What 5 Dead Celebrities Would Be Up to Today
Have you ever wondered what your favorite dead celebrity would be doing if they were still alive today? Of course you have -- there are a lot of hours in the day, and sometimes you have to spend them daydreaming about meaningless bullshit. "Where would they be now?" is a question we try to answer on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Lahna Turner (Perfect 10 podcast) and Cracked art person Randold Maynard. Up first, we discuss the music legend who brought this topic roaring back into the public consciousness recently.
Holy shit, have you seen that picture of Elvis where some artist gave him the "let's not give up on finding this kidnapping victim" treatment and digitally altered a photo to show what he'd look like today?
ABC News tracked down a photo restoration firm called Phojoe and, immediately blown away by one of the most visually stunning websites of the modern Internet age, no doubt ...
This is what Walgreens.com looked like in 1998.
... commissioned them to produce that now-famous image. Phojoe scoured dozens of photos of the King of Rock and Embarrassing Toilet Deaths and, I'm assuming, at least one or two photos of the funny one from The Blue Collar Comedy Tour ...
Elvis would be holding a sandwich and a bottle of pills, though.
... to draw their final conclusion. As fascinating as their work may be, it doesn't address what Elvis would be doing if he was alive today. It got me thinking about that very question, though, as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing about it here today.
So what would he be doing right now? Well, my first guess is that, you know, he'd be dead. No way was this guy living to see 80. Johnny Cash barely broke 70. If the age progression is any indication, those two were on a relatively similar trajectory.
Johnny Cash is better though.
Still, assuming they died around the same approximate age, that leaves the King a lot of years to get his shit together and do something other than eat fried peanut butter sandwiches and shoot at his television. It's possible that his first steps toward another comeback may have come from a seemingly unlikely source. Remember the 1970s Pointer Sisters classic "Fire"?
Of course not, because everyone on the Internet is young and beautiful. Nevertheless, it's a song that exists that a lot of people enjoyed, and it wasn't written by or even for the Pointer Sisters. It was originally penned by a young Bruce Springsteen during the sessions for his goddamn fantastic Darkness on the Edge of Town album, with the intention of passing it along to Elvis to record.
That never happened, on account of how death intervened first, but it certainly sounds like something Elvis would sing, so let's assume he did and things went well and everything was back on track. What happens next?
Unfortunately, the '80s happen. You know who was awful in the '80s? Damn near everyone, and unless someone can give me a compelling reason why not, I think it's safe to assume Elvis would have been as well. For him to do anything at all would have required at least a temporary recovery from the ravages of drug addiction, which almost always meant Jesus for musicians of his era, and if there's one thing that never mixed well with the age of synthesizers, it's religion. Bob Dylan proved that by ending the '70s/kicking off the '80s with a trilogy of albums all about his recent conversion to Christianity. They actually aren't as bad as people make them out to be ...
... but the Lord was no competition for cocaine and parachute pants back then, so no matter the quality of the songs, it's almost guaranteed Elvis would have spent most of the '80s as a bit of an afterthought musically.
That doesn't mean he would've been done, though! For starters, given that his 1968 comeback special was basically a prehistoric version of MTV Unplugged ...
... it's not unreasonable to consider that he might have made an appearance on that show. It's also quite possible Rick Rubin would have swooped in to give him an acoustic guitar-driven career makeover, just like he did with Johnny Cash and, eventually, Neil Diamond.
Then, after all that, assuming that famous Public Enemy line about Elvis being racist is true, he probably would have called Obama a Muslim at some point and spent the rest of his days touring state fairs with Hank Williams Jr. Dammit, Elvis!
For a long time after his death, criticizing John Lennon was something people just didn't really do. One, he was a Beatle, two, he was tragically murdered at a ludicrously young age, which has a way of shielding a person from unwanted criticism for an extended amount of time.
It seems the statute of limitations on shit-talking Lennon has passed, though, because these days the Internet is brimming with retrospective contempt for the man who famously had the gall to question if you could give up your possessions in the name of the greater good while he was playing a piano worth more than your car inside the confines of gigantic house worth more than your entire life.
It's a bit of an understatement to say he wasn't without his flaws as a person, so it's not unreasonable to expect that at least some years of his life would have been dedicated to a messy public divorce.
Imagine there's no Yoko!
