The change of seasons comes every year, and there’s no element of surprise to it.
It’s part of nature – as is death, which eventually will happen to all of us.
(Yeah, I know. I’m just a ray of sunshine today.)
So I’m sure that there’s nothing terribly unusual about this summer (which was a little cooler than normal) or the notable figures that passed away over the last few months.
And yet, I can’t remember a time where so many celebrities and notable figures – at least people who had a great influence on my life, or whose presence was ubiquitous as I was growing up – passed away in such a short time.
According to New York magazine, 21 people who meet the criteria of a “notable figure” passed away this summer (and their list doesn’t include the most recent death, yesterday’s passing of Patrick Swayze.)
Farrah Fawcett was on everyone’s wall, Michael Jackson was on everyone’s radio, and at 6:30 every night (Eastern time), Walter Cronkite was on everyone’s television. These people went beyond mere celebrity to become symbols – the very definition of an icon, where an image becomes a symbol for so much more.
Don Hewitt (creator of 60 Minutes) may not have been a household name, but for aspiring journalists like me, he was a mentor and role model. With Hewitt and Cronkite dying within days of each other, there’s truly been an irrevocable changing of the guard at CBS News (though honestly, those changes took place years ago).
The Kennedys are the closest thing America has to a royal family, and two Kennedy siblings who made enormous contributions to the world – Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy – died within two weeks of one another.
I read Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes – and handsold more copies of it than I can shake a stick at while working in a bookstore. He, too, passed away this summer.
Perhaps the person who had (along with Cronkite) the greatest impact on me was John Hughes. I remember watching The Breakfast Club, and leaving the theater after it was over. Except I didn’t so much walk as glide on air. It was the first time I’d watched a movie where I felt better, different, changed at the end.
It was the first time I felt like a movie was actually talking about me, or to me. That film, along with Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, define the era that I lived in (and lived through). It was unbelievable that Hughes, who was in his fifties, would die so young.
There are so many other changes happening. Newspapers are falling silent, falling by the wayside or becoming online-only publications. The newspapers and TV stations that remain are fighting for survival. Terrestrial radio is comatose and nearly dead. Network TV is on shaky ground. The soap opera I was addicted to in high school and college – the one that ran for 72 years – is ending this Friday.
It’s definitely a changing of the guard. If there was ever a change of seasons that underscored to me that I’ve assumed the mantle of a different demographic, this was it. I’m now out of the range of that 18-to-34 advertising demographic by a few years.
I’ve hit middle age, and even if it doesn’t launch me into a midlife crisis, it’s hard not to be aware that there’s almost as much road in your rearview mirror as there is in front of you.
I’m excited about the future, and I’ve always had an adventuresome spirit. I’ve been an “early adapter” of new ideas and new technologies, and I’m looking forward in my career and my creative projects.
But what I hope to always be able to do (in this blog and in all of my projects) is be mindful of history and of people and ideas that have come before. The best way to understand what’s right in front of you is to put it into context. And context is impossible without remembering what came before, and why it was important.