Monuments of mythic proportions

How will the world remember Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson?

Fawcett and Jackson 88 248 (photo credit: )
Fawcett and Jackson 88 248
(photo credit: )
Anyone who grew up with their images in the 1960s and '70s can't help but be affected by the deaths last week of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. For a kid in suburban America, they represented the possibilities of something larger than life. True, they were part of the all-American Hollywood marketing machinery - no different than iconic products like McDonalds and Apple and Nike. And beyond their primary art forms of music and television respectively, both Jackson and Fawcett quickly turned into mythical legends, thanks to lunch boxes and notebooks, action figures in their images, and posters galore. Most American males who came of age in the 1970s won't deny that their first interest in the opposite sex derived in part from Fawcett's swimsuit posters boasting the alluring trace of the most famous nipples in the world. And females were equally captivated by her feathered hair style and vivaciousness, which spawned millions of Farrah wannabes in 1970s high school year books. Jackson didn't prompt imitation the way Fawcett did - he elicited slack-jawed awe for his poise and talent as a child superstar, and later as a groundbreaking entertainer. While it was possible to try and emulate Fawcett, Jackson belonged to another world. Jackson and Fawcett initially shared the path of peaking at an early stage in their careers. Jackson actually enjoyed two spikes, first as a boy with The Jackson 5, and then as a solo artist in the '80s with Thriller and Bad. Fawcett, despite working as an actress right up until her illness, will always be remembered as Charlie's Angel Jill Munroe. But from there, the career paths of the two icons parted. Fawcett, whose dubious acting skills were secondary to her jiggle ability, overcame her physical attributes and refused to let the stereotyping determine her path. While never regaining her superstar status, she worked hard and became a better actress, grudgingly winning respect and accolades in her post-Charlie's Angels days for her work in such films as The Burning Bed and Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story. Jackson, on the other hand, fed into the role that he created for himself, which led to the monkey, Neverland, the pedophile accusations and court cases, the baby-dangling, the plastic surgery and everything else that became known as the Michael Jackson freak show. How will we remember Jackson and Fawcett? If other much-loved entertainers provide a clue, it will likely be as their most vivacious and star-studded versions. Just like most people remember Elvis as a young, swivel-hipped, leather-clad sex symbol, rather than a pant-suited, overweight, drugged-out Las Vegas crooner, so, too, will Jackson and Fawcett remain forever young in our eyes and memories. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, it's possible to repeatedly view Jackson's incredible body of work - singing like a performer three times his age on classic Jackson 5 songs like "I Want You Back" and "ABC," and later thrilling the world with gravity-defying dance moves as a latter-day Fred Astaire. And photographs of Fawcett in her prime, which spawned millions of imitations, are free for the downloading. Someone once said of Ike Turner, the late ex-husband of Tina Turner who physically abused her throughout their marriage, that his amazing guitar playing and songwriting just proved that you could be a terrible person and still be a great artist. We don't really have any idea what kind of people Jackson and Fawcett were. Jackson was clearly a mess, but still, at the time of his death, he was attempting to turn a corner by doing what he did best - going on stage and performing. Fawcett, who initially gave the impression of being flighty and superficial, displayed courage and inner strength by sharing her illness with the public in the hopes of creating awareness about early cancer detection. We can't pretend to know people from their music or films or what we've read about them in magazines. But there's one thing that can safely be said about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett - they both shared a spark from beyond this world, a rare ability, whether through talent or sheer beauty, to captivate, inspire and entertain millions of people. Despite their foibles, that's the epitaph they deserve.