September 12, 2003


Well, it certainly has been a busy little morning on the celebrity death beat.

First we hear that John Ritter has violated one of the Eight Simple Rules For Keeping Your Heart Beating. Then comes the double shock at learning that professional invalid Johnny Cash has finally punched his own ticket. It's been a rough year in Casa del Cash, what with his wife, June Carter, assuming room temperature in May.

It would be unfair to do what human instinct seems to dictate when two entertainment giants take the big dirt nap on the same day: to judge which life has more meaning.

Ritter or Cash... Cash or Ritter...

I mean, using that yardstick, Cash wouldn't have a prayer. All I'd have to utter were words like "Hero At Large" and "Americathon" and "Hooperman" and "Problem Child" and "Problem Child 2" and "Bride of Chucky" and "Bad Santa," which coincidentally spreads holiday hijinks this Christmas at a megaplex near you!

Then there's the radical departure he took when he portrayed Vaughan Cunningham in "Sling Blade." How he found the skills to channel such an effeminate character living in a rural town, I'll never know. In my book, Ritter was "Queer Eye" long before it became fashionable.

Speaking of effeminate, Cash carved his own territory in the world of androgeny, back when singing a song about a boy named Sue could get your lights punched out behind the hay bale at the county fair 4-H barn. They just don't write about child abuse, abandonment, homophobia, assault and reconcilliation like this any more. At least not in one song:

I tell ya, I've fought tougher men
But I really can't remember when,
He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,
He stood there lookin' at me and I saw him smile.

And he said: "Son, this world is rough
And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's the name that helped to make you strong."

He said: "Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you "Sue.'"

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, now and then,
Every time I try and every time I win,
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him
Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!

My grandmother, Josephine, adored Johnny Cash. I've probably listened to him since I was 5. I wish she had lived long enough to hear him sing the cover of U2's song "One." It would have made her cry, I think.

Nanny enjoyed what she called "hillbilly music." That includes Tex Ritter, father of the aforementioned John Ritter.

It's the Circle of Life. And it moves us all.

POSTSCRIPT: I selected Johnny Cash in my Reaper's Delight celebrity dead pool. But since so did two other people, we have to split the 29 points between us.(That's 100 minus 71 - the age he died.) That works out to about 9.6 points apiece.

John Ritter? Karla got close with her pick of Suzanne Sommers, (Who'd have thought Ritter would die before Don Knotts?) but you can say goodbye to those 45 points. No one guesses a guy with a hit TV series is going to stroke out at 55. Not unless you're morbid or something.

Posted by Jeff at September 12, 2003 08:38 AM | TrackBack