Friday, June 26, 2009

Two Kings, One Fate: Jackson and Presley

Jackson dead at 50 from cardiac arrest. Presley dead at 44 from heart failure.

It is hard not to think of the two together. Both were crowned "Kings" of the music world. Outworldly, in their early careers, both seemed to share several characteristics aside from their outsize talent: a personable quality that made the fan think they would be nice to know, charm, and a certain shyness. "Nice young men" one might say.

Both of their lives became nightmares all too soon. Presley was around 21 when he made his breakthrough; Jackson was about 10 or 11 (as part of the Jackson 5). Both had relatively short "active" careers followed by years of decline. One can argue about the absolute lengths but Presley had about 10-12 years of enormous success followed by a decade of decline. Jackson's lasted about 20 years followed by around 2 decades of decline. (A bit of me can't help but wonder if Jackson's new tour would have been his "Las Vegas".)

What happened? How did two such highly talented, apparently normal young men spiral out of control?

Such personal disasters are certainly not unknown in the entertainment industry - but one tends to think of the victims as tortured souls (think Piaf or Joplin) whose lives would have been no happier had they not been entertainers. I've not done a study. I don't know if this perception is accurate. And, perhaps, the incidence of lives gone bad in the entertainment industry is no greater than in the general population or in other industries. We simply notice it because the people in question are well-known.

Is the industry basically dangerous to emotional and mental stability? Or is there some link between genius and a tendency toward self destructiveness? Are popular and jazz musicians more susceptible than actors? Is super success, fast success especially dangerous? Or are we looking at some kind of natural burnout, like a firecracker display? There is, of course, no way to know for sure.

Still, it is hard not to wonder if anything could have been done to save these two young men from themselves so that the next time a King is crowned he gets to die peacefully in bed after a long and happy career.

No comments: