As 2016 draws its final breaths, a few more notable celebrities did the same. In the past week, Debbie Reynolds (84), her daughter Carrie Fisher (60) and George Michael (53) joined the eternal choir that had earlier seen Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey and Alan Ryckman, among others, shuffle off this mortal coil.
This being the age of angst, the snowflakes on social media naturally had to interpret the toll on A-listers as a burden on their precious selves. “I can’t take it anymore” and “How will I make it through the day?” tweets ran thick and fast as the overtly-sensitive curled up in the corner for a good cry.
One of the prevailing themes with many of the deceased celebs was the high cost of fame. Both Fisher and Michael struggled with fame and its accompanying blight of addiction. Michael, in particular, bridled against the stresses of having reached the top of the musical world at age 27 to find it a shallow and stressful place.
By 1990, he was telling reporters that he’d rather retire than answer the demands placed upon him by fame. (Hiding his homosexuality from his mother also was getting harder.) His comments happened to find Francis A. Sinatra, a man who’d known a thing or two about the vagaries of stardom. As he famously sang, Frank had been “up and down and over and out” in the harsh glare of fame.
But “he knew one thing.” So he took the time to offer a little friendly advice to the man whose ironically titled smash hit Fame had taken him to the top. In a 1990 [popup url=”http://twitter.com/BeschlossDC/status/813390318544519168″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]public letter[/popup], the Chairman of the Board gave Michael a pep talk. “Come on, George. Loosen up. Swing a little bit. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice …”
Sinatra then turned serious. “And no more talk about ‘the tragedy of fame’. The tragedy of fame is when no one shows and you’re left singing to the cleaning lady in some empty joint that hasn’t seen a paying customer since St. Swithin’s Day.” Sinatra ended with a challenge for Michael. “Talent must not be wasted … those who have talent must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.”
There’s no record whether Michael ever saw the letter. While he didn’t retire at 27, he never found his muse in quite the same way as he battled the death of lovers, his mother and being outed in a Los Angeles public washroom.
His last years were fraught with depression, illness and loneliness. Some might say that Sinatra’s advice was insensitive to someone with emotional issues. That he might have been more understanding of a man struggling to hide his sexual orientation and the loss of loved ones in the glare of publicity.
That’s possible. But in a time where empathy and consolation prizes are the default mechanism for every issue, Frank’s “dry those tears and get back out there” message has found a willing audience. His observation on accepting good fortune is bracingly refreshing. It’s the same unapologetic tone Donald Trump struck that resonated with so many voters in the U.S.
There was a well-known Canadian clothing corporation known as DYLEX. Their Thrifty’s, Reitmans and Tip Top brands were ubiquitous for decades in Canada. The motto for success was spelled out in their name: DYLEX. Damn Your Lousy Excuses. In other words, bring me solutions, not excuses why it can’t work.
It’s not a popular message in a daycare society of safe spaces promoted by the academic loon patrol and their pearl clutchers in the media. Today, they’d need seven outreach and diversity counselors to massage the meaning before it could ever be applied to the tender mercies of the public.
But maybe, just maybe, with the many issues pressing upon society as 2017 comes in, it’s time for a bit of Damn Your Lousy Excuses. A time to celebrate achievement and accomplishment in spite of everything – not alibis and excuses. Wanting what we’ve got, not getting what we want. The love of doing a job – be it pop music, actor in Star Wars or carpenter – for its own sake and not as a wedge against global warming. It might be worth a try this year.
There’s still room for understanding. Many cannot make it on their own. But as Dennis Miller says, “I don’t mind helping the helpless. What I don’t like is helping the hopeless.” Many are becoming convinced before they start that results come at too high a cost. That they don’t have what it takes. That it’s better to lay down and quit than persevere.
These days there are more than enough sympathetic ears for your tale of woe or to offer a place to get lost. In this they should take a cue from Carrie Fisher. While she suffered from her own demons, she never placed the blame anywhere but upon herself. Like Sinatra, she believed in soldiering on. If being known as Princess Leia for a lifetime was her price of fame, “it was a light burden” to carry, she said.
Good advice. Time to pick yourself up and get back in the race in a tumultuous 2017.
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin is the host of podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. His career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster. Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.
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