The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Fame Drain

When I was a little boy, growing up in Augusta, GA, I wanted to be famous. Actually, I wanted to be a star. I sang along with the radio and one day discovered I had a voice, and eventually—happily—discovered that some people even enjoyed hearing it.

My sister, her best friend, and I used to dream of fame. We made up songs, and sang them into tape recorders. After we saw The Wiz, we learned all the songs, cast ourselves in the parts (I was the scarecrow) and acted out scenes. We dreamed of moving to Hollywood, where it would all happen, of course.

Now, decades later, I’m no closer to fame than I was then, and light years away from stardom. But what I’ve seen from this distance has me thinking that perhaps my youthful dreams are best left that way. I’m not sure I’d want the glare of spotlight that never, ever shuts off shining into every aspect of my life, or on my family. Not based on what I’ve seen and read lately.

Maybe being a husband and a father has shifted my priorities, because there are some things I would never want my family subjected to. I don’t know when Star Jones started writing for The Huffington Post, but I completely agree with her take on the circus around Heath Ledger’s death.

The scene outside his apartment on the night Ledger died made me sick to my stomach. People gawking and waiting around for a body bag to be removed. I have been at similar scenes in my work as an assistant district attorney. And let me tell you, if you don’t have to be there, you wouldn’t want to be. It’s morbid. Someone who was loved is in that bag… and trust me it takes more than a minute to get used to that.

And when actress Michelle Williams and her daughter arrived home in Brooklyn, the scene was just as bad. Instead of being allowed to enter her home in privacy, she had to endure the flashbulbs of the paparazzi waiting to snap the money shot. How she explained that to her child through her grief is something I hope never to experience.

Might I suggest that we in the media, instead of reporting on the dead based on gossip, rumor, innuendo and anonymous sources, choose to honor this man’s memory based on his talent and the good taste we all should be exercising. My heart goes out to the family of Heath Ledger.

I can barely imagine having to explain to a two-year-old what’s happened to her father and why she can’t see him again, except in picture and his movies. Explaining to a child the popping flashbulbs and shouted questions in the midst of grief is simply beyond my imagining.

Williams issued a statement to the media, which was moving but should never have been necessary in the first place.

“Please respect our need to grieve privately,” Williams said in a statement. “My heart is broken. I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day.”

…”His family and I watch Matilda as she whispers to trees, hugs animals, and takes steps two at a time, and we know that he is with us still,” Williams said. “She will be brought up in the best memories of him.”

It’s a pledge many a parent would make, despite a separation. William’s statement demonstrates that whatever the reasons for the end of the relationship between her and Ledger, they apparently maintained a degree of respect and maybe even affection for each other.

That she wants to bring her daughter up with the best memories of her father is admirable, but is bound to be challenging. Ledger’s funeral hasn’t happened yet, but already people are trying to make a buck over his corpse, and might have if some of his famous friends hadn’t stopped it. (Not to mention the wingnuts begging Ledger’s family to tell them where the funeral will be held, so they can cause the family further grief.

It was a striking example of Hollywood protecting its own: After an aggressive lobby from powerful film industry figures, “Entertainment Tonight” decided against airing a video that shows the late Heath Ledger hanging out at a party where drugs were being taken.

The show said it pulled the story “out of respect for Heath Ledger’s family.” But don’t discount the effect of a lightning-fast campaign launched by a public relations firm that represents many of the stars “Entertainment Tonight” depends upon for stories.

Even some celebrities themselves _ Natalie Portman and Sarah Jessica Parker, to name a couple _ called to urge “ET” to pull the plug.

“Entertainment Tonight” is hardly the lone news organization to broach the topic of potential drug abuse by the star. But the video it acquired, reportedly taken two years ago at a party at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, drew the fiercest attention.

…Stars, studio executives and PR firms all called “ET” to register protests, said Kelly Bush, CEO of ID. The star-studded roster of Bush’s firm alone includes Robin Williams, Sean Penn, Tobey Maguire, Mike Myers, Jennifer Hudson, Katie Holmes, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ledger’s “Brokeback” co-star Jake Gyllenhaal.

