Update: After this blog piece was posted, George Michael’s cause of death was identified as natural causes.
The Joan Rivers video which was originally posted on this page is no longer available. However, a separate video of the same interview has replaced it.
Since George Michael’s passing on Christmas Day, there has been a combination of public appreciation of his work and morbid speculation over his cause of death. The topic of suicide has been discussed repeatedly, but at this time no postmortem report has been made public.
Although suicide isn’t unusual in the general population, I suspect creative people are more prone than others to suicidal thoughts and feelings. This observation comes from personal experience. I’ve never attempted it, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I denied ever thinking about it. Hell, I’m a writer. Think of Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Sylvia Plath and John Kennedy Toole.
Part of Mr. Michael’s work involved discouraging others from committing suicide. I don’t know if he was involved in one-on-one counseling of fragile people, but his art made strong statements about resilience.
Considering everything we’ve heard recently about George Michael’s kindness (including generous acts that became public only after his passing), the only assumption we should make is he didn’t want his misfortunes to destroy others’ lives.
The song White Light and the accompanying video (see the link at the end of this post) are open to interpretation. The woman tossing a coin and a zebra casually walking by mean different things to different people. Ponder them all you want, but in spite of the overwhelming pain depicted in the production there’s no endorsement of taking one’s life. Suicide is portrayed as terrifying, although an honest statement is made that a suicidal person might view death as freedom.
Another video on YouTube, an excerpt from a 2007 installment of the U.K. interview show Parkinson, is strongly anti-suicide. The bulk of the available clip is an interview with Joan Rivers, whose husband, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide in 1987 when he had medical problems. The discussion features Ms. Rivers’ outrageously off-color humor, but if you can stomach it then consider the personal trauma which can motivate dark humor to go as far as it did in this interview. A link to that video is also at the end of this post.
Life is finite. When it goes well, it’s less finite than it could be. That may sound simplistic, but does anyone have an answer? Treat people with kindness, and make your time on earth as positive as you can. You may live to be a hundred or older, but the most important things are answering to your own conscience and finding whatever gives your life substance.
Although the interview with Joan Rivers describes the human reaction to a loved one’s suicide, we should make it a goal to avoid judging others who have been defeated. We can’t truly experience their pain any more than they can experience ours, so the judgmental stuff is a waste of energy. Anger can be part of a healing process, but it isn’t a healthy conclusion to anything.