Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Edwards 1949-2010

Regular readers will note that every now and then I do an "In Memoriam", honoring a public figure that has recently passed away. I give the name, the years of birth and death, occupation, a list of notable works (books, movies, TV shows, etc.) and a quote of some sort. I try to find a suitable quote that comes directly from the deceased themselves, but if that proves impossible, I'll use a quote by a third party about the deceased instead. Sometimes, if one quote just doesn't sum up that person's essence, I'll use two or more. On rare occasions, I'll explain just what it was about the deceased that interested me. If the public figure's not quite public enough, I'll provide a link.

Ever wonder how I go about choosing whom to memorialize? Well, first off, I'm not the Pope and it's not a canonization. The process isn't entirely selfless, either. Yes, I want to honor the person who's just passed on, but it's also a way of displaying my idiosyncratic tastes and interests. What's the use of having a blog if you can't do that? I basically honor people who have impressed me or intrigued me or have piqued my interest in some positive way. Usually, it's related to the person's chosen profession. In fact, it's always related to their chosen profession. I try not to take their personal life into account. For instance, actor David Carradine either committed suicide or achieved orgasm in the most dangerous way imaginable. Doesn't matter. I liked him in Kung Fu and a few other things, thus I honored him. I'd probably make an exception in the case of murder, so as much as I liked Robert Blake in Baretta...

The person's usually not at the height of their fame when I honor them, especially if they've died of old age. I've memorialized old movie and TV stars that Paris Hilton has never heard of, and Larry King has probably forgotten. Speaking of movies and TV, most people associate each with the actors that appear in them. However, I feel what goes on behind the camera is often as important as what happens in front. To that end, I've honored director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) and writer Larry Gelbart (TV's MASH.)

I'm a lifelong fan of comic art of all kinds, so I've honored cartoonists such as David Levine and Leo Cullum, hardly household names.

Sometimes I don't even know why a person piques my interest, such as when I honored toupee-wearing, five-minutes-a-week PBS astronomer Jack Horkheimer. Even for me, that's idiosyncratic!

I've ignored some big names. Tony Curtis comes to mind. Just never enough for me to honor him. It's not that he was a bad actor. In fact, he could be a very good one. Just never enough for me to honor him. His costars (Sidney Poitier, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, and ex-wife Janet Leigh) always seemed to pique my interest a lot more.

For some time now, I've been waiting for someone to ask me why I didn't honor a particular, recently deceased person. I would then explain my reasons in the comment section. I thought it might be Tony Curtis, but nobody ever asked about him. Poor Tony. Instead, in the comment section of an "In Memoriam" honoring Don Meredith, fellow blogger and frequent visitor Dreamfarm Girl wanted to know why I was ignoring Elizabeth Edwards, who died around the same time.

Because Edwards has been so much in the news these past few years, I didn't feel I could just explain her absence away in a mere comment section, so I wrote the post that you're reading right now. It's not that I thought Don Meredith was a more important or significant figure than Elizabeth Edwards. He certainly wasn't the more famous of the two when he died. Dreamfarm mentioned that Edwards was "classy". Well, Meredith was certainly classy when compared to Monday Night Football booth mate Howard Cosell, but that's probably not the same thing. Since Meredith's been out of the public eye for such a long time, most of the obituaries focused on his football career, which, quite frankly, I don't believe was his primary claim to fame, at least not in the 1970s when I first became aware of him.

I honored Don Meredith simply because he cracked me up. Not just on MNF , but even on something as ridiculous as those Lipton Iced Tea commercials he used to do. Nothing profound about my admiration for Don Meredith. I read his obituary and said to myself, "Oh, I have to mention this on my blog!" When I read Elizabeth Edwards' obituary, while saddened a bit, I didn't feel the same need. I couldn't remember her ever having piqued my interest.

Ah, but time doesn't stand still. Dreamfarm Girl, bless her, made me rethink Elizabeth Edwards. It turns out she had piqued my interest. Before I tell you how, let me mention some things that may have fogged my memory.

Her cancer. Much has been written about her "courage". I guess she was courageous. At least, she seemed calm when discussing her illness in front of a camera. But who's to say she didn't fall to pieces when the camera was turned off, or in the privacy of her own home? Frankly, I'm resistant to this whole notion that when a person is diagnosed with a serious disease, their first priority is to keep a stiff upper lip for the edification of the healthy. Cancer (and its' treatment) can be scary. Why begrudge someone who has it being scared? If a person has a hangnail and they're scared, fine, begrudge them. Not cancer.

