Now I'm really beginning to feel old.
There's an old showbiz adage (or is a general one) that says that deaths always come in threes...and in the past three days, the news that three celebrities whom I actually grew up with have died has left me, well, a little bewildered. Not so much because I may or may not have been a fan of theirs, but because their presence was so deeply felt.
Of course, when I was eight years old, I grieved more for the death of Groucho Marx than I did Elvis Presley, so go figure.
First, Ed McMahon...some of you who are younger may not have realized that there was a Tonight Show host before Leno. I'm even willing to bet that some of you never realized that there is a Tonight Show, but there was a guy who - more than Johnny Carson - gave people a reason to stay up late, and that was Ed McMahon. From the immortal "heeeeeeere's.....Johnny!" to the occasional "Hey-O!", Ed was the kind of guy who seemed like a favorite uncle, although you might want to watch the liquor cabinet. His later issues with housing aside, Ed was nothing more than a guy who wanted to entertain you.
Of course, I also hit puberty around the time of "jiggle tv"...which, for all of you young people out there, was the closest thing we had to real cable television. My best friend Bob (and if you're out there, Bob, drop me an e-mail, will you?) was one of the first to have the infamous "Farrah Fawcett" poster (I don't know if my mother allowed it at the time), and...well, I was lucky Bob's mom watched me after school. Between hanging out, listening to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy on 8-track, and looking at this poster....well, it's a wonder that I didn't turn out differently. Farrah was an icon - a fresh-faced, all-out beauty that hit at the right time at the right moment. Of course, she later had to prove herself, and she did...right until the slightly wacky appearances on Dave Letterman's show. But there was something about her final fight that gave her a kind of dignity that may have eluded her until this point. In fact, it was her death that hit harder for me than the primary news of Michael Jackson's death.
I'll let others speak more eloquently about Thriller and Jackson's later work - personally, there was something about his work with the Jackson 5 that seemed almost transcendent. Maybe it's because I watched their Saturday morning cartoon as a child (look, I was six years old, and pretty soon, it was father-mandated Polish language lessons on Saturday morning), but there was something a little more attractive - and accessible - about their bubblegum soul. Or maybe it was, as Smokey Robinson once put it, that Michael had an "old soul".
Let me leave you with the Jackson 5's rendition of Robinson's "Who's Lovin' You" - if this song does not move you, you have little - if any - heart. Or soul.