It’s always a risk to engage in commentary that might be viewed as trivializing suicide or untimely death, but I have something to say that I worry some will construe that way, and still I think it is worth saying.
Sometimes my eye catches sight of top trending web searches, and when something strikes me as interesting or unusual I feel compelled to click through to see why that particular item is in the news. That was the case just before 9:00 tonight when I saw that Rita Hayworth was the most popular topic on Bing. Why on earth, I wondered, would Rita Hayworth, now long dead be suddenly so newsworthy. When I clicked on her name I saw that the relevant headline didn’t refer to her specifically, but to “Rita Hayworth’s grandson” who was found dead in an apparent suicide.Note that that was the headline exactly: “Rita Hayworth’s grandson found dead in NYC.” His actual name, Andrew Embiricos, was secondary because, after all, who would recognize it. Embiricos was not famous, Hayworth was. Over thirty years ago. Consequently, no one who didn’t know him personally would have recognized his picture either, which is presumably why UPI accompanied the story with his a picture of his grandmother, in her prime, seated beside William Randolph Hearst. The article even went so far as to conclude with a list of Hayworth’s film credits.
I honestly am not trivializing the young man’s death. It’s not as though I’m asserting that his death at twenty-five is any less tragic because he was not the sort of movie star for whom this sort of headline would usually be reserved. Nor am I saying that his life was not significant enough to be newsworthy, given that the article announcing his death mentions his involvement in several charities.
I don’t wish to trivialize anyone’s death, and that’s why it bothers me that news agencies choose to report on deaths such as these, as it effectively trivializes the untimely death of anyone who isn’t Hollywood royalty. Plenty of people die at early ages. Many of them are suicides. Many of the victims are wealthy and philanthropic. None of this is why Embiricos’ death became known in an instant to most of America. His death is common knowledge because he was Rita Hayworth’s grandson. That fact was right in the headline. People knew that Rita Hayworth’s grandson had died before they knew that Andrew Embiricos had died.
This story grabs my attention because it really seems to say something about the modern zeitgeist with respect to celebrity. I knew that our obsession with it had gotten particularly mindless. It has, of course, been a part of our culture for many decades now, but it is only quite recently that it has become commonplace to be famous just for being famous. It is only in the last decade or so that children have begun to report that they aspire to be famous not for doing anything in particular but just as an end in itself. I didn’t realize how far the trend had gotten until I saw this headline and realized that the fascination with inherited celebrity is not limited to the Lohans and Kardashians of the world, but now extends into history and seeks out the forgotten heirs of long-dead movie stars in order to give them a posthumous coronation as princes of American culture.
A man is dead. Let his family and friends remember him as he actually was, and come up with another occasion to rent a Rita Hayworth film and remember her as she was in her time, long ago.