Bush said the response was unlike anything she’d ever seen.

“I hope it represents a turning point,” she said. “I think we have all heard from members of the media and members of the public that it’s too much. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are the top news stories when Darfur should be.”

With any luck, perhaps it will be a turning point, and Matilda won’t be subject at some time in the future to seeing the video. (If ET obtained a copy, though, that means there are probably others out there, and it wouldn’t be too far fetched for one to show up on the web. I’d like to think that people would either not post it or remove it out of respect, but…)

And speaking of turning points, even one of the paparazzi who’ve been dogging Britney Spears has had a change of heart, and quit his job over the aggressive tactics, meanwhile Britney herself is under psychiatric care after a police escort that will almost certainly rival O.J.’s “White Bronco” chase in media history.

Good for her. There’s a lot I could say, and have said, about Britney, her marriages, etc., but I posted a “no Britney jokes” policy back when her serious troubles seem to have started, and that’s pretty much where I still stand today. I don’t know what’s going on with her, but from where I sit Britney appears to be a young woman dealing with what may very well be a mental illness, on top of what looks like a substance abuse problem.

Whatever the case, it looks like she may be getting the help she needs. More than that, I don’t need to know. I don’t need to know about Britney’s latest bizarre behavior, whatever it may be. I certainly don’t need to see video of her being put into an ambulance and driven to the hospital, with or without a police escort, any more than I need to see a video of Heath Ledger’s body being carried out of his house, or a video of him at a party where drug use was taking place.

In fact, I’ve reached a point at which I’d just as soon most of this stuff wasn’t reported on, beyond the basic facts that shouldn’t take up more than a few sentences. In fact, I bet it wouldn’t take more than five sentences to tell me everything I need to know about either story. The rest? Unless I’m sleeping with, related to, or married to the person in question, I probably don’t need to know about it.

For the love of peace, there are families involved here. There are children involved here. The Spears family is dealing with the dual problems of a love one who probably has a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. The Ledger family is dealing with the unexpected death of a father, a son, and a brother. In both cases there are children here who are without one of their parents, either permanently or temporarily, and who are undoubtedly impacted by the family events that somehow happen to also be the rest of the world’s business.

These are things that countless families deal with. But most of us don’t do it in a fishbowl, exposed on all sides to ridicule, judgement, and laughter, as though even this is now considered entertainment. I can’t help but wonder why more famous folks don’t have more problems, since such living under those conditions is bound to drain a bit of the life out of anyone.

Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes I was young enough (and had the extra octave of range I’d need) to compete on American Idol. I still have a rough idea of what I’d say during my Oscar/Grammy/Emmy/Tony acceptance speech. But these days, I do most of my singing for Parker (who said to me last night, after requesting “Rainbow Connection” and “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” “I like all the songs you sing, Daddy”) and Dylan (who I’ve been attempting to sing to sleep). And, rather than expose them to all of the stuff above, I’d just as soon keep it that way.


  1. Maybe it is not the big fame that you will have but the more important fame of longevity through generations and stories about the life you once lived and those who you loved.

    Have you seen this? The Yes We Can Song

  2. Terrance,

    We have a “no teevee news” policy in our home, with the possible exception of times when we hear the tornado sirens. GPop, Son, and I will discuss world events when we hear news on the radio, or I will sometimes ask GPop and Son to read web-based news reporting that I find. We may be too far down the path of darkness in teevee media to turn the tide.


  3. It was bad enough that Heath Ledger’s loved ones had to deal with the media and gawking fans who couldn’t stay at a respectable distance. They then had to endure the whacko Phelps family who wanted to barrage them with what they called a “religious service” (read taw=dry attention whoring hate-fest). Thankfully the Phelps clan were unable to discover the location of the funeral and didn’t make it there.

    It’s sad when people have no sense of decorum for those who are grieving or otherwise need their privacy. It’s another sign of how boorish our society has become.