Comment: Topaz's tragic end

Due to the intimacy of the country, we feel like we know our celebrities.

topaz 66 (photo credit: )
topaz 66
(photo credit: )
Waking up Thursday morning to the news that disgraced entertainer Dudu Topaz had ended his life by hanging himself in his Ramle jail while awaiting trial seemed like an inevitable end to his sorry saga. What else was there to do for the one-time king of Israeli comedy? Spending years fading away out of the spotlight in a prison cell was not his style. And the 62-year-old comedian, whom a judge in his preliminary hearing called a public menace, was clearly going to be spending a long time behind bars. Was that because the media pounced on the story with a vengeance usually dedicated to terror attacks? Or was it due to the overwhelming evidence of Topaz's criminal activities? Either way, it was a huge fall from grace for the comic who dominated television in the 1990s, when the Israeli cable industry was just getting on its feet. His unsophisticated, often vulgar humor made him a "people's entertainer." Despite his huge popularity, however, he was never fully accepted by the upper crust media who deemed his style too base to be considered culture. I remember soon after my aliya in the late 1980s watching him host an Israeli version of The Dating Game. My wife and I would guffaw as Topaz blurted out impromptu one-liners and insults - like a sun flower-spitting combination of Don Rickles and Howard Stern. Topaz was like the neighbor at the house committee meetings who came on to your wife, delayed making his electricity payments, but left everyone in stitches with his boyish antics. He truly was blessed with the spark and wit of a great live entertainer, but even then, there was something about his delivery that showed it wasn't all in good fun. And his dark streak was noticeable long before the attacks. Notable occurrences include a 1995 crushed glasses incident against a TV critic, a 2003 sexual harassment charge and the odd Latin-American soap star bite on the arm the same year. Despite his knack for controversy, Topaz had all but disappeared from TV screens in recent years, as younger variety hosts and kookier reality shows took over what was once his domain. It's a familiar story, and not one that's unique to Israeli entertainment. If there's a specifically Israeli angle to this saga, it may be that due to the intimacy that's inbred in the country, we feel like we know our celebrities. They're not in some ivory tower - they still go to the same restaurants and neighborhood grocery stories, and pay the same mortgages (albeit Topaz probably took care of his a little easier than the rest of us). Maybe Topaz felt a greater sense of shame and failure than if he had been ensconced in the Hollywood Hills, earning residual checks and appearing on Hollywood Squares. Despite the ghastly charges against him, many longtime fans of the comic undoubtedly felt some semblance of sympathy for his plight, even if they unanimously condemned the actions that he took to convey his frustrations. It's unlikely that any of the victims of Topaz's unbalanced cruelty would have wanted to see this ending to the story. They would have surely preferred that he suffer in prison. And certainly, Topaz's family and loved ones, who have already blamed the media for trying and convicting him, would have rather seen a different outcome, even if it meant a lengthy sentence. However, with Topaz's unfortunate demise, the country will be spared a long, steamy trial filled with gossipy details of the attacks, the personalities behind them, and a deeper, darker look than anyone would have wanted into the soul of a man who seemingly had everything and threw it all away. For a man who, at least in his actions of the last year, seemed to be lacking in basic human feelings, this may be the most compassionate thing Topaz ever did for his viewing audience.