Tag Archives: fame

The Quiet Presence of Celebrity

17 May


By Lanny Morgnanesi

A man who sold millions of records in his lifetime and entertained hundreds of thousands sat on his guitar case on the sidewalk in front of the funeral parlor. He was about three hours from his New York home and may have been waiting for an Uber to the train station. Everyone else either went home or got in their cars for the procession to the cemetery. They walked by him and around him. He seemed old, frail and alone.

The funeral was for my friend, who was also his friend. The deceased was accomplished but not famous. This was not a celebrity funeral. It took place in a quiet suburban town. About 150 people attended.

My friend had been many things in life, most notably a newspaper man. As a journalist he met famous people. He eventually struck up a friendship with a trio of folk singers who were wildly famous in the 60s and even after. The group was so well-known it popularized Bob Dylan songs in a way Dylan never could. As I entered the narrow hallway of the funeral parlor, I saw the musician, one of the two surviving members of the trio, trying to make his way through the crowd. Even at 80 he was recognizable to me. He was being unceremoniously jostled, as was I, but with a guitar in hand and extra age on his body he was finding it difficult to maneuver. I waited for people to treat him in some special way, to acknowledge him and greet him, but at that moment no one did. He eventually made his way to a room off from the viewing area where there was coffee and snacks.

After an hour or so, the service began. All seats were taken. People were standing. A few more chairs were brought in and the singer managed to get one near me. He sat down precariously. The hand holding his guitar was shaking.

The famous folk trio he belonged to broke up in 1970 and thereafter would frequently reunite, perform and even record. Years ago, my friend wrote a lyric about the Irish-English conflict and sent it to him. The performer wrote music for it, and his trio recorded the song – Fair Ireland – in 1990. After three eulogies, the singer took the microphone, talked about our friend, and sang Fair Ireland. His shaking hand had settled.

The song opens with the verse:

They build bombs and aim their pistols in the shadow of the cross
And they swear an oath of vengeance to the martyrs they have lost
But they pray for peace on Sundays with a rosary in each hand
It’s long memories and short tempers that have cursed poor Ireland
It’s long memories and short tempers that have cursed poor Ireland

It ends with:

So we’re left with retribution it’s the cycle of the damned
And the hope becomes more distant as the flames of hate are fanned
Who will listen to the children for they’re taught to take their stand
They say love and true forgiveness can still heal fair Ireland
They say love and true forgiveness can still heal fair Ireland
Only love and real forgiveness can still heal fair Ireland

There was gentle applause. The singer retook his seat, and the service ended.

I imagine that after a life of intense fame and a loss of privacy, achieving semi-anonymity in old age is welcome. Nonetheless, I felt deep sorrow for the entertainer, possibly a carryover from the sorrow I felt for my friend, but still altogether different. I fully understand that generations pass, that what once was popular fades, and that value and esteem can evaporate. But there is this hope that dignity remains intact. Seeing the musician alone, sitting on his guitar case, waiting for something, I wanted to offer him a ride as a way to preserve his dignity. That would have meant leaving my place in the funeral procession, so I didn’t do it.


From my car window I could see he was weary, worn and sad. In his early years, he had traveled the world. He married and then divorced. He had two children. There was a problem with alcohol and drugs. In the 70s he was arrested on a sex charge but pardoned by the president of the United State. I wouldn’t have felt so bad if he had just come down from New York with a friend, anyone, younger or just as old. It didn’t matter. Just someone there for support.

He most certainly has people in New York. I only wish I could have seen one. To me, that would have made his past life more meaningful, more joyful. As the long funeral procession pulled away, I was at least happy that my departed friend, highly successful, had his success elevated by intense love and caring. In the end, he was not alone, and had never been alone. This, one learns, is the enviable life.


The rich and famous are not to be envied

14 Sep


The curse of fame cannot be understood by those who don’t have people chasing after them; who aren’t made to wonder in astonishment if they are perhaps more popular than Jesus; who aren’t under intense pressure to please the multitude by outperforming their past selves each and every time they re-mount the stage or appear again on screen.

I’ve heard enough reasonably sane celebrities discuss it to know it is a world apart. Dave Chappelle, the comedian who walked away from millions in order to avoid self-destruction, was one. He’s back now, after learning to navigate again in calmer waters.

But the most concise explanation of what fame is like might have been given by rocker David Bowie in Cracked Actor, a 1974 BBC documentary. Bowie was an addict at the time but had it together enough to convincing explain things.

He said fame was like being “in the car when someone’s accelerating very, very fast, and you’re not driving … and you’re not sure whether you like it or not …”

So when celebrities conduct themselves in ridiculous ways, especially young ones, the common folk should try to understand. It’s doubtful we could even begin to withstand what they go through. I once had a local public access cable TV show, worse than Wayne’s World and way down on the dial. Some guy who walked and talked funny recognized me in the supermarket. He wouldn’t leave me alone, acted as if I was somehow special, seemed to want to bathe in an aura that he thought I was giving off.

It happened just that once, if you don’t count the elderly woman who said, “I watch you, and, you know, I think you are getting better.”

I can’t possibly imagine what this would be like multiplied millions of times. And so I never envy those who are rich and famous but scared to death to go to the corner, unshaven, for a cup of coffee. That’s not life.

And now the question: Is it their fault or ours?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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