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Passing Fancy

Claim:   Article contrasts observances of the passings of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

MIXTURE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, July 2009]

Ed McMahon died this week. He was a great entertainer, but prior to his stage accomplishments he was a distinguished Marine Corps fighter pilot in WWII earning six Air Medals and attaining the rank of Colonel. He was discharged in 1946 and was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the CA Air National Guard.

Farrah Fawcett died this week after a long career in Hollywood as an actress. After she was diagnosed with cancer, she became an activist for cancer treatment and devoted her last remaining years encouraging people to seek treatment. She documented her plight on film and used it to encourage others to stay positive and upbeat despite their diagnosis and suffering.

Michael Jackson died this week. He was perhaps one of the greatest singers of modern time. He will also be remembered for his eccentric lifestyle that included sleeping with a chimpanzee, living in a carnival-like atmosphere at Neverland, his fascination with Peter Pan, and his numerous masks and costumes. He also admitted to finding pleasure sleeping with young boys and paying out millions of dollars in settlements to the families of these boys despite being acquitted by a court on one allegation of sexual molestation.

QUESTION - Which of the above did the House of Representatives declare a moment of silence for today? (Hint - It wasn't the first two.)

QUESTION - Which of the above's family received a personal note of condolence from President Obama?

(Hint - It wasn't the first two.)

Need we say more?
 

Variations:   A later version of this item included the following bit about actor Karl Malden (who died on 1 July 2009):
Karl Malden died this week after a long career in Hollywood as an actor. He also served in the US Air Force during WWII and also served on the US Postal Service committee to review and recommend commemorative stamps. In 2005, the US House of Representatives authorized the US Postal Service to rename a Los Angeles post office the Karl Malden Postal Station.
Origins:   The entertainment world suffered a triple shock at the end of June 2009, when television personality Ed McMahon passed away on the 23rd of that month, a loss followed two days later by the deaths of both actress Farrah Fawcett and singer Michael Jackson.

It is true that Ed McMahon was a veteran, a decorated U.S. Marine Corps pilot who served his country during both World War II and the Korean War. It is also true that after Farrah Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, she became "an outspoken advocate for early detection and
treatment of cancer" and "worked tirelessly to raise the profile of this disease," bravely allowing herself to be filmed for the harrowing Farrah's Story, a documentary that chronicled her grim fight against cancer in order to "make viewers aware of the need for testing and research."

It is also true that neither of these celebrities was honored in their passing with the observance of a moment of silence in the U.S. Congress, and that (as far as we know) neither's family was the recipient of a personal note of condolence from the President. In contrast, the day after Michael Jackson's death, the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence in the entertainer's honor, and a few days later senior presidential adviser David Axelrod stated that President Obama had written to the Jackson family and "shared his feelings" with them.

However, many would take exception to the implication that Michael Jackson was merely an eccentric entertainer who, unlike Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, did nothing (outside of his art) to benefit society and make him (as) worthy of the honors and recognition he received at his passing. Michael Jackson left behind a substantial philanthropic legacy, having contributed for over twenty-five years to a long, long list of charities through donations of his time, money, and other forms of support. As the Los Angeles Times noted after the Jackson's death:
Michael Jackson left a philanthropic legacy almost as large as his cultural one.

In all the financial and personal turmoil that characterized his latter years, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a pioneer not only in popular music but also in charitable fundraising within the entertainment industry.

Jackson, like his close friend Elizabeth Taylor, was one of the first entertainers to enlist in the fight against AIDS/HIV, and he went on to contribute and raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help sick children, set up scholarship funds, and to find new ways for entertainers to raise money and awareness for causes.

He also helped set the standard of generosity for other entertainers, particularly pop stars. His song "We Are the World," which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie in 1985 to help combat famine in Africa, was instrumental in changing the way rock stars generate funds for the causes to which they're devoted.

Before the financial woes that haunted him in recent years, Jackson was one of the industry's most formidable philanthropists.

Jackson's estate is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars more over the years to come. If the will currently being treated by the courts as valid is sustained, it appears that at least 20% of the income on the trust that Jackson directed his executors establish will go to charity.
A detailed list of Michael Jackson's many charitable efforts can be found here.

Last updated:   9 July 2009

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Sources:

    Daunt, Tina.   "Michael Jackson's Generous Legacy."
    Los Angeles Times.   8 July 2009.

    Gerstein, Josh.   "Obama Sends Condolence Letter to Jackson Family."
    Politico.   28 June 2009.

    Koppelman, Alex.   "On House Floor, A Moment of Silence for Michael Jackson."
    Salon.   26 June 2009.

    O'Neil, Tom.   "Farrah Fawcett's TV Cancer Confession May Be Emmy-Worthy."
    Los Angeles Times.   7 May 2009.

    Ventre, Michael.   "'Farrah's Story' a Tale of Inner Strength."
    msnbc.com.   22 May 2009.