Thursday, September 16, 2021

Norm Macdonald passes quietly


     Norm Macdonald's death was notable for two reasons.
     To me, I mean. You might have a third or fourth, or, heck, as many aspects of interest in the passing of the Canadian comedian as you feel are...
     Start again.
     First, the Saturday Night Live comic's death Tuesday, though at a relatively young 61 (youngish, at least, to a guy who is himself 61) was not met with the usual ululations of outsized grief that meet celebrity deaths online. "The Full Diana" I've dubbed it. Maybe because he's firmly planted in the secondary or even tertiary strata of celebrity: no Chevy Chase, no Adam Sandler he. No one claiming how their week is ruined, a chapter of their lives clanging to a close. People who knew him were sad, as is appropriate.
     Or heck, maybe there was and I missed it: it wasn't as if I looked. But we've become comfortable with puffing our limited perceptions into general conditions, through the magic of assumption, so why should I do otherwise?
     And second, and this is the reason I'm writing this, Macdonald made the unusual decision to keep his cancer, which he fought for the past nine years, "largely private." This tacks against the general current of contemporary social behavior. We live in a time when nobody can have a wart burned off without posting photos of the wart on Facebook, plus the bloody gauze dressing and maybe a selfie in a hospital bed. Those selfies are extremely unflattering, inevitably. Somebody should tell them. I'd sooner post a snap of the contents of a bedpan than post a hospital selfie. 
     In a rare inversion, celebrities seem to manage their privacy better than supposedly private persons do. I don't see photos of J Lo in the hospital for a high colonic. Maybe their professional communications staffs help them in this regard.
     Mind you, I am aware that I am the fellow who documented his own medical states, from rehab to spine surgery to sleep apnea. I did so, not out of a particular impulse to overshare, I hope, but because the processes were interesting, to me, and I was confident that I could convey them in such a way as to be interesting to others too. At least to the admittedly select group of people who are interested in anything I have to say on any topic. I'm not against sharing, per se. I admire how Roger Ebert coped with his disfigurement due to salivary duct cancer by writing about it, and even permitting Esquire to run a full face portrait of himself, his jaw proudly reduced.
     But I also admire Macdonald for choosing to do his dying in private. There is a dignity and maturity to that which I believe cannot be matched by tweeting out your death rattle. Perhaps that is old-fashioned of me—I am, as I said, 61. The idea, as laid out in Dave Eggers "The Circle" of abandoning your privacy entirely and expecting every outing and event and visit to a clinic to be shared is fairly terrifying.
     Maybe the key is curation. Ivan Albright painted self-portraits of himself as he died, and those hang in the Art Institute, sometimes. If, when my time comes, I'm still doing this (please God no) and I decide to livestream my demise, senilely mistaking momentary morbid interest for the audience that has eluded me up to that point ("Look! 16,000 hits! Top of the world, ma!") well, don't link back to this as proof of hypocrisy. Or do, it won't matter at that point. By then hypocrisy will be the water in which we all swim, assuming it isn't already.


  1. As to the primary point, "But I also admire Macdonald for choosing to do his dying in private," I strongly agree.

    As for the secondary point, "maybe there was and I missed it," I believe it was somewhere in-between. Certainly not the full Diana, obviously, or you couldn't have missed it. But many folks appreciated Macdonald's comedy persona a lot, and they said so. Particularly comedians.

    David Letterman, whose show was the first place Norm appeared on national TV, and whose last previous tweet had been posted Nov. 22 of last year: "In every important way, in the world of stand-up, Norm was the best. An opinion shared by me and all peers. Always up to something, never certain, until his matter-of-fact delivery leveled you. I was always delighted by his bizarre mind and earnest gaze. (I’m trying to avoid using the phrase, 'twinkle in his eyes'). He was a lifetime Cy Young winner in comedy. Gone, but impossible to forget."

    There were many other Twit-butes, along with loads of clips of classic Macdonald comedy bits.

  2. Celebrities already have their fifteen minutes of fame.
    The likes of Facebook, Twitter, etc. has given all "private persons" a shot.
    Norm took the high road.

  3. I don't particularly fear death -- although I could foresee emulating Madam Daubery in asking her executioner for 'un petite moment encore'-- but just as soon the process not be prolonged and not too uncomfortable. And certainly not made public in any way. My hopes for an afterlife are unfortunately minimal, although should my preferred quick and painless demise occur as I am transporting a goblet of robust Italian reds across the wife's recently installed cream colored carpet, the recrimination would probably follow me beyond the grave.


  4. My wife like his work and seemed to have something of a celebrity crush on him. She actually called me to tell me he'd died.

    If it wasn't for her interest in him , I might have never heard of him. Not a fan of comedy , or celebrity.

    Big fan of him and others not using terminal illness to stay or get back into the limelight.

    He was about my age which sounds like a bell.

    Nice piece Neil . Your obit and tribute skills are outstanding. Once again you made reading about someone's death compelling. Even though I didn't know the man . I'm saddened to learn of his passing. Being real sick for along time don't sound like fun .


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