The Day Michael Jackson Died

By Hauck, Ben | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, July 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Day Michael Jackson Died

Hauck, Ben, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

When it came up that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital, I was sitting at my computer. Thinking it would turn out just as the recent Heidi Montag story did when she was rushed to the hospital during some celebrity reality show in Costa Rica, or as countless Britney Spears ambulance stories had, I brushed the story aside a bit. However, it wasn't long before online news outlets were running the headline that Michael Jackson had actually, (this time), died.

From my recollection, most of the headlines were technically proper in the announcement of the death of the King of Pop. Rather than omitting the sources of the news in their headlines, they attributed the news to TMZ and the L.A. Times in their headlines. Some news outlets equally weighted their headlines with the news and the sources. Other outlets dwarfed the sources with shocking uppercase: huge letters "MICHAEL JACKSON DIES," small letters "LA Times reports." Eventually, news outlets dropped the sources of their news from their headlines, declaring plainly that MJ had died. CNN kept sources in its headlines for an exceptionally long time. After CNN confirmed MJ's death with the coroner, it dropped its hearsay position and finally committed to the tragic story.

I remember being more disoriented than saddened by the MJ news. Michael Jackson had been a part of my life for a very long time--my whole life, actually. He played the role of background presence or white noise. I suppose he was an institution I bought enough into. Or maybe he was that prize exhibit running at the local zoo that you felt proud of having in your town but never tried to see. A few days prior to his death, I entered the menagerie that is YouTube and randomly chose to watch his jaw-dropping music video "Black or White," only to have my mandibular muscles go slack again in witnessing his idiosyncratic yet ingenious choices. He was very much alive in the video. But his death wasn't a shock to me, since I'd seen plenty of photographs recently of a frail-looking, wheelchaired man--he seemed on his way out. Little did I know, until the posthumous release of footage of an enormous concert he was rehearsing, that he was back to dancing.

A few hours after the news broke, I went into my local supermarket to grab some dinner. There I saw on the widescreen TV CNN's independent confirmation of MJ's death. Oddly, I started to get a little giddy. Not because Michael Jackson had died, but because there was a palpable air of excitement over the news. The employees at Bravo International Supermarket were tickled chimpanzees, broken by this breaking news from the tedium of scanning items and debit-or-credit questions. I grinned like one of them amidst the excitement. I skedaddled into the frozen food section for dinner, then suddenly I received a cell phone call. It was Lisa, an ex-girlfriend of mine, now in Colorado.

Lisa asked, "Did you hear Jeff Goldblum died?"

I stopped dead.

I was immediately disturbed.

I sought more information.

Lisa said she'd heard that Jeff Goldblum fell to his death while mountain-climbing in New Zealand.

I asked her where she had heard this.

It was from Tim,

someone I didn't consider a very reliable source

but someone possibly inside the entertainment industry.

She said that according to Tim, the news was all over Twitter that Jeff Goldblum had died.

* * *

Some backstory: A month prior, I had wrapped a film called The Baster. On it, I was the stand-in for Jason Bateman, who co-starred in the film with Jennifer Aniston. Jeff Goldblum had a small, funny role in The Baster, and some of my most memorable moments were with him.

For example, one day at Equinox Fitness Club in Tribeca, as the crew hurriedly set up a shot, I found myself standing in alongside Jeff. Jeff was this wiry, six-foot-five hypomanic actor who never seemed to stop talking.

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