“The State of Death Deserves Respect In Any Land”-Across Eight Decades, The Words Of A Grieving Mother Can Help Bring Comfort and Perspective To MJ Fans

Since Michael's "Smooth Criminal" Was Inspired by 1930's Gangsters...Well, It Seemed Appropriate For This Piece
Since Michael’s “Smooth Criminal” Was Inspired by 1930’s Gangsters…Well, This Photo Seemed Appropriate For This Piece!

The recent airing of a cable TV movie on Bonnie and Clyde renewed what had been for me a childhood fascination with the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the infamous lovers whose inter-state crime spree held America enthralled for over two years before they met an untimely and bloody death when ambushed by officers on a rural stretch of highway in Gibsland, Louisiana in May of 1934.  I was only about eight years old when I saw their “death car” at a local county fair.  In those days, before the famous bullet-riddled Ford V8 finally came to rest at a permanent museum, it was often toured as an attraction at county fairs.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car
Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

I can still remember the reverent awe I felt as I stood on tiptoe, trying to reach the passenger window of that bullet-riddled door so that I could peek inside. I didn’t know it at the time, but since I was standing on the right side of the vehicle, I would have been looking directly onto the seat where Bonnie Parker died. When the officers had approached the car, someone with a 35 mm camera filmed the graphic scene. This was long before the days of the internet, social media, or even TV. But the newsreel footage would make it into every movie theater in America, to be shown as titillating “entertainment” before and in between films; as scantily clad “news” that was in actuality passing for morbid entertainment for the masses-sound familiar?

Graphic Footage Taken At The Time Showed Bonnie's Body Slumped Against Clyde's  On The Front Seat. Combined, The Two Of Them Had Been Shot With Over 120 Bullets
Graphic Footage Taken At The Time Showed Bonnie’s Body Slumped Against Clyde’s On The Front Seat. Combined, The Two Of Them Had Been Shot With Over 120 Bullets

The footage showed Bonnie, her body slumped onto Clyde’s and (according to some reports) her half-eaten breakfast still clutched in her hand (they had made their last stop, to grab breakfast to-go, at a diner about eight miles from the ambush site). Some reports at the time also said that Bonnie had a machine gun across her lap. I never believed that; even for hardened outlaws as them, it would have been a major inconvenience to be riding with a machine gun in one’s lap; not to mention, just plain stupid for safety reasons. Perhaps she might have grabbed the gun from their artillery in the back, in the last second when they realized they were being ambushed, but given the amount of reaction time they would have had, even that seems highly unlikely. Perhaps someone planted the gun in her lap (such a thing would have certainly been right in keeping with what Bonnie’s mother wrote later).Perhaps, in truth, there was no gun at all, but merely another bit of media sensationalism added to the story of Bonnie and Clyde. What we do know:  Her body, along with Clyde’s, was riddled with over fifty gunshots. Her right hand was mostly blown off.

As a small child, tiptoeing to see over the edge of that door and into that shattered window, I know exactly what I was hoping to see. Blood, and lots of it. Alas, I was somewhat disappointed. The blood stains were still there, of course. But after fifty years, they had long darkened with age, and what remained had mostly soaked into the upholstery. Bonnie had bled out the most of the two, and the still visible  dark stain that covered a sizeable portion of the back of the seat on the passenger side would have come from her.

I couldn’t have realized at the time that the morbid curiosity that led me to peek inside that car (hoping, of course, that I might be rewarded with lots of blood and overlooked body parts that had somehow managed to survive fifty years’ worth of morbid curiosity seekers-while normal enough childhood curiosity on the one hand-was also symptomatic of a much bigger and problematic issue. One that goes to the heart of our humanity.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Michael Jackson, or why I’m writing about it on an MJ blog. Well, bear with me for a moment and read on because this is not off topic. It is all going to tie together in due time, I promise.

In the eighty years since Bonnie and Clyde died, their story has often been glamorized, Hollywood-ized, and told over and over from many perspectives. Whether they were true “heroes” pitted against a corrupt government and an even more corrupt law system, or simply low-life thieves and murderers who deserved what they ultimately got, seems to depend largely on whatever political climate they are being viewed from. It’s not surprising that the current film, just like the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway classic that made them cult heroes in the late 1960’s, has come about at a time of economic downturn and government distrust. Every so often, the political climate becomes rife for the anti-heroes to take root. Bonnie and Clyde themselves were victims of the Depression, and like many of their criminal contemporaries, became cultural heroes and icons as much as villains. Every few decades, it seems, their story goes through a revisionist process. Any version of their story is always going to be colored or clouded by the perceptual lenses of our own time, and thus, we may never know the full truth. At the height of their “fame,” it became easy to pin any murder or robbery on them, and there is ample evidence that this happened more often than not. Yet Bonnie and Clyde, two young adults who seemed to glory in the infamy they created, didn’t especially go out of their way to prove their innocence in these cases. What would have been the point? Regardless, their fate had already been sealed. By the time they died, they were damned if they did; damned if they didn’t. If they were innocent of at least a portion of the murders penned on them, who was going to believe it at that point? The story of the real Bonnie and Clyde, far from being a glamorous Hollywood story, was a story of two sociopathic but nevertheless very frightened kids who, when faced with the reality that they were in over their heads, lived a hard and desperate life, on the run for two years, before being gunned down in a hail of bullets.kiss

Whatever you can say about how Bonnie and Clyde lived, their deaths were a tragedy that brought out the worst of our morbid fascination with celebrity deaths. Within mere minutes of the ambush, their car was surrounded by a mob of onlookers; their bodies molested by the curious; their respective funerals a nightmare for their families.

bonnie and clyde death


Bonnie Parker's Funeral. Both Funerals Became A Circus-And A Nightmare For The Families
Bonnie Parker’s Funeral. Both Funerals Became A Circus-And A Nightmare For The Families. “It Was A Roman Holiday”-Emma Parker

While I was aware of this, it wasn’t until I began researching them again in the wake of my renewed interest that I discovered a surprisingly enlightening article written by Bonnie’s mother, Mrs. Emma Parker. According to the website where I found this, the article was included as part of the epilogue of a 1968 book titled “The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde” but the quotes were from much earlier, probably dating from about 1934 when these events were still fresh in the mind of Emma Parker. (For the record, Emma Parker died in 1944, outliving her daughter by a mere ten years).

