Wednesday, December 2, 2009

People I Thought Were Already Dead

As we're coming down to the end of the year, it's time once again to remember all those who died during the past 11 months. There will be heartfelt tributes, moving montages, and plenty of weepy moments.

Just not in this blog.

Nope, this is about those people who, when reading through such lists, I discover had only just died, instead of having been long dead and gone as I presumed them to be. Like Andrew Wyeth. Don't ask me why I thought he was dead, because the best I can say is that he's an artist, his pictures hang in museums, ergo he was probably dead. Plus I had this impression that he'd been painting around the turn of the 20th Century, which made it even more likely that he was long since dead. Shows what little I know about modern American art. Or just modern art in general.

Ditto with John Updike. Though in his case it was primarily because as a child I remember seeing the Rabbit books on my dad's shelves - and they already looked pretty dusty and old. If I'd thought about it, I would have remembered that Updike had just published something not too long ago, but again, this was a case of seeing his obituary and thinking, "He was still alive?"

In both cases, it's an instance of having formed certain impressions early on, which were for one reason or another never dispelled. I took an Art History class, I know Wyeth was in there, and I'm pretty sure - though I didn't look it up to be sure - that they didn't list him as dead. Yet, just about everyone else in that book was dead, so at the time it seemed a logical enough assumption.

You have to have just a certain level of celebrity to get away with this. Clearly it was not going to happen with Michael Jackson, even if he'd lived to be a hundred and two. His death would always have been big news (unless in the next fifty years we revamp the way we look at what is and what is not newsworthy... but that seems unlikely). So you can't be so famous that your passing is automatic headlines. It also helps not to go before your time, assuming that's a valid concept to start with. I've always found it to be a bit of an oxymoron, though I get the sentiment behind it.

No, you have to have just the right amount where your passing gets noted, but not with a lot of hoopla, so that someone like me can be forgiven for just assuming they missed the news. You also can't have done anything to attract a great deal of attention, at least not recently. As mentioned, Updike had recently published, but I don't think that was this year. Or even last year. And his biggest claim to fame, the Rabbit novels, were with one late exception mostly penned long before I was old enough to read them. (It would also have helped if I'd ever read them at all. I knew when Tony Hillerman died, after all.)

So it helps to have faded some from the immediate public awareness. Which, although I've never achieved it myself, would I think be a worthy goal for most who do achieve celebrity. You shouldn't have to spend your last years being hounded by the press, and aside from Paris Hilton I don't know of anyone on the celebrity A list who wouldn't enjoy having their private life back.

I suppose there's a certain ignominy in being presumed dead when you are not. Being dead, though, I also suppose they're probably beyond such concerns anymore. It might also help with that late in life anonymity as well. I have to wonder what Mark Twain thought about the rumors of his demise, given the famous quote on the subject. You could probably either be bitter about it, or wryly amused, and which way you went would say a lot about you as person.

I'm sure this coming year will bring a few more people whom I thought were dead into the realm of the actually dead. And I will, as before, scratch my head - metaphorically - and reflect on why it is I thought they were dead when in fact they weren't. Yet.

1 comment:

cellasboots said...

I didn't know who any of these people were, lol.....

Well, you mentioned Mark Twain; heard of him ;)