Tabloid magic meets its Maker
Everyone you meet is a person first, before anything else
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Anne Heche’s death hit me hard. I didn’t know her, she meant nothing to me personally. A ’90s photo of her and Ellen DeGeneres spooning was the sum. Still, it was sad, right? A life shrunk to the small measure you can fit in a tabloid column.
You may have seen a photo of Marilyn Monroe in the morgue. I don’t recommend it. It’s like the clock struck midnight and the princess turned back into the scullery maid. Death comes calling to demand its due and the fairy tale dissolves, her lifeless matter unrecognizable as the starlet in the pleated white dress over the windy subway vent.
Monroe’s real name was Norma Jeane Mortenson, of course, but Hollywood disfavored real names. Sometimes it was understandable: Natalie Wood (Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko); Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch Demsky); Audrey Hepburn (Edda Kathleen van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston).
But mostly it was because Hollywood is in the fantasy business. Real persons are very awkward when you’re in the fantasy business.
Deaths like Heche’s implode Tinseltown magic. God’s Word rings truer then: Every man “is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12). There is “no advantage” of one over another, or even over the beasts (Ecclesiastes 3:19). Life reverts to its elementary elements. We are creatures all, with breath on loan from God.
I bought the autobiography of Jane Russell (real name) for pocket change at a yard sale. Had I not read it, she would remain for me a 1950s “sex symbol” and aging Playtex bra spokeswoman—a persona, not a person. I would not have known of her staunch pro-life position following a botched back-alley abortion. Would not have known how she urged Marilyn Monroe to go with her to a Bible study. Would not have read this in her preface:
“This is not the story of someone who found Christ in the middle of her life and therefore found a bed of roses, perfection, and joy from that day forward. Rather, it’s the story of one who found and accepted Jesus at the age of six and then found herself on the same long painful journey as that fellow in Pilgrim’s Progress. Wherever the poor Pilgrim found himself, I’ve been there twice. And unlike Pilgrim, I often fell off the path; or, as the Lord said, ‘Your detours have been as in a maze.’ In those times I can just see Him looking at me sadly and shaking His head.”
Sunday afternoon Yankees baseball was the wallpaper of my childhood. But these were icons, not men. On weary road trips and in hotel sameness a better “inside baseball” was playing out. Second baseman Bobby Richardson was working on hard-drinking center fielder Mickey Mantle’s soul. He recalls for a 2020 New York Post interview:
“I remember [Mantle] called at 5 in the morning and told my wife, ‘Betsy, I want Bobby to pray for me.’ We shared one verse that meant a lot to him: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord. Find your joy in Him at all times.’ … In those last days, he told the doctors he was ready. Mickey was not afraid to die.”
Everyone you meet is a person first, and whatever else—actress, baseball player, Indian chief—a distant second. Everyone you meet is a soul in need of its Savior. In True Spirituality (1971) Francis Schaeffer reminds me of that necessary mentality in all my interactions: “The Bible presents to us no mechanical human relationships; it allows none, because God did not make us like machines. … Our relationship to other men must not be primarily legal, although there will be proper legal relationships between men.” John the Baptist face to face with Herod, though not unmindful of a political power differential, knew the time to address his sovereign primarily as a man, and rebuked his immorality (Mark 6:18).
As for Anne Heche, I find myself praying for her two sons when they come to mind. And isn’t it sad if that’s the closest many in her life have ever come to touching the real Anne?