Fallen Idols

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I always thought that losing an icon was a terrible thing. I sadly remember that stretch in 2016 when several musicians and actors that dominated the formative years of my life started dropping like flies. FB was flooded with people my age imploring God and the Universe to stop taking our idols. Prince, David Bowie, William “Father Mulcahy” Christopher, Gene Wilder, John Glenn, Arnold Palmer, Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty, Muhammad Ali, the list is so terribly long and sad. But they all left a happy memory with me if not a reminder that life is fleeting and I am getting older. I always could reflect on their impact on my life and smile. It’s not the worst thing in life.

The worst thing is actually finding out that someone you looked up to is not the person you thought they were.

I had the pleasure of being great friends with a guy who was the son of a professional basketball player. A Boston Celtic, the replacement for the great Bill Russell, Mr. Hank aka “High Henry” Finkel. My friend had grown up in an affluent neighborhood North of Boston populated by many famous Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics players and he knew all of them and their kids.

When I first met him, I was enamored by his childhood friends and I prodded him constantly for info on them. I am not a celebrity chaser at all, I just wanted to know more about some players that I grew up idolizing. In particular was a certain baseball player, an absolute legend from the 70’s and 80’s that my Dad and I practically bonded over when I was a kid. My friend told me, actually warned me first, that I wouldn’t like what he had to tell me. I insisted. He told me a harrowing tale of a guy who smiled for the cameras and the fans but mercilessly beat his wife and children on occasion…losing streaks in particular. I was crushed when I heard this, as an adult mind you, that an icon of my youth was a great ball player, but a very bad man. Not one for hindsight, I’m pretty sure that I wish I had never learned this.

We live in the information age, as the saying goes. I contend that in some cases there is such a thing as too much information. I stop short of wishing for ignorance but I can think of so many instances where “new information” or “old family secrets” have destroyed a person that at one time gave me a warm and fuzzy. From the late Uncle that you just learned cheated on your beloved Aunt, to the knowledge that a young President that used to reign over the empire of “Camelot” was actually a pill-popping whore-monger, the list is almost endless and equally sad.

The job of role-model is a barnacle on the hull of celebrity. To be fair, other than elected officials, it is unrealistic to expect actors, athletes, musicians, etc., to be anything more than human. They’re really just people like you and I. I fondly remember the scene in a Bronx Tale, where Sonny challenges young “C” on his idolization of Mickey Mantle. “Does he pay your rent? No, he’s just a regular guy. What’s he do for you?” The boy was disillusioned, but it was the day he realized an important truth. That Mickey Mantle was just a ballplayer.

But OJ Simpson was just a football player…and he almost divided the country in half. And cost me a friendship.

I used to go to the same Barber Shop every Tuesday in the 90’s. I had hair back then. I was good friends with the Barber. Every haircut consisted of small talk and I would always find myself drawn to his wedding picture on the mantle before me. The tall, thin white guy with the pretty African American Wife. I never thought twice about him being married to a black woman. Then the OJ trial happened, and you can only imagine that Barber Shops across the country buzzed about it for months. One day, as the trial was close to an end, my Barber and I became engaged in the conversation as well. I offered up, in my own informed opinion, that I thought OJ was guilty. The room got colder than my ex-wife’s side of the bed. My haircut was over and I was asked to leave. I resisted, asking my friend why he was acting this way, and he said “You know my situation! How can I interact with you now?” I was stunned. I asked him:

“By situation…do you mean that because your wife is black then you have to support OJ? That’s preposterous!”

“Well, you believe he’s guilty because he’s black, don’t you?” How do you argue with that kind of logic? I paid for my haircut and I haven’t seen him since. I guess I’m a racist. My real takeaway is that many in the black community couldn’t accept that such a positive role model as OJ could be guilty of such a crime and their disappointment had morphed into anger and denial.

Facts:

I was disgusted when I heard that Bing Crosby beat his kids.
I was bothered when Eddie Murphy got busted with a tranny prostitute.
I was let down when I found out that our founding fathers owned slaves.
I was pissed when I learned Obama went to a church led by an America-hating minister.
I was disappointed when Mark Maguire and Barry Bonds did Steroids.
I was horrified when Michael Richards went on a racial tirade onstage.
I was shocked when Mel Gibson went off on an anti-Semitic public rant.
I was embarrassed when our president was caught on tape talking like a frat-boy about molesting women.
But at the end of the day, It’s just the new norm. People are not what they seem and they probably never were. The latest and perhaps most disappointing entry of late is Mr. Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby is a unique story. He was a role model to millions of people regardless of skin pigmentation. He didn’t fall into being a role model, he set the framework. He kept it clean, he worked with children, created positive Television programming, spun wonderful yarns of his beloved wife Camile and his flawed but great kids. He did cable comedy and only swore once. He even defied stereotypes and created a hit TV show about a powerful, affluent power couple with a bunch of kids. His superpower was solving any major issue in 22 minutes once a week. A true icon, I admit I looked up to him.