Now, here is where it gets very interesting to me as a Michael Jackson fan, especially with yet another TV show upcoming that will be dedicated to the subject of his autopsy. It is interesting to note that Emma Parker, a humble and grieving mother who, in 1934 was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened to her daughter, struck a cultural nerve that still reverberates to this day. There is much insight here that can be equally applied to most any celebrity-famous or infamous-whose deaths have evoked this same kind of mass hysteria and morbid fascination.

These are Emma Parker’s words:

The horrible things which occurred both in Arcadia and Dallas, following the death of Bonnie and Clyde, were the sort of revolting episodes which shake one’s faith in civilized humanity. We didn’t expect people to have respect for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They were due no respect. But the state of death deserves respect in any land, and this was denied them.

Dr. Wade, the coroner at Arcadia, related afterwards that when he arrived at the scene of the killings two hours after it occurred, officers were still milling around. A crowd of several hundred had gathered about the death car, and Bonnie’s dress, which was shot to ribbons, was almost cut from her back by curiosity seekers who were gathering souvenirs. Clyde’s blood stained shirt and undershirt were in the same condition. We still have these garments, bearing mute testimony to the truth of this statement. Bonnie’s hair had been clipped away, also, and someone was trying to get her diamond rings off her fingers. One man was reported to have been rifling Clyde’s pockets when the coroner and undertaker arrived. They stopped them. Other people had ripped open the trunk on the back of the car and scattered its contents. Some enterprising onlooker was attempting to remove the hub cap from a wheel. Every piece of broken glass was eagerly picked up. The spot where the officers had lain in wait was trampled level by those who hunted for empty shells to take away. The crowds even cut down the trees and dug bullets from them…I was told by a man who was there that he stopped some unknown person in an attempt to cut Clyde’s ear off. This person wanted to preserve it in alcohol, he said.

The bodies were not brought to Arcadia till noon, and then the undertaker was held up for two hours for the inquest…..

When the bodies arrived in Dallas on the morning of May 24, people behaved in about the same manner as they did in Arcadia, but the Dallas police made an effort to control them. Twenty thousand people jammed the street in front of the funeral home where Bonnie lay and almost as many came to view Clyde. It was a Roman holiday. Hot dog stands were set up; soda pop vendors arrived to serve those who waited to view all that was left of the South’s most noted desperadoes.

The final grim and sardonic touch was the great loads of flowers that arrived. It was impossible to hold the crowds back and they were wrecking both the place where Bonnie lay and the establishment where Clyde had been taken. Some newsboys contributed money for wreaths for Clyde and Bonnie. A small bouquet of lilies arrived with a note asking that they be placed in Bonnie’s hands that night. The sender said that another bouquet would be sent the following day when these flowers had wilted, and asked that the wilted bunch be saved and given to me. I don’t know who the person was. …..

We had planned to bring Bonnie home on Friday night. They tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined. “It was her last request,” I said. “She wanted to come home and she’s coming home.”

They asked me then to look out of the door at the crowds who were waiting at my home. I realized the hopelessness of the attempt and gave it up. A car with a police escort was sent to bring me to the funeral home. We fought our way in. We had lived through so many things that none of this penetrated to our minds. We were finally past being hurt by anything. …..

We buried Clyde on Friday afternoon and Bonnie on Saturday — not together, as they had wished. Each family wanted the privilege of placing the body in its own private burial plot…..Both funerals were nightmares. Nell was unable to get within forty feet of Clyde’s grave. While the curious fought their way toward the grave side, as a last fantastic touch, aviators swooped low and dropped flowers on the bier. All of this hysteria, for and against, was enough to make one lose one’s reason and go mad laughing. But none of us cared. We were past caring. The long trail had ended. Bonnie and Clyde had sinned and suffered and paid the price. They had broken the laws of God and man, and Death had come to meet then on a morning in May


Emma Parker Escorted From Bonnie's Funeral. An Interesting Bit Of Trivia: That Is Bonnie's Sister On Her Right. Her Name? Billie Jean Parker!
Emma Parker Escorted From Bonnie’s Funeral. An Interesting Bit Of Trivia: That Is Bonnie’s Sister On Her Right. Her Name? Billie Jean Parker!

Mrs. Parker referred to the spectacle as that which “shakes one’s faith in civilized humanity.” It’s interesting that she includes among this description not only the mob-like mentality of those who gathered to gawk and rifle the corpses for souvenirs, but also even those apparent gestures of goodwill that, in her confused and grieved state of mind, simply seemed to add to the bizarre, circus-like atmosphere of her daughter’s death. The Barrows and the Parkers were not especially friends (each family, to some extent, blamed either Clyde or Bonnie for the other’s death) but, for a brief time, they were at least united in their grief and their support for each other against the media indignity and mockery that had been made of their children’s tragic deaths. Think on that one for just a minute: The morgue photos of your children’s bullet-riddled, bloodied corpses are splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in the land. Not on the back pages; no, this is front page news. This is what people are enjoying over their morning cups of coffee!