Or, if nothing else, that's what the rest of us would've wanted, so let's indulge in that fantasy for a bit and predict that Lennon v. Ono would've been one of the first really high-profile divorces of the tabloid age.
Speaking of fantasies, his last album is called Double Fantasy and, if I'm being completely honest, it isn't his best moment. It's his last album, so people tend to be kind to it in reviews and such, but half of it is Yoko Ono songs and the other half is John Lennon sounding like the godfather of '80s adult-oriented rock.
If you don't have time to give it a listen, just know that song is what "Imagine" would sound like if it was mostly about being all right with buying a minivan. I know the romantically ideal version of John Lennon as a counterculture rebel dictates that, rather than delving further into Christopher Cross territory, he would've been swept up in the excitement of the punk and/or new wave movement and made some truly interesting music, but his posthumous releases ...
This is some Jimmy Buffett shit.
... and comments from around that time both vehemently disagree. Besides, if that was going to happen, it probably would have well before he died.
Still, it might not have all been comparatively disappointing music and relationship drama for John Lennon. For one thing, if he lived, a legitimate Beatles reunion would have been a possibility at least until 2001, when George Harrison died. Given his penchant for political activism, a prime reunion opportunity would've prevented itself in 1985 when Bob Geldof managed to get every musician on the planet together for Live Aid, a massive benefit concert to aid famine relief in Ethiopia. A full-on Beatles reunion with all four members would've beat the shit out of Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums ...
... that's for damn sure. As for everything else after that, I'm afraid it can likely be summed up in one disturbing photo.
In other words, if John Lennon was still alive today, things would be exactly as they are; we'd just have a second Bono to contend with.
Quick! Name a female celebrity whose death seemed to have the same impact on the public as, say, a John Lennon or even Michael Jackson. Did you say Princess Diana? If so, great job, although I have no doubt your answer was at least somewhat aided by the fact that there's a fairly large photo of her right above these words.
And right here.
Now that we have that out of the way ... quick, name another! Not so easy, right? Sure, plenty of talented and powerful women died well before their time, but naming one whose death immediately brings to mind a sea of mourners holding candles and crying in public the way the death of Princess Diana does is something I still haven't really been able to do, although I'm sure the comments section will try to help.
The point is, whether you care about the royal family or not, Princess Di, as she's so rarely been called since she was killed in a car accident in 1997, meant a whole lot to a huge part of the world. So don't let your apathy toward British politics fool you into thinking that her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996 meant she would just fade into relative obscurity.
For one thing, her death happened a bit too early for sites like TMZ and bloggers like Perez Hilton to have been of any concern at the time, but not by much.
Life was better then.
History since then has proven that, relevant to our lives or not, British royals will always make headlines in this country. In this case, we're talking about a divorce that involved infidelity and all sorts of other players on both sides. In all likelihood, Princess Diana would have ascended to the throne of Queen of Tabloid Headlines before anyone else.
It wouldn't have been all petty fights and relationship talk, though. Her divorce didn't mean she was completely stripped of her royal title, it just changed from Her Royal Highness to Diana, Princess of Wales. That didn't exactly sit well with everyone. In her book, The Diana Chronicles ...
You've read it, right?
... author Tina Brown reports that the Duke of Edinburgh warned Princess Diana that her title would be taken from her if she didn't "behave." In the very likely event her personal life turned into constant tabloid fodder, it's just as likely a fight to jettison Princess Diana from the royal family altogether would've ensued. How successful it would have been is anyone's guess, but I don't doubt that someone would have tried to strip her of the privilege and authority that comes with being a ceremonial figurehead in England.
So, a decade and a half of fights about titles that mean nothing to us and salacious blog posts about who she might be sleeping with later, where would we be? I'm not a fortune teller, but I'm assuming that, like anyone else who's rich, lives in England, and appears in tabloids frequently, she'd probably be friends with Jay-Z and Beyonce right now. Oh, hey, speaking of that guy!
The Notorious B.I.G.
Even though The Notorious B.I.G. (whom I'll refer to as "Biggie" from here on, because it's so much easier) and Tupac died around the same general time, most of the "What would they be doing now?" talk that comes from that fruitful but ultimately tragic moment in music history revolves around the latter of the two.
His first few albums might be forgettable, but those abs certainly aren't!
