For however long I have maintained a Facebook presence, I have posted the death anniversaries of notable (and not so notable) people on a daily basis. Each morning before I make breakfast for myself, I scan the dark corners of the internet and select a group of folks whose common bond is the day they took their final breath and joined the choir invisible (as George Eliot so eloquently put it). I find a suitable photo and post it along with the simple, non-descriptive line: "So and so died on this date in this particular year." It's up to the reader (one of the 198 faithful who have chosen to "like" Josh Pincus is Crying) to Google the name to find out more, if they so choose. Hey, it's a hobby. Just like collecting stamps. Sort of.
I also post current celebrity deaths as soon as I can confirm information or their demise. Now, my criteria for "celebrity" varies greatly. Of course, a famous actor or actress, politician or sports figure fits the bill. But, I have also included those with lesser-known sobriquets but well-revered significance in the world of pop culture. Last February, for instance, just a week prior to the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one Mary Fiumara, died at the age of 88. Ms Fiumara was prominently featured in a commercial for Prince spaghetti that ran for 13 years. In April, Lee Waas passed away at 94. He wrote the happy little jingle that blared out of loudspeakers mounted on the roofs of Mr. Softee trucks, announcing the welcome arrival of the ice cream man. Though I have been obsessed with celebrity deaths for years, I have taken my little hobby to the internet in an effort to keep better track of the demise of famous people and to bring the information to a wider audience. I have "met" (in internet terms) many people who share my interest, thus giving me a bit of validation. So, I will continue.
Just this week, I acknowledged the passing of a character actor named Richard Karron. Karron was a stand-up comic who was performing at New York City's famous comedy club Catch a Rising Star, when actor Dustin Hoffman took a liking to his routine. Through this connection, Richard began getting bit parts in television and films based on his distinctive, gravelly voice and boisterously fun personality. He appeared in television dramas and sitcoms, as well as taking small roles in Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I and Anne Bancroft's slapstick but endearing Fatso, her feature-length directorial debut. In addition, he was in a series of commercials on TV and radio for the regional auto parts chain Royal Auto ("We're Sens-a-tive!"). Karron was a member of the Screen Actors Guild for 35 years, yet his name remained mostly unknown. Well, Karron fit the profile of the type of unsung "celebrity" I like to remember and when I discovered that he passed away on March 1, 2017, I let the internet know that I knew who he was.
I never anticipated the shit storm it would unleash.
At 1:20 PM, on a day nearly two weeks after the fact, I posted an innocuous, "Josh Pincus"-style death announcement for Karron on my Facebook page, like I've done hundreds of times before for similar-level celebrities. The "likes" and comments began almost immediately. First was my pal Steve, who joins me in my love for pop culture and forgotten celebrities. In his initial comment, he reminded me of Karron's Royal Auto commercials. Next came a "thumbs up" from my wife. An hour or so later, a fellow named "Gimmi" commented that Karron had lost a significant amount of weight. It's true. In his early career appearances, Karron cut quite an imposing figure and, based on the type of role for which he was cast, his size was an attribute. In more recent photos, he looks as though he had shed a good portion of his bulk.
Now, for those of you who do not know me personally — I am a bit of a smart-ass. No, actually, I'm a lot of a smart-ass. It's just my nature. I have been known to make jokes at "supposedly" inappropriate times. But that's the beauty of being a natural smart-ass. There are no inappropriate times. Nothing is sacred and everything can be funny. I have done my very best to have that aspect of my personality come across on my blog and, for the most part, I think I've been successful. I try to be funny any chance I get. And, if you don't think I'm funny, rest assured, I think I'm funny and that is what's important. So when Gimmi made his comment about Karron's weight loss, I couldn't resist. I replied:
Well, Steve thought it was funny. Of course, I thought it was funny. Mrs. Pincus, who has been my best audience for the last 35 years, thought it was funny. But, alas, Valerie, in The Beach Boys hometown of Hawthorne, California, didn't see the humor at all. As a matter of fact, I must have struck a nerve, because her outrage prompted her to tell me (with Gimmi in her corner):
See, this is the stuff I live for! This is what makes the internet the greatest invention since... since.... well, ever! I insulted someone I never met, on the other side of the country with a joke that, technically, she had to search for. (I checked. Valerie is not currently a "Facebook follower" of mine. I guess I've blown that chance now.) I love getting comments on my blogs (this one and my illustration blog), especially negative ones. Sure, I appreciate the ones that tell me how wonderful I am. But the ones from readers that have been offended by something I've drawn or written (or both) are the ones I cherish and remember. It's the angry ones that tell me someone took the time to really study what I have produced and, instead of dismissing it as just another blemish on the face of the internet, they took the time to let me know how abhorrent they found my work. Now, that's a sincere commitment! So, imagine my excitement when this little exchange popped up under my original announcement for poor Richard Karron.
Steve joined in my elation and I offered another snide comment to all participants. Valerie, however, was not amused. As an alleged personal acquaintance of Richard Karron, she found my retort repugnant and Steve's accolade equally deplorable. (All claims to close relationships to celebrities — no matter what the level of fame — is "alleged" on the internet. Unless the claim can be backed up or is made by me.) Plus, Karron began his career as a stand-up comic working in small clubs delivering gritty material. I can only assume that he either heard or told jokes of a similar edgy tone.
My mom taught me to laugh at everything. I get my subversive sense of humor from her. My mom died 26 years ago and I have joked about her death on several occasions. It doesn't mean I am disrespecting her memory. On the contrary, with every snarky comment, I am keeping her memory alive.
Oh, this is not the first time I got into a "back and forth" with a total stranger on the internet. I don't think it will be the last, because you never know what benign statement will set someone off. Since the internet is so vast, coupled with the protection one gets from commenting under the guise of anonymity, these usually reserved voices are riled up without much effort. The more riled they get, the more likely they are to tell me exactly how they feel.
And that makes me love the internet more and more every day.