Emma Parker seemed to be under no illusions. She wasn’t begging people to change their ways, or for the media to stop, nor even making excuses for who her daughter was or the choices she made. She was simply offering an observation of a personal nightmare. In doing so, she just may have offered up one of the most insightful accounts of what the cult of celebrity truly entails.

While The Morgue Photos Were Grisly and Graphic, This Rare Pic of Bonnie's Casket Photo Shows They Did Am Excellent Job Of Covering The Damage. "She Wanted To Come Home, And I'm Bringing Her Home"-Emma Parker
While The Morgue Photos Were Grisly and Graphic, This Rare Pic of Bonnie’s Casket Photo Shows The Morticians Did Am Excellent Job Of Covering Up The Damage. “She Wanted To Come Home, And She’s Coming Home”-Emma Parker

To this day, curiosity seekers routinely pilgrimage to Las Vegas and, now, Washington, DC, to gawk at the death car. Their ambush site and graves in Dallas are tourist attractions. Photos of their ghastly, bullet-riddled corpses can be found with just a click on the internet, and are even sold as post cards in the former diner (now a museum) where they bought their last meal. It is said that a sign near the museum door warns underage visitors that they will see graphic images. Yet that doesn’t stop them from displaying those very graphic images right at the front counter.

Bonnie Parker's Grave. Some Have Said Only A Mother Could have Written This Inscription.
Bonnie Parker’s Grave. Some Have Said Only A Mother Could have Written This Inscription.

And, more or less, it doesn’t matter. Through the years, we have become so desensitized to such images that I doubt even kids find them particularly disturbing.

Which brings me to Michael Jackson. Michael was certainly hounded by the media and, both in life and death, received little respect. Yet there is a bit of a misconception among the fan community that Michael is somehow unique in this regard; that he and he alone has been singled out as a kind of celebrity scapegoat and martyr for posthumous disrespect. To that, I have to say that the answer is both yes and no. I think it is important to keep some things in perspective when we look at Michael’s celebrity status and his treatment in the media. This is by no means to excuse what the media did, and continues to do; rather, it is about accepting the fact that the situation isn’t entirely unique to Michael. The public’s morbid fascination and crass interest  in celebrity deaths is alive and thriving-and remains  both a huge and profitable business.

death issue
The public’s morbid fascination and crass interest in celebrity deaths is alive and thriving-and remains both a huge and profitable business.

Years before Michael died, there had been (and still are!) an abundance of websites featuring the autopsy photos of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Tupac Shakur, and other celebrities (generally, the ones who died controversial deaths remain the most popular, and I suppose with good reason-after all, the autopsy of a cancer victim just isn’t as alluring). Just a couple of months ago, during the 50th year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, photos from Kennedy’s autopsy were splashed across newsstand tabloids everywhere.

Sometimes we do try to make a valiant effort to look away from these things. But how can we look away when they very cleverly paste such images on the very papers that we have to look at while standing in the check out lane?

JFK, Marilyn Monroe, And Tupac Shakur Are Just A Few Of The Celebs Whose Autopsy Pics Have Been Circulated For Years.
JFK, Marilyn Monroe, And Tupac Shakur Are Just A Few Of The Celebs Whose Autopsy Pics Have Been Circulated For Years.

JFK was the president of the United States, but this goes to show that no celebrity is off limits to this kind of degradation and invasion of privacy.

I can’t say that I’ve never been curious enough to look up these celebrity autopsy photos. I am not only morbidly curious by nature ( as most of us are, if we are honest with ourselves!) but have always had an interest in pathology and forensics. I am not one of those squeamish people who are bothered by seeing a dead body. But ultimately, my curiosity always ends up fighting a moral battle with what I feel is “right.” Just because celebrities are public figures, should that give us-the public-the right to this kind of intrusiveness?

With Michael, it has always felt different. I think it is because a part of me almost views him more as “family” than as just another celebrity who has died. I think that for many fans, it is the same, and perhaps that’s why it is so hard to accept any public display or discussion of his death as objectively as, perhaps, we might with other celebrities.

I Can't Truly Explain Why It Felt Different With Michael. Perhaps It Was Because, For The First Time, It Felt More Like A Family Member Had Died Than A Celebrity.
I Can’t Truly Explain Why It Felt Different With Michael. Perhaps It Was Because, For The First Time, It Felt More Like A Family Member Had Died Than A Celebrity.

All of us, for example, had known that the autopsy photos of Michael’s body existed, as well as the post mortem photos taken at the hospital. There had always been a kind of unified dread that, eventually, those photos would be leaked to the press. I will admit that sometimes, even while looking up the autopsy photos of other celebrities, I felt a secret satisfaction that Michael-so far-had not been subjected to this final indignity. It seemed he had been through enough in life. In death, he at least deserved that final bit of dignity and privacy, if not for himself and his fans, at least for his family, particularly his minor children.

A double standard? Perhaps. Fair? No. But I will address all of this in a bit. Just know for now that, yes, I was aware of my own hypocrisy.

Eventually, of course, the death photos and autopsy photos were leaked to the press during the Conrad Murray trial. Should we have been shocked when these were then plastered all over sites like TMZ, and featured on the cover of The National Enquirer? Again, yes and no.

From the perspective of the celebrity death cult, no.

From the perspective of what we know, innately, is the decent and human thing to do? Absolutely, yes. We should have been not only shocked, but morally outraged.

