If you want another, “Oh My God, how can it be?” article, then don't read this one. But if you are looking for some silver linings in the news of the past week, you may enjoy this post. I am saddened by the tragic deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays, but I am not disheartened by them.
Instead, as I was when my father passed away on June 25, 2007, I am more determined than ever to learn from the examples of four fantastically talented people who made lasting and positive contributions to the world. Consider these 6 lessons I have learned by observing the life and times of Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.
When Life Builds You a Box, Don't Get In It. I have read that, after she left Charlie's Angels after the first season, Fawcett could not find work in Hollywood. In an interview I watched this morning, I heard her say (I'm paraphrasing), “Once everybody in Hollywood saw me as one thing, they didn't want to let me be anything else.”
While none of her roles matched the popularity of her role as an “angel,” Fawcett won awards playing strong and powerful women, first as an abused wife in “The Burning Bed,” and later as a would-be rape victim who took revenge on her attacker in “Extremities.”
A person with less fortitude may have fought the establishment or simply sulked away, licking her wounds and nursing bitterness and anger. Fawcett did none of those things. Instead, she took her lumps, assessed her options and created her own opportunities.
Bloom Where You Are Planted. When I was younger, I often chucked when I saw Ed McMahon, and not always because he was funny. I remember thinking how awful it must have been to be relegated to play “second fiddle” to an icon like Johnny Carson.
In my youth, I equated success with being first, front and center, but partly through McMahon's example, I have learned how to thrive in a supportive role. Our society does not always value the contributions of the person who is second in command, or third, fourth or fifth. But McMahon's life is a perfect confirmation of the fact that supportive roles are every bit as meaningful as leading ones — if we choose to make them that way.
McMahon was tailor-made to support Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. He bloomed where he was planted. He had fun and made people smile. He knew his talent and made the most of it.
Always Encourage Children. Perhaps no public figure displays the consequences of saying hurtful things to a child like Michael Jackson. Over the years, Jackson shared how, as a vulnerable teenager, he was teased and ridiculed because of the size of his nose and because he had acne. These traumatic childhood experiences seem to have formed at least some of the basis for the choices he made later in life to alter his appearance.
Jackson also spoke of the hurtful, angry words and alleged physical and sexual abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his father and older brothers. While the real facts and details will never bee known, it seems clear that Jackson internalized every negative and hurtful statement that was directed toward him.
Jackson's life reminds me of a lot of things. One of the most important is to always speak words of kindness, empowerment and encouragement, especially to children.
Let Your Misery Be Your Ministry. During the final months of her life, Fawcett videotaped and produced a documentary sharing the details of her cancer treatments. The documentary provides a raw glimpse into what it's like to be in the active stages of dying. It shows the pain of chemotherapy, and the brokenness that results when promising alternative treatments fail time and time again.
A movie star who was recognized the world over for her physical beauty was at last unafraid to embody the ugliness of cancer. Instead of saying, “Why me,” Fawcett used her tragic situation to minister to others.
Through her misery, Fawcett showed us what a soul endures when the body that houses it is literally wasting away. Her misery became her ministry as she used it to inform and encourage others.
Be Who You Are. Billy Mays has been called “abrasive” and a “candidate for a tranquilizer-gun take down,” but that didn't stop him from using his trademark enthusiasm and broad smile to sell everything from super glue to absorbent towel products.
The first time I saw Mays hocking stuff on infomercials, I thought his style was the epitome of obnoxious. But over time, I began to look forward to his talent for making the most mundane products look like life saving necessities.
Few people could pull off Mays's over-the-top style, but it worked for him because it was natural. Loud, larger than life and boisterous is who he was. I bet lots of people throughout his life told him to tone it down. I'm glad he didn't listen.
God Always Has The Last Word. We don't need celebrities to tell us that there is only so much of life we can control and predict.
We can plan, scheme and strategize. We can sign contracts, launch new television shows and set goals. We can calendar events, make flight reservations and map out the growth of our families.
We can employ alternative medicines, launch new reality show and plan final world tours. But at the end of the day, there is only one Master of the universe.
His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His plans are not our plans.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Yes, it's odd that 4 people I feel like I knew personally passed away within a few hours of one another. But in the end, the last few days have been like all other days. Some people were born while others died. Some businesses launched while others closed up shop. Some people received good health news while others received a life-shortening diagnosis.
An anonymous speaker once advised that we should, “Act as though it is impossible to fail.” Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, Michael Jackson and Ed McMahon did just that.
They saw and seized opportunities that seemed to have been created just for them, and their decisions to do so changed the world.
Imagine what would happen if we all did that.
Question: How did the lives of Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays affect you?