Media has a bad habit of trying too hard to please late entertainer’s fans with the most recent news on their idol’s death; sometimes, as in the case of Paul Walker, celebrity deaths and the tasteless side of reporting turn the whole exercise into a shameful debacle.
Ever since the sensational death of a want-to-be actress/extra named Elizabeth Short, nicknamed the Black Dahlia, in 1940s Hollywood, news publications have strived to keep this type of lurid information available to the public. The Black Dahlia continues to fascinate readers to this day, while other older Hollywood deaths have slipped by the wayside. Back when Elizabeth Short died a horrific death papers were filled with all the lurid details. In a way those days have never really changed, not with the introduction of internet news. The Black Dahlia has, through her horrific death, managed a type of fame that surpasses that of the average film star.
Not all famous personalities have such a long term infamy connected with their passing. The 1920s murder of William Desmond Taylor was a real page turner in the day. Years later only the most dedicated cinephile could even recall Taylor’s role in early Hollywood, let alone his mysterious murder. In the 1930s it was the apparent “suicide” of writer/director Paul Bern, newlywed husband of the sex-bomb Jean Harlow. After just two months of marriage to his star wife, Bern was found shot to death in the couple’s bathroom. Worldwide headlines splashed the news to the public and only years later did the real story come to light, although never proven, his death was not by his own hand. Both Taylor and Bern have become victims of time and diminished interest.
The entertainment industry is full of stories that reflect the terrible price that “stars” pay for their fame. Of course the highest price paid is loss of privacy. Death, destruction, drug addiction, alcoholism, ill health, depression, the list could literally go on and on, but, these all show up in sharp contrast compared to other areas of industry because of the visibility of the profession.
No other area of commerce has this type of public danger. The price of performing in the public eye via the cinema or television is almost instantaneous fame. With high salaries for talent, and popularity with the public, comes an equally high chance of being stalked, murdered, hounded and watched whether on screen or off. Paparazzi are paid very well for their pictorial “pound of flesh” and nothing sells better than the tragic news of premature death. Whether said death is natural, due to old age or accident – or suicide – the passing of the rich and famous is big news.
Like Paul Walker and his celebrity death, sometimes reporting on the subject’s demise crosses boundaries and become tasteless reporting of the facts. This occurrence does appear to be on the rise in internet publications that profess to broadcast “news.”
It is true that entertainment reporting falls into a murky grey area in what is acceptable. The original title of this article dealt with fan’s desperation for news about their fallen idols. Of course falling from grace is completely different from being amongst the fallen; stars who have died unexpectedly. When a favorite actor or actress dies suddenly, fans are thrown into a whirlwind of shock, dismay, and innate curiosity.
This interest is similar to the surviving relatives of the recently deceased, but, the fan’s curiosity sometimes strays into areas that grieving family members, and close friends, do not wish to think about. Sometimes just the circumstances alone dictate just how deep the media will delve into facts about a celebrity death.
Going back to “old Hollywood” for a moment, look at the mysterious death of Thelma Todd in 1935. The “Ice Cream Blonde” was found dead in her car of monoxide poisoning. Clues at the time of her death seemed to indicate that she did not willingly choose this type of death. Newspapers of the time trumpeted all sorts of ideas of why she died and who had a hand in it. This is another “mystery” that went years before possibly being solved, but, not proven.
Even clear cut cases of “suicide” were viewed with suspicion; as when Adventures of Superman star George Reeves allegedly shot himself in the head upstairs with a houseful of guests down in the living room below. Enough ink to fill several squids and/or octopi has been spilt coming up with suspects who could have murdered Reeves back in 1959. There has always been one clear winner in the suspect stakes, but, lack of evidence kept this person from being prosecuted.
The entertainment business is full of stories about: falls from grace, Fatty Arbuckle; death by purposeful overdose, Carole Landis and George Sanders; gunshot, George Reeves and Freddie Prinze; and the list could go on in ad infinitum. In 2013 alone, there is a long list of celebrity deaths; all from either misadventure or unnatural causes along with the few who die of old age. The aforementioned names of former glitterati are not even the tiniest tip of a mortal iceberg of entertainers who drop off the radar and life’s eternal struggle.
Now we have Paul Walker. Actor, philanthropist and “all around nice guy” who left this world suddenly and horribly on Nov. 30 this year. Fans of the 40 year-old star who made his mark in the Fast & Furious franchise are desperate to learn more about how he died. The fiery car crash that took his life, and the driver of the vehicle Paul’s friend Roger Rodas, is surrounded in mystery.
The red Porsche Carrera GT that both men perished in has not given up its guilty secret of why it crashed and burst into deadly flames. Unfortunately the public’s quest for knowledge about their film idol has not been quenched. It likely will never be fully sated as investigation results have, thus far, been pretty inconclusive. The latest theory is that plastic speed bumps were the culprit, that and the, alleged, fact that the GT was going too fast.
Since news sells and nothing sells more than stories about death and sex, it is no real surprise that bounds of tastelessness have reached new levels in reporting. While a family mourns the loss of a father, brother, son, friend, et al, news publications are stretching that little bit further to come up with a new angle to Paul Walker’s celebrity death. The tasteless side of reporting is making its presence known with little care as to how it may affect the people closest to victim. People who have no connection with the industry apart from a fluke of genetics that puts them in the same limelight as their family member end up suffering. Perhaps the media industry can keep this in mind as they continue to report on Walker’s death.
By Michael Smith