Okay, so now I have seen Michael dead. I have seen his body on a gurney, and naked on an autopsy table. I processed it and moved on. I am not even particularly offended by the gurney pic (unlike the autopsy pic, I find it rather beautiful in a strange way that is hard to explain; perhaps because something about it had an ethereal, almost saint-like quality). But what about his kids? I have heard that haters, among other despicable things, tweeted that autopsy pic to Paris. No doubt this sort of behavior led, at least in part, to her suicide attempt. (And I will also be addressing the recent, despicable outrage that has been perpetuated against Blanket, which has raised an altogether different issue in regards to tabloid ethics, but that is a different topic for another post).

It Seemed A Victory When This Gruesome Discovery Channel Documentary Was Canceled In 2010. But Eventually, What Goes Around, Comes Around...
It Seemed A Victory When This Gruesome Discovery Channel Documentary Was Canceled In 2010. But Eventually, What Goes Around, Comes Around…

All of this brings me to a show that will be airing in the UK on Tuesday night, “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson.” It is being promoted as a three-part series in which a “pathologist” named Dr. Richard Shepherd will supposedly examine in detail the autopsies of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Anna Nicole-Smith.


In 2010, fans and the estate of Michael Jackson successfully waged a campaign to keep a proposed documentary from airing on the Discovery channel that was to have featured a reenactment of Michael’s autopsy. It was the particularly gruesome aspect of a reenactment that really prompted me to take a stance against this proposed doc.

When I first heard of Dr. Shepherd’s program, however, my first impulse was to give it the benefit of the doubt. Mostly because I was (admittedly) suckered in by this statement from Channel 5 commissioning agent Guy Davies:

“When each of these icons died it was global news, but the public version of their lives and deaths were largely built on rumour and conjecture.

“Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist – and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them – to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.”

So when I saw fans on Twitter and elsewhere expressing disapproval of the show, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty. After all, much of Michael’s greatest vindication is in the results of that autopsy.”  Thanks to the findings of that autopsy, we know he actually did have vitiligo. We know that his organs were in incredibly good shape for a man of his age. We know that the only drugs found in his system were the ones that Murray gave him that night. We know his death was ruled a homicide, thus eliminating any crazy theories of self-induced drug overdoses.  But what do these people really mean when they speak of “the reality?”

I thought this show might actually deal in the hard facts of the autopsy, and would dispel some of the public misconceptions. But I started to have my doubts when I was sent a link to this promotional blurb:


What are they saying? Well, here’s a start:

In the first of three hour-long documentaries, world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd investigates the death of Michael Jackson, ‘The King of Pop’. He was the biggest-selling recording artist of all time, but when he suddenly died at just 50 years old, he left $400 million in debts and more questions than answers.

The evidence revealed by his autopsy shows a severely sick man. Jackson was plagued by complications from his many plastic surgeries, suffered from two rare skin conditions and was riddled with arthritis. His lungs were severely damaged, he had an enlarged prostate, and was still suffering the effects of a horrific accident that left him partially bald.

The most startling evidence, however, uncovers the bewildering number of drugs that were coursing through his veins, bearing witness to a number of addictions that had spiralled out of control. It was Jackson’s desperate battle against insomnia, however, that would ultimately cost him his life.

The second paragraph of this blurb alone is riddled with lies. The autopsy did NOT show that Michael was a “severely sick man”-at least not until Murray began treating him. It does not reveal in any particular way that he was “plagued by his many surgeries” (in fact, his nose, contrary to popular myth, was proven to be intact). Perhaps this could be a reference to some of the scars noted, but again, there is no particular emphasis on them in the autopsy report; certainly they had no direct  bearing on his death or state of health. Now, as for the mention of  “two rare skin conditions” that could be a good thing; it means that his vitiligo will most likely be discussed. He did have arthritis (normal for a person aged fifty) but to say he was “riddled with it” would be a bit of an exaggeration, as is also the statement regarding lungs that were “severely damaged.” The “horrific accident” refers to the Pepsi commercial accident, which might be good for the layperson to know (the accident was much more serious, and had much further reaching long-term repercussions for Michael than most people realized) but then they cap it off with the lie about the “bewildering number of drugs” coursing through his veins. There is nothing remotely “bewildering” about what was found in his system other than to wonder, What was Murray thinking?
It’s hard to say, sometimes, just how balanced or fair these types of shows, ultimately, may prove to be. Often, they will toss out the most salacious bits in hopes of hooking viewers, even though the program’s actual content may serve to dispute or debunk those claims. With no way to preview the show’s contents in advance, it’s hard to say. But my doubts have been further solidified by this write up:

Channel 5 announced today new series “Autopsy: The Last Hours Of …” which will air in Quarter 1 2014.

Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith – three global celebrities who died suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically. In the wake of their passing, claims, counter claims, wild rumours and salacious theories were everywhere. But the real truth about how they died doesn’t lie in trashy biographies or internet rumours – it lies in their autopsies. These cold hard medical documents establish exactly what killed them and how and why it happened.

In this series of three one-hour films, world-renowned forensic pathologist, Dr. Richard Shepherd will navigate us through the bodies of each of these three celebrities. Dr Shepherd was forensic pathological expert for the Inquiry and Inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr Dodi Al Fayed. Amongst his other work was providing the Attorney General with a review of the forensic pathological aspects of the death of Dr David Kelly and he was the forensic pathological expert for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

Dr. Shepherd says: “The fascinating thing about an autopsy is that if you know how to read it correctly, it doesn’t just tell you how a person died, it can tell you even more about how they lived. And furthermore, autopsies are non-judgmental; they are simply a scientific acquisition of facts, so in the case of a person that is well known, that objectivity can allow you to see them with fresh eyes, up close and personal and as if for the first time. The fact that they are a celebrity makes no difference at all.”

