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How the Other Half Die

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The trouble with living a bizarre life is that you’ve got a lot to live up to when you’re no longer living. In that sense, Michael Jackson has got off to quite a good start. First, he dies at home surrounded by strange medical equipment and children’s toys. Second, there’s a doctor standing nearby. Most people, if they’re in danger of dying, wouldn’t mind having a doctor to hand, but in the case of bizarre celebrities the presence of a doctor doesn’t always guarantee their safety. The opposite, in fact. The doctor is very often there, allegedly, to aid the process of premature oblivion.

Let’s face it: Michael was never going to fall asleep one day in the TV room of the Sunshine Inn, after a few years of forgetfulness and a dinner of prunes. I always thought it more likely he would die in outer space, or underwater, in a restless bid to discover Atlantis. At the very least, I thought he would come to grief at the wrong end of a chain of sedatives, just like Elvis, Marilyn, Jimi Hendrix, and Champion the Wonder Horse. In that sense, he had a natural death.

Last night saw the final laying to rest of Michael Jackson, or the laying to unrest, as anyone interested in showbusiness must be willing to call it. The family opted, as expected, for Forest Lawn, the graveyard in Glendale where the remains of Hollywood people are allowed to spend eternity next to the people they despised in life. I happen to know Forest Lawn pretty well (my new book is set in 1960s Hollywood) and this time last year I walked the route that Michael’s coffin happened to take last night. You have to pass along Memorial Drive, past places called ‘The Vale of Hope’, ‘Tenderness’ and ‘Loving Kindness’, to get the the Great Mausoleum, a place that looks like it might have proved too much for Cecil B. DeMille. Even Elizabeth Taylor, once surrounded by such edifices in the movie Cleopatra, looked like she no longer had the star-power to compete with such colossal brickwork. In Hollywood, everything is a tribute to something else, and Liz was kind enough to turn up at Michael’s funeral looking exactly like Michael. (Or was it Michael who looked like Liz?) Anyhow, it was good news that the sun wasn’t shining: Liz and the other friends had to wait two hours for the Jackson family to turn up.

I like to think there are lesser gods looking down on all this from the upland slopes of Forest Lawn. Under their iron plaques, they might even be glad to know that some things never change. Last year, I walked among those unknowns and felt they must, even in death, be glad to know they got to live their death in obscurity. Here’s one. Nice name, I thought. Shame about the neighbourhood.


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