Today, I just looked at him as he did the “perp-walk” from court after being convicted on all charges of sexual assault on a multitude of female victims. Yup, good ole Dr. Huxtable was dropping Mickey’s in their drinks and then slipping them his famous “Pudding Pop”. Another disgraced icon to contend with. A younger me may be disappointed or disillusioned, but this me is not. He’s just a man. A flawed man. A ruined man. My only disappointment is that I allowed myself to look up to him.

Nothing surprises me anymore. In this age of endless information and instant gratification, I can’t even control what I know about people. My real role models have always been the non-famous among us; the great teachers, hard-working parents, and broke philanthropists who volunteer their time and energy to bettering the world. Celebrity is a height that can only lead to a long fall and a painful landing. My advice, keep your feet planted firmly on the ground secure in the knowledge that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

32 thoughts on “Fallen Idols”

  1. Why is it that we watch someone on TV for an hour a week and read their tweets and think that we know them? It’s great to admire their work but it is just that…..work. Unfortunately, the higher the pedestal the smaller the transgression required for us to push them off. Amazing post – loved it :O)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok, I’ll try sth different…….

      I recently read a text in a German textbook about the role models of today’s kids. It’s only after they come of age that they start to look up to their parents, real people with real jobs and real problems. First off, they identify with celebrities, looking up to rich and famous actresses and singers. I wonder if we were any different. Maybe we just forgot…
      You said how your only disappointment was that you allowed yourself to look up to an abuser. But, how could we have known? He seemed like a good role model to me. How can I know if some of my teachers who I admired were good/bad spouses, fathers/mothers, sons/daughters? Would I be terribly disappointed if I knew sth I don’t? Probably. But then, they were good to me and that’s all that matters/ed.
      An incident happened to my elementary school math teacher. 30 years after I left school, I hear he was accused of sexual harassment. Mind you, he was supposed to become the school principal and wasn’t the only candidate. They set him up, I’m sure of it. He lost his job, respect and reputation. He’s rarely to be seen these day, so I heard. Depression, embarrassment. He was one of my favorite teachers, a father-figure, an erudite with charm and a great sense of humor. I like to think of it this way- how come nb noticed anything all this time, me or my girlfriends or generations of students after and before us? Sexual offenses repeat a crime. Pedophilia is never an isolated incident. The bottom line is, he will always have my respect. I don’t want to give up on a man who gave me so much. Our word against theirs. Sue me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. apparently it was a great hassle to make this extraordinary comment. I’m flattered that you put yourself through this. The story of your teacher is truly unfortunate. It is so easy to destroy someone with mere words

        Liked by 2 people

      2. No idea what happened. I’ve been trying to post a comment for past two days…
        Anyway, that is a sad story and there are many such stories. Sb I met in Italy told me women are using the same card there a lot to get what they want. Conveniently for them, it’s always about money.
        Don’t get me wrong. Of course, perpetrators should be put behind bars and I’m very sensitive to sexual abuse. Unfortunately, it seems to be pretty easy to use it for one’s own personal gain as well.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. This makes me wonder why humans have always seemed to either need gods or to be gods. I understand the need to have people you can look up to, admire and learn from. I understand that it feels good to have others tell you that you are doing something great, to make you feel appreciated. But, idolatry is a whole other ball game. I live in a sea of people who are clamoring to be famous. I am sure there are a few who are actually interested in their craft, who actually want to be actors, but mostly, they want to be stars. I find it all incredibly sad.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I think your last paragraph sums it up nicely. Role models should be the people in our actual lives who’ve made a difference, not the people we’ve never met, and might not want to if we knew who they really were. Great post!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Billy. I have always heard it best to stay far from our heroes. They are just humans like the rest of us. I have turned down opportunities to do a meet and greet with Rush, because my expectation would far exceed the reality. And that is not fair to them.

    I recall a particular night at work tending bar back in the 80’s. Bruce Springsteen was in town and happened to come into the crowded bar I worked. I had to go to the bathroom and went to the one our section of the bar used. A large person stopped me and said I couldn’t go in, because The Boss was in there. I realized he was a bodyguard and replied.