The evidence revealed by the autopsy is enhanced by interviews with those who loved and laboured with the stars each film reveals the key life decisions and events that set each of them on an inevitable path towards death. A worker at Michael Jackson’s dermatologist claims that the King of Pop was injected with massive doses of opiates several times a week in the months before he died. The ex-boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith tells how the breast augmentation that made her famous nearly destroyed her. Whitney Houston’s chauffeur recalls how the singer’s extreme drug habits almost set his car on fire.

This unique approach will investigate the life and times of each of these globally recognised icons and offer new insights into their untimely deaths.

Guy Davies, Commissioning Editor Factual, Channel 5, said: “When each of these icons died it was global news, but the public version of their lives and deaths were largely built on rumour and conjecture. Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist – and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them – to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.”

Ed Taylor, Executive Producer, Potato, added: “The lives and deaths of these three global icons are surrounded in mystery and speculation. Each of these three films reveals extraordinary facts about their lives and how their lifestyles ultimately contributed to their untimely deaths.”


First of all, what does any worker at Dr. Klein’s office have to do with how Michael died? (And anyone want to offer up any bets as to who this mystery “worker” might be? I’m guessing none other than the ever reliable Jason Pfeiffer!).  It is also quite disturbing when the last statement is all about how “their lifestyles ultimately contributed to their untimely deaths.” So on the surface, it seems this is little more than another attempt to blame the victim.

Now, let’s take this paragraph and examine what we can TRULY expect by reading between the lines (my comments in bold):

Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist  (in other words, we will take the hard facts from the autopsy and have our “expert” pathologist put his own spin on them)and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them (i.e, the vultures and scumbags in their lives who live to sell them out) to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.” (we will make up whatever crap we feel like and hope you are gullible enough to buy it). 

Not to mention that when they say Dr. Shepherd will “navigate” us through the bodies of these three individuals, it sounds like they are planning a reenactment-the very thing that propelled most of us to so vehemently protest the Discovery program.

Michael's Body...We Loved It, We Adored It. But Do We Want To "Navigate" Through It With A Hack Pathologist As Our Guide? Nah Thanks, I'll Pass!
Michael’s Body…We Loved It, We Adored It. But Do We Want To “Navigate” Through It With A Hack Pathologist As Our Guide? Nah Thanks, I’ll Pass!

However, while blasting the bad taste of this show, I want to get back for a moment to my original focus. Is Michael Jackson, alone of all celebrities, singled out for these kinds of indignities? Well, obviously not. This show is planning to feature segments on Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole-Smith. It’s a bit cringe worthy and ironic (in a not funny way) when I see comments on this series that proclaim, “Only Michael Jackson gets treated this way” when there are obviously two other celebrities being featured and subjected to the same lack of respect. And it’s funny that there are no comments at all from Whitney fans or Anna Nicole fans; only MJ fans. Do they not care, or are we just a unusually touchy bunch when it comes to our Michael?

Well, consider this. Why do you think they purposely made Michael’s installment the first part of the series? Why are they using his name-first and foremost-to promote it?

There you go. Michael isn’t the only dead celebrity being sold out for sensationalism, morbid curiosity, and ratings. But I daresay, with no exaggeration, that he is by far the most profitable. And therein lies the problem. Just as his name generated guaranteed ratings and profit in life, it continues to do so in death.

It’s easy to say I can’t concern myself with what should be another fan base’s battles. But I can’t help but feel a little sad that no one seems to be similarly speaking up for Whitney and Anna Nicole, the other “victims” of this three-part series. Ultimately, we can’t abide by a double standard. If we wish to demand respect for Michael in the media, we must demand that all deceased public figures, who cannot speak for themselves, be accorded the same respect.

This Poster, Intended To Argue For The Legalization of Marijuana, Is Intended To Be Humorous. However, It Is Indicative Of A Real Problem And Common Public Misconception Of How Michael Died.  It Doesn't Appear That Shows Like "The Last Hours of Michael Jackson" Will Be Doing Anything To Dispel Those Myths.
This Poster, Intended To Argue For The Legalization of Marijuana, Is Intended To Be Humorous. However, It Is Indicative Of A Real Problem And Common Public Misconception Of How Michael Died. It Doesn’t Appear That Shows Like “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson” Will Be Doing Anything To Dispel Those Myths.

There also seems to be an unspoken assumption that celebrities who led controversial lives (or who were the subjects of media controversy, at any rate)are somehow more “open season” targets for exploitation. Ever notice it is almost always the same names that crop up over and over in these types of shows? On the one hand, you could say these are the celebrities that the public is most curious about. But then who is responsible for feeding that curiosity? Who, for that matter, is responsible for having provoked much of it?

Sometimes it does seem like a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the media create our insatiable and often morbid curiosity, or (as the media’s most ardent defenders like to say) is it simply a mirror reflecting the worst of our own humanity? It’s sometimes hard to know the difference, and as someone who can honestly admit my own hypocrisy in this regard, I know that we continue to be as much a part of the problem as its solution. Alas, there is a reason why the gossip industry remains the multi-million dollar industry that it is. It is an industry that feeds on the gullible, and the curious.

But the words of Emma Parker stand as a testament. No matter how big (or notorious) the celebrity, there is an often overlooked human story. These people have families-parents, children, siblings-who are continuously affected by our curiosity and the industry that perpetuates it.

