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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The King and Miss Munroe: Fractured Beings, Unbreakable Icons

As a starstruck Oklahoma kid whose life went from black and white to Technicolor during my summer pilgrimages to L.A. in the late '70s and '80s, I all-too-frequently frowned at the sepia images of Elvis and Marilyn that swallowed every square inch of Hollywood Boulevard and the nostalgic nation's collective consciousness.

Who are these two-dimensional lookers, I wondered, and why do their likenesses merit U.S. postage stamps, commemorative plates, posters, life-size cut-outs, napkin holders and, well, any other shred of merchandise big enough to display a famous face, plunging neckline and gyrating pelvis?

I recall watching my parents sob during Elvis' televised funeral in August '77. And I totally got that both "The King" and Miss Monroe met tragic, untimely deaths at the hands of drugs, celebrity and other soul-poisoning excess. But try as I could, I never fully grasped the timeless, universal connections they left behind.

Sadly, nearly 32 years later, I now absolutely get it.

My generation lost its King and Miss Munroe—pop music's majestic moonwalker and Charlie's Angels' celestial jiggle queen Jill —on the same fateful day. In a matter of mere hours on June 25, 2009, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson—the pop icon of the Seventies and the pop icon of the Eighties—were sadly, suddenly, irretrievably lost in the same ether that transmitted their radiant, electric images and creative magic for four decades.

Nearly three weeks later, the tributes continue to pour in on newsstands, online, (coming soon) in bookstores and, of course, in the non-static, visual medium that crystallized Michael and Farrah's reigns as charismatic, era-defining icons: TV.

And like the troubled musical genius and fragile sex symbol-actress who set the bar of immortal greatness so impossibly high a half-century earlier, Michael and Farrah in their final days became vulnerable, tragic figures whose robust, picture-perfect exteriors collapsed under the weight of their very human hardships.

Long famous for their physical fluidity, cascading locks and well-chiseled (if, to varying degrees, cosmetically altered) faces, Michael and Farrah both left their physical bodies bald, brittle and broken, a sobering reminder of their very ordinary mortality blind to fame and fortune. Their lifelong struggles with superstardom, family heartache, tabloid cruelty and abuse—physical, emotional and psychological—struck a cord in our individual and universal hearts. We knew that behind their flawless facades, beneath their unbreakable iconic brilliance, and beyond their heavenly charms dwelled fractured souls that, whether we wanted the lesson or not, taught the world about our own human journeys.

In their far-from-perfect final years, The King and Miss Munroe faced crippling trials and tribulations. Farrah, felled by terminal illness, in the end completely grasped her spiritual significance as a celebrity. Farrah's Story, the intended documentary that exposed her courageous, harrowing battle with anal cancer, will forever bear testament that she mastered her cosmic lesson. Michael, felled by the equally ravaging disease of addiction, left a musical legacy that will forever tell his story as an artist who, afflicted with lupus, vitiligo, body dysmorphia disorder, bulimia and substance abuse, sensed, surveyed and sung his heart out about our uniquely human frailties.

Both of our beloved icons illustrated, in sickness and health, that humankind's vulnerabilities forever tie we mere mortals to the now-heavenly stars who, despite their heavy earthly burdens, continue to lighten and enlighten our lives.

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