It's because Elizabeth Edwards was a public person. If a nobody with a serious illness adopts a woe-is-me attitude, the relatively few people who do know the person would understand, at least up to a point. But, for some reason, a much, much higher bar is set for public figures, even if poor health isn't the reason they became public figures in the first place.

The other thing that fogged my memory is that Elizabeth's husband cheated on her. Had she been a nobody, it would have been between her, her husband, and the other woman. Elizabeth, in fact, learned about the betrayal two months before We, the People did. But once we did know, she had to 'fess up about her feelings, first on a blog (on which she stood by her husband), then on Oprah (on which she wavered a bit), and finally in her best-selling book Resilience (in which she admitted throwing up upon finding about her husband's affair). You may argue that no one forced her to tell us about all of this, and that she made some money off it to boot (some of which I imagine went toward paying doctors' bills), but I suspect had the story not broke, she would have kept her feelings to herself. That's not to say there wouldn't have been a divorce, but that all we would have known is that it was because of "irreconcilable differences."

Unlike the cancer, the affair at least had some bearing on why she became a public figure in the first place. Elizabeth Edwards was a public figure because her husband John was a public figure. When we didn't know about John, we didn't know about Elizabeth. I no longer believe John Edwards would have made a good president. I now wish he had stayed a nobody. But where does that leave Elizabeth?

Let's go back to an earlier tragedy. In 1996, John and Elizabeth's 16-year old son Wade was killed in a one-car accident. By most accounts, John took stock of his life following his son's death, and decided to go into public service, which meant running for office. As for Elizabeth, according to Resilience she grieved for a couple of years, and then decided to have two more children. She underwent fertility treatments, and had a daughter at 48 and a son at 50. This was a risky thing for her, or any woman, to do that late in life. Not just during the pregnancy, as there can be unforeseen consequences to one's health later on. If you want to admire Elizabeth Edwards for her courage, start here.

A more predictable consequence of giving birth is that Elizabeth gained weight that she couldn't easily shed. Of course, this can be a problem even for women in their 20s, but the likelihood increases with age. Once Elizabeth began appearing in public with her trim husband in 2004, the contrast between the two did not go entirely unnoticed by the national media. Elizabeth's initial foray into the public realm couldn't have been easy.

Or maybe it was. Here's where my memory kicks in. A week or so after John Kerry picked John Edwards as his VP, I saw Elizabeth, just Elizabeth, on C-SPAN hosting some kind of town hall-type campaign event. She seemed totally at ease with herself as she answered questions from a not always adoring audience. She came across as smart, knowledgeable, witty, and personable. What she was saying was basically mainstream liberalism, circa 2004. But she put everything in her own words, something that politicians aren't always capable of doing. She seemed to care and believe in what she was saying. In a just world, Elizabeth Edwards perhaps could have and perhaps would have run for president herself.

So, yes, before we all knew about the cancer and the infidelity, Elizabeth Edwards did indeed pique my interest, impress and intrigue me.

You can quote me on that.


  1. These are just some thoughts that I have entertained for a while about Elizabeth Edwards. I'm not saying I stand by them 100%, but they have crossed my mind as I read articles about John's indiscretions.

    Elizabeth Edwards deserves a tribute. So do all other women who struggle with breast cancer and endure public humiliation by a cheating husband who fathers a child out of wedlock. Anyone that can maintain dignity through such a public display deserves to be well thought of.

    What piques my interest is the gumption it takes to cheat. I'm not saying I admire the act, but I have a certain fascination for the boldfaced selfishness of people who go ahead and act on what society considers questionable impulses. I think a man might be more drawn to a woman who goes against the currents of societal guidelines than a saintly woman.

    We can only imagine the relationship John and Elizabeth had. Just because she was able to portray an image of steadfastness and courage doesn't mean she was a joy to live with. On the other hand, since we're dealing in the realm of imagination, it's also possible that John has a serious Narcissistic Personality Disorder. We just don't know.

    Back to the cheating. Volumes have been written on why people cheat. I'm not going to be saying anything new when I mention that a man craves a sense of adventure. Philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead listed adventure as one of five necessities to the truly civilized community, next after truth and beauty, ahead of art and peace. We're taught that adventure should be put aside as we grow up and settle down. Should we put aside laughter, play and beauty? Adventure is as needed to enrich the spirit as food is to nourish the body. A love affair offers adventure, not merely because it is unsanctioned and a little risky, but because it proceeds on the unknown. A love affair is not nobler or better than marriage, but it can be more congenial to human nature. Men must be bold or die inside, and nobody was ever bold without being sometimes wrong. Marriage encourages its own downfall when it tries to prevent boldness and neatly tie up the future.