“All of this hysteria, for and against, was enough to make one lose one’s reason and go mad laughing. But none of us cared. We were past caring.-“Emma Parker. 

Barring any last minute miracles, I doubt protests will prevent “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson” from airing. It took action from the estate in 2010 to finally stop the Discovery program from airing, and so far I haven’t seen as much effort being generated to stop Dr. Richard Shepherd’s farce. Perhaps many, like myself, were lulled into a false sense of hope that this show might be different from the macabre freak show that had been promised by Discovery; that here we might actually have something about Michael Jackson’s autopsy that could actually prove to be informative and educational for the public.

No, not at all. It looks to be the same old, sensationalized crap. The same old lies, recycled and manufactured for everyone who didn’t bother to read the autopsy report and didn’t bother to follow the Murray trial.

But then, what should we expect? That a show about Michael’s autopsy might actually be handled with good taste and integrity?

Who are we kidding?

As the airing date for this show approaches, we should keep in mind those words uttered by Emma Parker eighty years ago:

“The state of death deserves respect in any land.”

That respect was denied her daughter. Well, some might say her daughter Bonnie made her choices, and deserved what she got. All the same, her account is difficult to read without a sense of revulsion. And yes, it can certainly shake one’s faith in civilized humanity.

Michael Jackson was not an outlaw (though I suppose one could argue that the allegations made against him branded him, at least in some eyes, as a potential criminal). What was he then? Only one of our greatest entertainers, humanitarians, and philanthropists-a musician, a dancer, a songwriter, an author, a husband, a father, a brother, a son.

Yet, despite all of the accolades and the tributes and a memorial service fit for a king, we see in many crucial ways all of the same elements and the same trappings that drove Emma Parker to write her tirade in the 1930’s. Michael’s death in many ways was treated with the same curious mixture of mob mentality and circus-like spectacle. Perhaps they didn’t rip the clothes from his body, or try to cut off parts of his body in hopes of selling them (though I’m sure some would have done so given the opportunity!) but certainly these things have all been done to him in a manner of figurative speaking. He has been dissected, probed, analyzed, and ripped apart in just about every way imaginable that a human can be.

If We Are Going To Demand Respect For Michael, We Must Demand It For Everyone. And We Must Demand It, Not Because He Was Michael Jackson, But Because He Was A Human Being First And Foremost.
If We Are Going To Demand Respect For Michael, We Must Demand It For Everyone. And We Must Demand It, Not Because He Was Michael Jackson, But Because He Was A Human Being First And Foremost.

But ultimately, if we demand respect for Michael Jackson, we cannot demand it because he is Michael Jackson, or because we love him, or because he is any more deserving than anyone else. In the end, we must do it because he was a human being, and for no other.

It’s not just what we owe to Michael. It’s what we owe to everyone. Including ourselves.

UPDATE: 1/06/2013: The estate HAS issued a statement in regard to this program:

Message from The Estate of Michael Jackson: Although it is not possible for the Estate to bring legal action to stop the broadcast of the program about the autopsy performed on Michael, the Executors want Michael’s fans to know that letters have been sent to the broadcaster and station owner expressing the Estate’s disgust at those who heartlessly work to profit from the most banal, salacious details of Michael’s death.  In part, the letter from John Branca and John McClain asks Channel 5 to show good taste and common decency by canceling Tuesday’s planned airing of Autopsy: Michael Jackson’s Last Hours.  The letter also states: “Despite Channel 5’s cynical and disingenuous promotions claiming Autopsy ‘separates fact from fiction,’ it is nothing more than another sleazy tabloid program exploiting Michael’s tragic and untimely death…..Separating ‘fact from fiction,’ the Michael Jackson his friends and family knew was a loving father, a global entertainment icon and humanitarian devoted to making the world better. His children do not deserve to see their father’s death callously exploited out of greed because a new TV series desperately wants to attract viewers.” The Executors share the fans hope that Channel 5 show the good judgment to cancel the broadcast of this distasteful program.


This was the same tactic that resulted in the cancellation of the Discovery program. Will it work this time? Guess we’ll find out!

9 thoughts on ““The State of Death Deserves Respect In Any Land”-Across Eight Decades, The Words Of A Grieving Mother Can Help Bring Comfort and Perspective To MJ Fans”

  1. “Okay, so now I have seen Michael dead. I have seen his body on a gurney, and naked on an autopsy table. I processed it and moved on. I am not even particularly offended by the gurney pic (unlike the autopsy pic, I find it rather beautiful in a strange way that is hard to explain; perhaps because something about it had an ethereal, almost saint-like quality).”

    “Yet, despite all of the accolades and the tributes and a memorial service fit for a king, we see in many crucial ways all of the same elements and the same trappings that drove Emma Parker to write her tirade in the 1930′s. Michael’s death in many ways was treated with the same curious mixture of mob mentality and circus-like spectacle.”

    Thanks for this frank, personal, and full discussion of our fascination with celebrities and their deaths. What I find different in MJ’s case is the outpouring of grief and love–the tears, the candles, the homage paid to him by the average person, whether in India, UK, USA, etc, all the various flash mobs that emerged, including the thousands of people who did the Thriller dance in Mexico City in front of the Angel of Independence. It was similar with Princess Diana too–the flowers, the tears, the grief. I don’t see that in the situation you describe so well with Bonnie and Clyde (btw, how fascinating that her sister was named Billie Jean Parker?).

