Having been caught out by the demon memory gene of the sainted editor—I tried to recycle a Paris nostalgia piece—I shall nevertheless return to my brother-in-law’s funeral in Paris a few years ago, which prompted the recycle, and this time write about death. François de Caraman was a marquis whose father, the duke de Caraman, had the ghastly bad luck to attend his son’s funeral. Throughout his life François womanized, drank to excess, married much too often, and died prematurely in Guatemala, where his last wife came from. (His beautiful sister was my first wife.) I remember the service well because everyone inside the church, including the family priest who conducted the service, knew that François had overdone things. Instead, we heard how the Almighty had decided to take him prematurely, and that was that. Afterward we had a riotous party at Chez Lipp and told stories of the deceased. I was very close to François throughout his short life and loved him dearly, but since his death he has undergone a great transformation in my mind, one close to sainthood. I suppose death does that to many a soul, especially one as sweet and irresponsible as my brother-in-law.
Take, for example, another death last year, that of a dress designer called Alexander McQueen. Half of London shut down after he was found hanging from his ceiling, with weeping socialites fighting to be photographed by the paparazzi as they kept vigil in front of his house. In no time every swanky secondhand clothes shop had elevated McQueen dresses into prime window positions and had placed large notices reading Alexander McQueen. Judging by the hysteria, it was obvious the designer had made a great career move.
And speaking of such moves, what about Michael Jackson’s? That old pervert managed to go broke by spending hundreds of millions on young boys, a large entourage, and some very ugly houses spread around the globe. Before he died he was close to owing one billion dollars. Immediately following his demise, his fortunes improved. He has earned close to $500 million on DVDs and CDs alone. Needless to say, his outgoings have been drastically reduced, because, as the great Albert Einstein insisted, when one is dead one’s shopping bills go down. Even Jackson’s prestige has improved. During his last years, most sane people considered Michael Jackson to be a creepy old child molester, a weirdo who dangled his children off of hotel balconies and wore masks in public. Now he’s suddenly dubbed the greatest entertainer of the last 50 years.
When Tony Curtis passed away last October, the obituaries were terrific, as well they should have been, because Curtis was very good in light comedy, and when he had the right script. Never mind that he had not had a hit since the 1960’s. All his films were repeated throughout the hundreds of channels, and his romances were regurgitated ad nauseam by the media. Death became Bernie Schwartz, his real name.
Which is what Gore Vidal said upon being told that Truman Capote had copped it. “Great career move.” And it sure was. None of Capote’s “swans,” as he called his socialite lady friends, were speaking to him—in fact very few people were, as the tiny terror had become impossible, seething with venom against all and sundry. I hardly knew him, but he had spread some terrible lies about me. After his death a hagiography appeared, as well as numerous articles praising the tiny terror.
The best example, of course, is Elvis Presley. He was a bloated joke when the Greek doctor gave him a pill too many, but the King has regained his crown since, and the lines in front of Graceland are as long and as worshipful as ever.
One profession death does not suit is that of politician. Once they leave the stage, the curtain stays down. Unless, of course, one’s a Kennedy. Journalists, too, are not graced by death, but not for lack of trying by their colleagues who remain behind. When Joe Kraft died of a heart attack while jogging at Martha’s Vineyard 20-some years ago, I thought the son of God had died. The media went on high gear praising him to the heavens. Ditto with every newsreader and so-called commentator who joins his Maker. Mind you, very few words were written about the best writers of them all, Sam Francis and Joe Sobran, and we all know why. They did not kiss the Likud ring, nor that of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yes, pop stars are the ones who most benefit by death. Freddie Mercury, Keith Moon, John Lennon—the latter, a heroin addict who beat women and was a foul-mouthed exhibitionist—have all remained “legends” among the idiots who worship celebrity. Thirty years later people still sit around Strawberry Fields in reverent silence, in much the same manner I do when I visit Sans Souci in Potsdam. Go figure, as they used to say in Brooklyn when the Dodgers were still there.