his home by his wife on Sunday; the family is awaiting the final determination of death.