    Politician's wives have the deck stacked against them in respect to how they are expected to support their husbands. Psychologists tell us the men don't really want their wives to contribute to their careers. Any man worth his salt wants to get there on his own. He can hire assistants without incurring emotional obligations. The cliché of the successful man who discards the wife who helped him climb the ladder of success is both a truism and rough justice. Driving women are found most frequently in the middle to upper echelons of society where there is something to be gained besides money, some reflected prestige, power, attention. This suggests that a wife's motives in helping her husband may not be as pure as she likes to think.

    Reciting marriage vows can't possibly guarantee that anyone is going to always feel a certain way. When society demands we maintain a union beyond the expiration date, there is bound to be rebellion. An affair is free to make its own definitions and rules. Love is, by its very nature, always in spite of systems.

    I'm not saying that what Reille and John did was right or moral, I'm just suggesting that there are a lot of details we don't know and can never know. What's important is how their very public example can help us define what a relationship should be for us. I'm also suggesting that our judgment of situations like this should not be hysterical reactions that do no one any good.

  2. I came over here from Kass's blog...
    Interesting post. I too like or don't like, find interesting for what ever reason people that others don't understand.

    The interesting thing about Elizabeth to me is something a man can really never understand. Men are in positions of power for a zillion years.
    Men think/expect that they can do whatever they what, given the power that they wield.
    Women even with all the "I am woman hear me roar" are still in a position of less. Much less in much of the world even today.
    I am much older than Elizabeth but the norm of marriage, children helping your husband for the good of the family is kind of beaten in to you over the mass of time. Try being raised Catholic.
    From Roosevelt, Kennedy to any man in power the right to power is a given.
    Elizabeth as many woman once you have a child the job/personal achievement equals the home now.
    I had a husband that I helped build his business, raised our children and took care of everything so he could "work" and I have got to tell you I was tired.
    Then as old age kicked in, he decided, he needed to live life to the fullest with someone else.
    Elizabeth had the same problems she worked in the "family business" and John just decided that to live life to the fullest he too needed someone else.
    The arrogance of men is that hullimation of someone who spent much of their whole live helping them is OK because it is good for them and they can't see why we as women should be upset in anyway.
    I am personally glad she came out and finally said NO. I only wish she could have said more earlier. But I think the age of her younger children had a lot to do with that.

    This is a long lead-in that is very rambling to say that given the history of men and women and that I as someone who has lived what happened to her I understand her.
    I see the pull of different forces and the need to make some sense of it all.
    I liked her because she lived... problems and all making both good and bad choices.
    I hope I didn't come off and too simplistic and as one can tell I am not a writer...
    I spoke in general terms but I think when genetics kicks in and even as much as we today said all is equal ... really it is not.

    I must stop by and read more of your interesting posts and I too really liked Dandy Don, he was a hoot !

    cheers, parsnip

  3. I enjoyed reading your very interesting post regarding how you choose those you honor. Thanks!

    Briefly, I find it remarkable how some folks can seem to completely disregard those closest to them and do very reckless acts, such as what John Edwards did, when he seemed to be on the brink of achieving his goal of becoming President. (also thinking of Clinton, Spitzer et al..) Not realizing that 'The National Enquirer', and their enemies, are always watching makes his decision self destructive. But then, the narcissistic can easily avoid acknowledging risk, if it stands in the way of not getting what they want. Also, has he had a pattern of this behavior during his and Elizabeth's marriage? If so, Elizabeth overdosed on the 'Stand By Your Man' pill.

    A life lived in the public eye is the proverbial 'two edged sword'. Since the media can't, no matter how hard they try, REALLY portray what goes on inside the relationships of public figures, all bets are off as to the origin of the chaos.

    This was a tragedy only Shakespeare could sort out.

  4. Sorry it took me so long to respond. Was away from the computer for a couple of days. Will read the comments now and get back to you.

  5. Sigh. I'm going to have to reply to all the comments tommorrow. I tried writing a response to Kass's comments, and blogger told me I was using too many words. I tried shortening it, and they STILL wouldn't let me publish! Trying to extract myself from that situation I ended up losing the whole thing. Sorry. Promise I'll have something tommorrow. Thanks, Kass, angryparsnip and Mary Anne for commenting.

