If, like me, you grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the soundtrack of your life included the Jackson Five and Charlie's Angels was must-see TV. So today is a sad day for a generation -- even for those who found Michael Jackson's lifestyle distasteful and Farrah Fawcett bland. They helped define a generation of Baby Boomers who were too young to claim Elvis and too old to boast about Jennifer Aniston.
It's odd to lose two key representatives of my youth on the same day. I know my parents are used to it. When you reach the seventh and eighth decades of life, there is a certain resignation to hearing about the death of your peers. The obituary page begins to read like a high school yearbook, with a daily relief that your name isn't listed there. But at 52 I'm still shocked by the death of those close to my age, or anyone whose childhood photos are all in color.
Among other things, we tend to define ourselves by the roadmap of celebrities, TV shows and music that we follow throughout our lives. As with certain smells from the past, a song or a TV clip can be almost painfully evocative. So what happens when those icons whose lives ran parallel to our own begin to disappear? We search for answers: How do you get anal cancer? How could someone like Michael Jackson die suddenly of cardiac arrest? Was he abusing drugs? In the answers we look for reassurance that the death had less to do with human frailty than with something that can be prevented.
But in the end, it is all a part of the process of letting go. There's no guarantee that the celebrities we admire in our youth will grow old alongside us. And sometimes the celebrities appear to grow younger in direct contrast to our own aging. Farrah Fawcett left us with an iconic poster, even more iconic hair and a haunting documentary about her own impending death. Michael Jackson left us so suddenly, but the music and the dancing remain. At the end of a sad day, a generation of men and women in our late 40s and early 50s are reminded of our own mortality and the increasing losses that lie ahead.