Would it better to burn out or just fade away?

I recently had a discussion with Nate Hipple, a fellow student reporter on City Times, about society’s tendency to sensationalize the lives of celebrities who died young, like Heath Ledger.

Watching “The Dark Knight” in the movie theater turned into an interesting experience when the audience gave him a standing ovation. I felt awkward being the only one sitting so I stood up and applauded with a heightened sense of awe.

The AOL Instant Messenger chat between Nate and I became sort of an informal debate about whether certain celebrities would have become the cultural icons they are today if we watched them grow into attention-craving odd-balls that so many old celebrity farts have transformed into today.

Is it really better to “burn out, than to fade away,” as Neil Young would say?

Our conversation went a little something like this:

Donna: I’m writing the next Donna’s Digs about whether or not certain celebrities should die young.

Nate: Can you think of anyone whose career took off when they were old???

Nate: Personally, I’d rather wake up next to a decapitated horse than Michael Jackson.

Donna: I’d rather wake up next to MJ. The dead horse would ruin my sheets!

Nate: MJ might too…

Donna: sick sick sick!

Nate: But if MJ died young-

Donna: He’d be a musical martyr.

Nate: The world would be a better place.

Donna: The world would go round in praise for dear MJ, not the merry-go-round in Neverland Ranch.

Nate: Yeah, he should have died before Neverland because then we’d remember him as Michael, King of pop.

Donna: Not Micheal, King of young boy princes.

Donna: I think we’d see a lot more people proudly wearing MJ t-shirts.

Nate: Tupac was convicted of sex crimes … but that didn’t tarnish his reputation.

Donna: Ooh yeah, but that gave him street cred.

Nate: Tupac is now the most widely listened-to rapper in the world. I think he would be an exception. He would only get better.

Donna: I agree; BUT, does listening to a dead artist give the music a different sound?

Nate: More EPIC. Pop music suddenly has depth. Death gives music new layers.

Donna: Yeah, you’ll never hear or see a new movie or song from that person ever again, except Tupac, who releases a new album every year.

Nate: Rapping from the grave…

Donna: Hey! Good ole Kurt Cobain. He quoted Neil Young in his suicide note: “it’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

Nate: His death was so publicized!

Donna: He knew exactly what he was doing.

Nate: 24/7 updates by Kurt Loder.

Donna: A lot of Kurt Cobain t-shirts walking around campus, eh?

Nate: His death came at the height of his career, so if Kurt lived …

Donna: What if his band went on to make poor albums and disappoint fans? Or, they broke up and got back together and started doing reunion tours with U2? That would also disappoint fans.

Nate: I wonder if he would have become such an icon?

Donna: What about Marlon Brando? He stayed pretty legendary over the years.

Nate: OH yeah, if he’d-a died young, Godfather wouldn’t be the same!

Donna: There are obviously some exceptions.

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Would it better to burn out or just fade away?