  6. When Blogger tells me my comments are too long in Preview, I hit Publish anyway and it usually takes.

    Sorry you lost your words. Hope you were away doing something fun for the holidays.

  7. @Kass--OK, let's try this again. Thanks for commenting, Kass. It was definitely worth the wait. I'm going to respond paragraph by paragraph.

    First paragraph: Oh, I do think it's admirable that Elizabeth Edwards maintained her public dignity. It was the sensationalistic media coverage of her problems that turned me off. Yes, there was always a real person in the middle of all that sensationalism, but that's always the case. When I was a younger man, sensationalism thrilled me quite a bit. Guess I'm turning into an old fogie.

    Second paragraph:

    Gumption isn't necessarily the highest form of virtue. Then again, neither are societial guidelines. Are you saying that John Edwards was drawn to Reille Hunter because she was some sort of rebel or nonconformist? You may be giving both of them a little too much credit.

    Third Paragraph:

    You're right, we really don't know anything about their relationship. I was briefly over at your blog (I'll return there once I'm through with all this) and saw that picture of a young John and Elizabeth. She's smiling, and he looks like a sourpuss. What's THAT all about? Someone wrote a book recently claiming Elizabeth used to call John a redneck in front of reporters. Probably not a good reason to cheat on the misses, but I can understand that pissing him off. As for the personality disorder, John actually did admit to being a narcissist once the affair was made public. This is one of the reasons I no longer believe he would have made a good president (though better than some other who's held the office.) Mind you, not because he IS a narcissist. Anyone who thinks they can make it to the presidency, a unique job that only one person can hold at a time, probably has an outsized sense of self. No, what I find dismaying is that he thought such an admission would get him off the hook with the public. I want my president to exercise better judgement than that.

    Fourth paragraph.

    What you say is probably true, though I would imagine being a viable candidate for president would generate its' own excitement. Maybe one form of excitement led to another.

    Fifth paragraph:

    Some evidence suggests Elizabeth may have been the driving force behind John's two runs for the presidency. We may never know the true dynamics of that marriage.

    Sixth paragraph:

    People fall in and out of love. People also fall in and out of lust. People also fall in and out of lust but remain in love, whatever way you want to define that word. It's possible John still loved Elizabeth but, perhaps due to her health problems, was no longer attracted to her sexually. Just writing that sentence is kind of creepy, but I stand by it. Whatever happened, it's worth knowing that not only did Elizabeth want the affair kept from the public, but said in an interview last spring right after she got a legal separation that it would be up to John to ask for a divorce. They were both still married when she died.

    Seventh paragraph:

    Of the three of them, Reille's the one I'm the most cynical about. After the affair was revealed, she did a sexy lingerie phot spread for some magazine. Either she was rebelling against the strictures society places on the "other woman", or she's just plain stupid. But you're right, Kass, we can never know for sure what exactly happened. As for hysterical reactions, well, I'm sure a lot of issues of the National Enquirer, the Globe, etc, were sold because of them.

    By the way, Kass, according to my site meter, these two newcomers may have found my blog through yours. If so, thanks.

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  9. angryparsnip and Mary Ann, I haven't forgotten about you. I'll respond to your comments tomorrow.

  10. Welcome to the blog, angryparsnip. Sorry it took so long to respond to your comment.

    Also sorry for how your husband treated you. Too many women get treated that way, I'm afraid. Um, I don't want to get personal, but your situation sounds a little different than Elizabeth Edwards. If I'm reading you right, your husband left you for another woman, whereas in John Edwards case, it seems more like a fling that backfired once the object of that fling got pregnant. There's also some question as to what extent Elizabeth finally did say NO. She was willing to keep up the fiction that her husband was faithful when the rumors of an affair first surfaced. And, like I told Kass, she never did divorce him. I like your comment that Elizabeth Edwards made both good and bad choices. She also might have made bad choices that she thought was good at the time, and good choices that she feared might be bad, and, of course, a lot of choices in between. I just think she would have preferred to make those choices, and live with the consequences of those choices, out of the glare of the media. Nothing you've said was simplistic, angryparsnip, and I hope you'll drop by again.

  11. Welcome to the blog, Mary Anne. Sorry I took so long to respond to your comment.

    You're right, Mary Anne, the media can never know the origin of chaos within a couple's marriage, but that's never stopped the media from speculating anyway. Heck, even I was speculating, and I sure ain't no Shakespeare.

    Hopest thou willst droppeth by again, Mary Anne.