    As far as the autopsy photos, thanks for sharing your responses as people do shy away from that. I first saw the photos in the CM trial, which I avoided as much as I could b/c I was afraid it would be a circus and that MJ wouldn’t get justice. When I saw it I burst into tears. It was just so sad. I do see what you said about the beauty and saintliness, though. But seeing the same photos as I went through the check out line in a supermarket was highly offensive to me. I was disgusted. The photos I saw before were on my computer screen and in my own home, so it was a kind of private moment where I could have my feelings. But to see the photos in the harsh glare of the supermarket lighting with all the other products for sale was just a way to cheapen MJ and his death so much, as well as my own feelings.I wanted to complain to the manager but I didn’t. I just turned the magazine around to hide the photo and left.

    1. I probably should distinguish that I was referring to the hospital gurney photo when I said there was something about it that seemed beautiful to me because of its ethereal, saint-like quality. (I thought of the many famous paintings that I have so often seen of dead saints).

      The autopsy photo was simply gruesome. Autopsy photos are for one purpose only, and that is as a record for the coroners and doctors performing it. That being said, once it was made public, I did look at it and study it to see what I could learn from it about the condition of his body at time of death. But I would never publish it here or in any way contribute to its mass distribution. However, I do think it is important for fans to realize that Michael isn’t just being singled out for this kind of treatment; that there has been (and probably always will be) a mass public fascination with celebrity death. However, as they say, no change can come about unless people speak up and make it happen. From what I have observed, people in general just seem to take this kind of spectacle for granted. That is why we see so few voices raised in protest over this treatment when it comes to other celebrities. But MJ fans are speaking out and letting the world know that this is NOT acceptable. And by doing so, we just may well be that voice of change that has been so long needed.

      Also, when I speak of these other celebs whose autopsy photos have been accessible for years, like JFK and Marilyn Monroe, for example-these are not recently deceased celebrities who still have young children.

      I thought that what Emma Parker had to say-her observations on how the public behaved at the coroner’s office and at the funerals-was very telling insofar as what it reveals to us about the celebrity death cult. But, yes, there are crucial differences, of course. What was happening in that case was mostly just morbid curiosity (magnified many times over) and crass opportunism. In the case of Michael, there was a lot of that, too, of course, but we also saw the outpouring of genuine love from across the globe. This was real grief on a mass, global scale-not “just” curiosity gawking. But when I think back to the mass hysteria of the summer of 2009; how people were carrying on at the various tributes, or even at the displays in local stores where MJ items were being swiped up in record numbers (a lot of it, honestly, from people who thought it might be “worth something”) and even the spectacle of that memorial service that was viewed around the world, it’s easy to see that in some ways it was still a circus-like spectacle. Even in Emma Parker’s account there is mention of some very touching tributes-the anonymous person who sent the flowers for Bonnie; the aviator who threw flowers over the bier; the various collections taken up for flowers, etc. But her point was that, after a while, it all just becomes part of the madness, good or bad. When you are numbed with grief, you can’t help but observe all of it-good or bad-as part of a madness that you just want to retreat from. I get what she was saying. After awhile, you don’t even want more flowers or well wishers or condolences from strangers you don’t even know. You just want the whole damned nightmare to go away.

      Also, we are talking a very different kind of celebrity and fame if we look at people like Bonnie and Clyde as compared to Michael Jackson. Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws whose fame was achieved by robbing and killing. The public was fascinated by them, then as now, because there was a certain romanticism and glorification attached to them (and because, in some eyes, at least, they were as much heroes as villains). And, of course, they had become media darlings in a sense, especially once the photos of them (the ones discovered after police raided their hideout in Joplin, Mo) were published. They weren’t sophisticated crime gangsters like Al Capone or John Dillinger; they were two kids living life fast and on the run, doing what they had to do to survive. And yes, there was a certain kind of romanticism in that which the media exploited (and, quite frankly, that still hasn’t changed).

      However, I think that in the eyes of many, there was also a certain justification in their deaths and the idea that in death they were really deserving of no respect. There were people who would have had no qualms about slicing off Clyde’s ear as a souvenir, or stealing Bonnie’s rings off her dead fingers because these were people who had spent the last two years robbing and killing.

      What people felt in the wake of their deaths was a lot of things-fascination, curiosity, a sense of closure and justice, perhaps, or even sadness that the party was over-but I would daresay that probably only their families felt genuine grief for them. (Of course, the fact that so many did try to reach out, sending flowers, etc says that on some scale, their story did mean something to people).

      Michael’s case was certainly very different. He was a beloved entertainer whose work had touched millions. I don’t think you can even begin to compare that to two petty criminals whose fame was built on infamy. Michael achieved his fame through hard work, talent, genuine effort, and his efforts to make the world a better place. But as I pointed out, the fact that Michael was ACCUSED of heinous crimes HAS given many cold hearted individuals the same sense that anything they do or say about him is fair game, just as those curiosity seekers who mobbed Bonnie and Clyde’s corpses had a sense that they were entitled to whatever they could take.

      And some simply believe that fame in and of itself automatically gives us that sense of entitlement.

      There are people who will always come back with the ever convenient catch phrase, “He was a public figure.” “She was a public figure.” “They were public figures.” As if, that makes every bit of vile disrespect perfectly okay.

  2. What happened to the loyalty and respect Michael deserved/deserves from the fans! More and more I see fans excusing themselves from giving in to curiosity and watching blatantly obvious tabloid garbage shows of this ilk, even Conrad Murray’s interview and documentary at the time – let’s give the killer the benefit of the doubt too, shall we?!!!

