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.