It was a bad week for baby boomers, as we lost three pop culture icons in four days. (Why do these things seem to happen in threes?)
OK, so maybe Ed McMahon wasn’t an icon. He’d be the first to set me straight on that. After all, his job title for over 30 years was second banana. But those two words he uttered every night at 10:30, Monday through Friday — “Heeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” — well, I can’t think of a more iconic phrase from my childhood.
Ed was as much a part of “The Tonight Show” as Johnny Carson, even though it was always Johnny and Ed, never Ed and Johnny. It was comforting to see the formidable-yet-unassuming father figure sitting on the couch — anchoring the ship, as it were. We delighted when he flung the occasional zinger to bring Johnny to tears of laughter. Every time he let loose that booming belly laugh, America’s most famous sidekick seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
Turns out, he was.
Ed went on to other leading roles before his life took an unfortunate turn — messy divorces, health problems, financial ruin — but I will forever remember him as the jovial, consummate straight man and class act.
Everyone will remember Charlie’s most famous angel, Farrah Fawcett, first for her iconic hair. Is there a woman between the age of 45 and 60 who didn’t try the “Farrah do” on for size back in the day? (And, yes, for the record, I gave it a go. Several skin-searing curling iron accidents later, I gave it up for a “Dorothy Hamill.” Blow dryer vs. curling iron? No contest.)
For me, though, it was Farrah’s smile, a dazzling example of dentistry, orthodontia and natural effervescence. It was that toothy grin that drew me to that ubiquitous poster that hung in every boy’s dorm room in the mid ’70s. The guys were into the blond curls and thin red bathing suit, of course, but that beaming face told me there was a genuinely nice person under all that hair.
Turns out, there was.
Farrah went on to earn some success in theater and film (“The Burning Bed,” most notably) before her life took an unfortunate turn — messy relationships, family trouble, a dreadful form of cancer — but, in my mind, she’ll live on as the cheeriest “Angel,” the smiling all-American girl on the poster.
Michael Jackson danced into my living room on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in December of ’69. I was 14. He was 11. His performance of “I Want You Back” was a tour de force. From that moment on, the Jackson 5 provided much of the soundtrack of my teen years. My favorites, which I can still sing verbatim today, include “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There,” “Ben” (even though it’s a song about a rat), “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “ABC” (“T-t-t-teacher’s gonna show you, how to get an A ...”). It was happy music in a happier time.
I followed Michael’s solo career for years, and when his Victory Tour came to Arrowhead Stadium in 1984, my husband and I entered a massive lottery to get in. Imagine our delight when four tickets came in the mail. Seat location: second row center. It felt like we’d won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse (another nod to Ed)! On that warm night in July, no seats were required. We spent the entire concert on our feet, dancing with the King of Pop. I still remember it as the best show of my life.
Jackson went on to achieve worldwide fame and unimaginable fortune before his life took a turn that was beyond unfortunate. It was tragic — financial crises, child abuse accusations, cosmetic surgery addiction, bizarre antics and health issues (mental and physical), resulting in an astounding fall from public grace.
Was Jackson a genuinely nice person, a class act? Or quite the opposite? Or, was he simply — and not so simply — a tortured, lonely soul who never had a chance at anything remotely resembling a normal life?
Turns out, we’ll never know.
I’m not sure how I’ll ultimately remember Michael Jackson. But, for now, I’m clinging to the 11-year-old Michael dancing in my living room in 1969, or the moonwalking Michael from the summer of ’84, who gave me the best show of my life.
— Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.