    Michael said “Burn the Tabloids” for a reason and though with TV and internet news/media sources one can obviously NOT do as such, I honestly believe Michael deserves MORE than his fans giving Channel 5 or any sensationalistic tv channel/media in general a free pass to disseminate MORE inaccurate, lazy, non-factual BS! Which certain ‘newspaper’-brainwashed parts of the general public are going to think true right off the bat just coz it’s telly or in the paper – well, it’s gonna be true, right?! No, wrong!!

    No, Michael wasn’t the first famous man to have been crapped on by the media or the last but he’s darned well received more than his fair share of regurgitated vileness including all those disgusting allegations/accusations through no fault of his own! Murray physically killed him but they put him through a vindictive living hell and treated Michael through his life as LESS than a human being; some kind of a Victorian circus “freak”! I don’t honestly think you can say the same of Whitney Houston or Nicole Smith so perhaps their fans don’t have QUITE so much reason to be as ‘touchy’ as MJ fans are!

    1. I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to here when you say phrases such as “What happened to the loyalty of Michael’s fans?” Um, exactly WHO are you directing that to? Because if you read the article, then you would certainly know I am not in favor of this show. Did you just skim this or did you actually read what I wrote in its entirety? I am referring to the fact that from a cultural perspective, the celebrity death cult is not unique to Michael. When I said I was initially willing to extend some benefit of the doubt, it was because I wasn’t aware of whether this might be a serious program that would discuss the autopsy’s findings in a factual and educational way (which would actually vindicate Michael on many levels) or just another exercise in tabloid sleaze. You have to remember, I do not live in the UK. I know nothing about Channel 5 or the types of programs they do. I think I made it pretty clear that once I was aware of the show’s contents that I was certainly not in favor of it. And again, I think if you had read the entire piece, you would certainly know that. I’m just confused because your comment makes it sound as if you think I’m endorsing this program. Where exactly are you getting that idea?

      And yes, I do wonder why the hell nobody is speaking up for Whitney and Anna Nicole. Why not? Why should THEY be exempt from the outrage? Why are they any less deserving? Do you see where I’m coming from with this? And yes, both of them were at times treated pretty bad by the press, maybe not to the extent that Michael was, but I remember when they were making a punching bag out of Whitney for her crack use, her up’s and down’s with Bobby Brown, and that horrific performance where she couldn’t even hit the high notes anymore, and they were always making fun of Anna for her weight, her drug issues, her marriages and God knows what else. Again, no, it wasn’t on the same level as Michael but it was bad enough.

      As I said, I can’t fight what ought to be another fan base’s battles, nor should we. But I can’t help but feel sad for them. And I certainly hope that maybe the pro-active stance that MJ fans have taken can start to change things.

      After all, there would never have been change of any kind in the world if it hadn’t been for those brave enough to lead the first resistance.

    1. Yes, I remember that article quite well. Excellent piece.

      She writes of the historical degradation of criminals’ bodies. Because many of these early victims were considered criminals, they were also considered less than human-or less deserving somehow of human dignity. The fascination of the public with the corpses of Bonnie and Clyde, also, would fall into that historical category. Emma Parker may well have been the first family member of such a victim to speak out publicly, or at least to acknowledge it for what it is. I don’t know if there are earlier examples of family members speaking out against the intrusiveness.

      Many people have wondered why Michael’s family have not spoken out against these programs. I have wondered the same thing, although I have no desire to derail the conversation into a Jackson family bash fest. But it would be nice if they would speak out publicly against these shows, as well as the executors. I am sure it would have more impact.

      Somewhere along the way, the former idea that criminals were somehow less deserving of posthumous dignity and privacy was transferred to celebrities in general-especially, it seems, celebrities whose lives were considered controversial. Anyone these days who was grist for the gossip mill in life is apt to be even moreso in death. The sixteenth century mentality hasn’t changed; it has only transferred and widened to include not only criminals, but anyone who was a public figure and seems fair game.

  3. Raven: I read your entire article and the responding comments and would just like to add a short comment. I liked your perspective on this issue & appreciated this very well written article. I totally agree about Whitney & Anna Nicole and anyone else for that matter. “Dignity in Death” should be a mantra. How would we feel if that was any member of our family, and let’s face it Michael was/is a member of ours & millions of families around the world. Well done. Perhaps by our dialogue we can bring about some of those changes as Michael so much wanted us to do – we are that Man In The Mirror. Sorry that you have had to take any criticism about your blog. Thanks for your opinion and research. God Bless.

    1. Thank you, Wendy, for commenting. I am still not exactly sure how Sue Jackson meant her comment, or if I took it the wrong way. I just don’t see how anyone who read this piece could think in any way that I’m in favor of such exploitation. There is a huge difference between commenting on what we know is a reality vs. endorsing that behavior as “right.” In truth, the behavior of human beings has always been a mystery. Why do we act the way we do; glorify the things that we glorify? Why do we engage in behavior that we know is hurtful, exploitative, or just plain wrong? Why are we such creatures of hypocrisy? Alas, human nature in all its complexity-and cruelty-will never be fully understood. Shakespeare was writing about it over 400 years ago. Go back a few thousand years more, and all of the great Greek philosophers were debating it. All of the religions of the world have tried to explain it-with little success.

      Trying to understand why Michael Jackson has become among the most exploited celebrity deaths has nothing to do with endorsing that exploitation, or attempting to objectify it. It is only raising the important question of why it exists in the first place, as well as looking at the historical context for it. When we do look at the historical context, we can certainly see that the celebrity death cult wasn’t invented for Michael Jackson; however, these days he has certainly become one of its most profitable victims.

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