    Unless he is the boss that employs me, I am either going in there or am going to piss on your leg. Since I was in uniform he let me in. I stood next to The Boss who, amazingly, pees just like the rest of us males.

    I honestly believe we have created a culture of celebrity worship that has brought us where we are. I also believe it is why the trash of reality TV has taken such a nut-hold on the psyche of this nation that we are where we are. With no one to blame but ourselves.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I recently read a text in a German textbook about the role models of today’s kids. It’s only after they come of age that they start to look up to their parents, real people with real jobs and real problems. First off, they identify with celebrities, looking up to rich and famous actresses and singers. I wonder if we were any different. Maybe we just forgot…
    You said how your only disappointment was that you allowed yourself to look up to an abuser. But, how could we have known? He seemed like a good role model to me. How can I know if some of my teachers who I admired were good/bad spouses, fathers/mothers, sons/daughters? Would I be terribly disappointed if I knew sth I don’t? Probably. But then, they were good to me and that’s all that matters/ed.
    An incident happened to my elementary school math teacher. 30 years after I left school, I hear he was accused of sexual harassment. Mind you, he was supposed to become the school principal and wasn’t the only candidate. They set him up, I’m sure of it. He lost his job, respect and reputation. He’s rarely to be seen these day, so I heard. Depression, embarrassment. He was one of my favorite teachers, a father-figure, an erudite with charm and a great sense of humor. I like to think of it this way- how come nb noticed anything all this time, me or my girlfriends or generations of students after and before us? Sexual offenses repeat a crime. Pedophilia is never an isolated incident. The bottom line is, he will always have my respect. I don’t want to give up on a man who gave me so much. Our word against theirs. Sue me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I stalked on over here after reading Biff Sock Pow’s homage …eh, it’s a bummer when your ideas of these ‘personalities’ turn out to be really flawed human beings. All these folks – and I remember liking Cosby from the first time, as a 7 year old, my folks went to hi

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The problem with putting people on a pedestal is that there are dangerous consequences if they begin to believe their own hype. Time and time again, we see these people fall and we do nothing. Not that Cosby wouldn’t have done what he did – he just would have gotten his comeuppance a LONG time ago.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Great post! It should be required reading for anybody living in this, the Age of Celebrity. And aren’t we all?

    I have unplugged from the world of celebrity-ism as much as possible. I disconnected my cable. I don’t follow the news. I don’t read modern literature, but confine myself to pre-1950 books. I am very selective about what I look at on the internet and I surf the web like I shop: I run in, get what I need, and run back out again.

    Why do I do this? For all of the reasons you enumerated in your excellent blog post. I grew weary of being let down and disappointed (and sometimes disgusted) by the people I idolized and looked up to and, in some cases, even tried to model my life after. But I know now that all of us, celebrities included, are just human beings and we are all fumbling our way through life, making it up as we go along, and trying not to let it be discovered that we are mere humans and don’t know what we’re doing.

    Great post. I am truly sorry about your idols.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Wow. That’s some story (about your barber). I saw the news about Bill Cosby’s convictions as I was cooking dinner tonight. I wasn’t surprised. It’s sad to me (not his convictions, but the life he lived). I don’t understand it really…. how he got away with it for SO very long or how his wife so staunchly defends him after so so many accusations.

    You made me laugh out loud when you said “the room got colder than my ex-wife’s side of the bed.” You are such a hoot!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Random thoughts and reactions:

    -Don’t forget Alan Rickman. R.I.P. Hans Gruber! I know the span you’re talking about. This is when I lost my grandfather AND David Bowie. It was a real 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 punch.

    -Chazz Palminteri has never been badder than in that role. That movie was awesome. You make a good point about celebrities, but kids will look up to them (even Cardi B. in my students’ case) no matter what.

    -OJ WAS guilty… fuckin’ duh. I’d never had anyone tell me that, because I felt he was guilty, I was now a racist. As Chris Rock somewhat famously said, “That shit wasn’t about race. That shit was about fame. If OJ wasn’t a football player, but a bus driver, there would have been no case; he would’ve been Orenthal the Bus-Drivin’ Murderer.”

    -Yeah, good ol’ Kramer…

    -I very, very much like your last two paragraphs. I didn’t know (until this post) that Bill was convicted… but it seemed pretty hard to deny, even if you loved the guy. I never saw a single episode and only remember Eddie Murphy’s wonderful impression of that “Jello puddin’ eatin’ motherfucker,” as, apparently, Richard Pryor put it. I was bummed when Bill Murray let me know that Richard Pryor caught on fire smoking crack cocaine.

    Anyway, your words and thoughts are appreciated, as always.

    Liked by 5 people

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