Celebrity death syndrome still alive and well

First Posted: 7/10/2009

With the passing of Michael Jackson has come another example of what I like to call Celebrity Death Syndrome CDS for short, since I know how much everyone appreciates catchy acronyms or abbreviations for diseases and such.
This CDS phenomenon occurs with clockwork regularity each and every time a celebrity of a certain status passes away, usually an extremely popular entertainer such as an Elvis or a Michael Jackson.
The list also includes those whove made a career of being a public spectacle Anna Nicole Smith is one who comes readily to mind.
But regardless of the individual involved, Celebrity Death Syndrome goes through the same stages. These are similar to the so-called five stages of grief, which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, all or part of which anyone whos ever lost a loved one has experienced to some degree.
CDS has a few variations, however. These fuel on the two extremes generally at play before the syndrome runs its course, meaning that the only thing the American public seems to enjoy more than building someone up to hero-worship status is tearing them down again.
The denial stage of regular grief also is part of Celebrity Death Syndrome. This is what happens when every other entertainer, including ones you thought were dead themselves, comes out of the woodwork to talk about the loss of their great friend Michael Jackson, or whoever.
After Jackson recently died, Liza Minnelli was telling any microphone willing to listen how much she missed Michael and how she just could not believe he was gone (Denial). These same teary-eyed Hollywood types seem to appear whenever theres any death among their ranks; all they have to do is omit the name of the last person who died and fill in the blank with the next.
(Hopefully, these has-beens think, they also might get a movie or TV deal from having their face in the public eye once again.)
After Denial comes the How-Did-They-Die? stage of CDS. It cant just be as simple as a person succumbing to some natural cause such as cardiac arrest, which was reported as the reason for Michael Jacksons demise.
Now, there always must be some sinister plot involved. In Jacksons case, there is lingering speculation that his death was due to a drug overdose, which naturally has brought up a whole array of other questions. Was it accidental? Was it murder?
The types of questions also overlap into the Who-Did-It? stage of CDS. Michael was a great superstar, so he couldnt have died from a simple heart attack like a normal person, right? There had to be some dark conspiracy involved, of course, maybe leading up to the higher echelons of the FBI no less!
During this stage, similar to the anger phase of the grief process for normal people, fingers will be pointed at doctors who prescribed painkillers, relatives, close associates anyone who remotely had anything to gain from the death.
News organizations anxiously await autopsy results, toxicology reports and medical-examiner findings so they can hinge on every word that might supply some answers.
(Of course, there is also the possibility that a troubled individual with an alcohol or drug addiction did it to themselves, as too many regular folks have. But thats nowhere near as sexy as a homicide investigation.)
The next level of Celebrity Death Syndrome is what I affectionately call the Tabloid stage. All the lurid details of the persons death are played out for months in those sleazy publications you cant help but notice while youre waiting in the grocery store line. And given Michael Jacksons enormous popularity, theres no telling when this stage will end in his case.
Eventually, the final level will be reached (someday), which is not Acceptance like with the steps of grief, but something quite the opposite: the Unacceptance stage.
This is when, even after witnessing all the facts and prolonged rituals of the autopsy, memorial service and burial, rabid fans of the deceased still will refuse to believe he or she is truly gone.
In Elvis Presleys case, there are those diehards who will not accept that the king is really in the grave at Graceland. In some extreme instances, bodies have even been exhumed just to make sure the person buried is genuine, or subjected to modern investigative techniques such as DNA to see if any new clues emerge.
Even if authenticity is proven beyond any reasonable doubt, some people still wont accept reality. In the situation with Presley, they will prefer instead to see him walking around alive in shopping malls, convenience stores and other places where Elvis sightings regularly occur.
So when I witness my first Michael Jackson impersonator at McDonalds, I will know that all stages of Celebrity Death Syndrome (CDS) have run their course!
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.

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