Remembering Heath; Hillary in New Jersey

Behind The News
January 23, 2008 1:23:58 PM PST
The reaction to the death of Heath Ledger, I'll admit, surprised me. I knew he was a talented actor - but I underestimated, or more accurately just didn't register both the heartthrob nature and the star quality of his persona.We make celebrities out of people who don't necessarily want to be celebrities. We are, many people believe, turning ourselves into a culture of gossip and intellectual cotton candy. Exhibits A through L are the tabloid magazines and TV entertainment shows that have proliferated in the past two decades.

Don't get me wrong - if that's what people want to spend their time doing, it's a free country, as they say. But the more complex nature of Ledger's life, his desire to be taken seriously as an actor not a heartthrob, and his apparently troubled psyche -- all that took a dark backseat to the gossip columns' tracking of his latest love interest.

A pity.

Ledger's autopsy results came back today - inconclusive. So we're left to wonder why did he have so many pills around? Was it just a problem sleeping? Was this just a terrible accident from someone whose prescription drugs got the better of him? We just don't know yet. But we are covering the 28-year-old's death and any new developments -- will his housekeeper and masseuse, who found him, talk? - tonight at 11.

Ledger's death -- totally unexpected - cast an interesting spotlight on how news organizations quickly get obituaries together. It's no secret that, for well-known people, newspapers and television newsrooms, have obits ready to run, or "in the can."

We do. Many of them. It's just good news planning. There was a time in the world of newspapers when writing obits was what you did just before you retired from your career. It was your last assignment.

No longer. And it hasn't been that way for a while. A good obit is one of the more important things any journalist can write. I despise despise despise any obit on TV that begins, "Hollywood is mourning tonight." Or "the fire department mourning one of their own tonight."

Surely there must be something more important to say about a person's life than that?

The issue of pre-written obits has surfaced this week, and it was written about on the Associated Press wire yesterday, by coincidence, after it came to light that the A.P. had prepared an obituary for Britney Spears, who's all of 26 years old.

The AP has about 1,000 prepared obits - but most, like other news organizations, are for much older people.

You can look up the AP story. It's an interesting read.

Also at 11 tonight, Hillary Clinton is in town -- for a political rally in New Jersey. Jeff Pegues is covering the Presidential race for us.

And our education reporter Art McFarland tonight looks at the problem of overcrowded schools in parts of Manhattan that are suddenly growing dramatically. Places like Chelsea and the Village, where high-rise apartments are going up fast and furious, the schools just aren't keeping pace with the influx of new residents. And parents and educators are angry.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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