• 59°

Leonard Pitts column: Private pain, public fascination

It’s a hell of a thing when you can’t even die in peace. For what it’s worth, I hesitate to say that. One should be slow to foreclose hope, always leave room for miracles. Still …
Farrah Fawcett has been battling anal cancer for almost three years and is said to be in dire shape, confined to her bed, the cancer now in her liver. Her longtime companion, Ryan O’Neal, says she doesn’t speak much ó “She’s down to few words.” So if ó “if” ó this is it for her, then yeah … it’s a hell of a thing when you can’t contemplate your final days without having to worry about noses pressed to your window, hands digging through your garbage, enquiring minds wanting to know.
To suggest, as I have done frequently from this podium, that there are lines one does not cross even with celebrated people, is to encounter pushback from those who insist they have a right to invade the lives of those their adoration has made wealthy ó a right to stake out Julia Roberts’ kids at school, a right to see Rihanna after she has been beaten, a right to the intimate details of Fawcett’s medical condition. And celebrities, they say, have no right to complain.
I find myself wondering what those people would make of an interview with Fawcett that was published Monday by the Los Angeles Times. In the interview, conducted in August but withheld until now by agreement with the actress, Fawcett takes aim at the National Enquirer for publishing information about her medical condition. The reports were often false, she says, but contained enough truth that she knew they had originated in something real. She had an eye exam, for instance, and it became a story that she was going blind. Fawcett says she became convinced the information was being leaked directly from UCLA Medical Center, where she was being treated. “I was never more sure of anything in my life,” she told The Times.
When her cancer recurred, she used it to prove her point, deliberately withholding the information from her family and friends. Theoretically, only she and her doctor knew of the setback. “I couldn’t believe how fast it came out in the Enquirer,” Fawcett said. “Maybe four days.”
The hospital investigated and found the culprit, an employee who had accessed Fawcett’s records more often than her own doctors. The actress asked for that worker’s name, but the hospital refused, citing a need to protect its employees. Meantime, that employee had helped the Enquirer invade the most intimate corners of Fawcett’s life.
And here, let me say: I spent 18 years as an entertainment reporter. I quizzed Rod Stewart about his marriage and Gladys Knight about her divorce. But it feels like that happened a century ago in an alternate universe where there were still bounds of propriety, things you did not do even in search of the juicy tidbit, because they compromised the humanity of your subject and debased you in the process.
Such constraints feel quaint in an era where too far is never far enough to satisfy this insatiable curiosity some of us have for details of famous lives. You wonder if their own lives are truly so bereft, so empty of meaning that their only choice is to invade others. You wonder how a National Enquirer justifies circling like a vulture above some dwindling life. Fawcett will address that life in a documentary airing Friday on NBC. But you also wonder what it must be like to be her, unable to exercise control over what to tell people about your own illness ó public property till the end.
For what it’s worth, Fawcett’s lawyers eventually got the name of the UCLA employee who breached her privacy. Lawanda Jackson pleaded guilty to a felony violation of medical privacy laws for commercial purposes (the Enquirer allegedly paid her at least $4,600), but she was never sentenced.
In March, you see, she died ó quietly ó of cancer.
– – –
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami HeraldContact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

Comments closed.

Crime

Blotter: April 13

Coronavirus

County switches vaccines for Livingstone clinic after federal, state guidance

Coronavirus

US recommends ‘pause’ for J&J vaccine over clot reports

Education

Superintendent talks first 100 days, dives into district data

Business

‘It was an answer to a call:’ TenderHearted Home Care celebrates 10 years of providing care at home

News

Political Notebook: Local polls find increasing number of North Carolinians want COVID-19 vaccine

News

Trial begins on challenge to latest NC voter ID law

Local

Burch, Fisher, Marsh honored as 2021 recipients of Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Humanitarian Award

Landis

Landis board talks revenues, budget planning, department updates

College

College baseball: Catawba rolls 7-1 and 24-1

Nation/World

Student fires at officers at Tennessee school, is killed

Nation/World

Police: Minnesota officer meant to draw Taser, not handgun

Crime

Man receives consecutive prison sentences for sex offenses

Education

RSS Board of Education approves Faith Elementary sale

Coronavirus

Rowan Health Department receives 400 Pfizer, 800 Johnson & Johnson vaccines for week

Crime

Blotter: Accident in Food Lion only weekend shooting to produce injuries

Crime

Salisbury man charged with felony drug crimes

Crime

Second person charged in thefts from house near county line

Crime

Police use tear gas to end robbery stand off, arrest suspect

Local

Ask Us: When will Rowan Public Library’s West Branch open?

Nation/World

Prosecution case nears end in ex-cop’s trial in Floyd death

Nation/World

Officer accused of force in stop of Black Army officer fired

Crime

Blotter: Man charged with hitting man with car, fleeing while intoxicated

Local

‘Meet the need’: Rowan County Health Department looks to add to vaccination options