His underwear-model good looks combined with all of those "positive messages" he's so well known for have all contributed to making Tupac a cultural icon and the topic of numerous debates about how the world would look if he was still around. You don't really get that with Biggie. When his name comes up, people mostly just mourn the current state of rap music and talk about how much better it would be if he never died.
Would it really be that much better, though? For that matter, would people still look at his contribution to music history as favorably as they do now if he wasn't tragically killed in 1997?
Immediately prior to the release of an album called Life After Death, because of course.
Call me crazy, but I don't think they would. Don't get me wrong, he made a lot of great music and, despite having way fewer albums (Tupac has released more since he died than he did when he was alive), probably has the stronger catalog of music compared to his famous rival.
Still, think of all the things the rap music establishment came to hate Biggie's mentor and boss, Sean "Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy/P. Diddy again" Combs, for introducing to the world and where they started to really take off.
Making huge radio hits out of rapping over nearly unaltered instrumental versions of other huge radio hits from days gone by?
Rapping mostly about money, clubbing, champagne, and fashion designers?
Wearing shiny suits?
That all happened on Biggie songs. Granted, he was dead before that last video was made and thus can't really be held responsible for it, but that song is from his album, and he'd gone along with every other decision Puffy had made up to that point, even if it was reluctantly. If you think he wouldn't have been dressed like an old-school Arby's roast beef like everyone else in that video, you're fucking delusional.
Who wouldn't wear that shit?
To assume Biggie would've escaped criticism for the destruction his best friend eventually wrought, or that he might have prevented it somehow, is silly. It's like assuming the people who claim Dick Cheney was really calling the shots will someday forgive George W. Bush for his shortcomings as president. Things just do not work that way. Biggie would've shared the blame for all of the sins Puff Daddy is accused of, if only he'd had more time.
So, then what? Does he stick it out with his friend, or does the relationship eventually implode? I don't know, does anyone stay friends with Puffy that long? It doesn't seem like it. I imagine Biggie would've been no exception. He was pretty good friends with Jay-Z, who'd only released one album by the time Biggie died. Would those two have teamed up and found success together, recording songs with Timbaland and jointly hating Nas throughout the remainder of the '90s?
Yep, probably. Would that do anything to change the minds of those who would resent him for all of the unsavory things he was partially responsible for popularizing in rap music? Nope, probably not.
Obligatory suicide joke! Great, with that out of the way, let's talk about what Kurt Cobain would be up to if he didn't die in 1994. The various relationships he had going in his life and the things we've learned about those people in the years since his passing provide some clues as to how all of that would have played out. Let's start with that band of his! How far into the '90s would Nirvana have survived if Kurt Cobain never died? It seems they had at least one more album in them, as the one completed song ...
... and various demos that have surfaced over the years seem to indicate. It's doubtful they would've carried on much past that, though. Dave Grohl was already writing and recording songs on his own by then, sometimes about Cobain.
That's "Friend of a Friend," and it first saw an official release on the 2005 Foo Fighters album In Your Honor, but it was written and recorded way back in 1990, right after Grohl joined Nirvana. According to the always trusty Wikipedia, it's the first acoustic song Dave Grohl ever wrote. There's a line about "a friend's guitar" that refers to the fact that he wrote it on Kurt Cobain's guitar.
In other words, Dave Grohl's first impression of his bandmates was such that the moment he was left alone in a room, he grabbed the nearest acoustic guitar and banged out the first melancholy ballad of his life about the two people he'd just met. He was in a band with those people for three more years after that, and it's unlikely that introducing overnight fame, lots of money, an out-of-control heroin addiction, and Courtney Love did anything to ease the tension.
And things only got worse when Charles Barkley joined the band.
It's surprising they made it as long as they did, really, so expecting anything beyond one more album (if that) would be pushing it.
What about Courtney Love? Does the marriage survive if her husband does? According to police reports about Cobain's suicide ...
Or "suicide," depending on whom you ask.
... there was another "suicide note" that Courtney Love found at the scene of Cobain's famous overdose in Rome a month before he died. In her own words, she says it mentions a divorce. She eventually burned it. Nothing suspicious about that!
Anyway, so now Kurt Cobain's happily divorced from almost everyone in his life ... except not happily, right? Kurt Cobain hates divorce. The first song on In Utero, the follow-up album to the one that made them so very famous, is all about how he's tired of talking about the fact that his parents got divorced when he was young.
You don't have to record a song like that if you didn't spend the months leading up to it talking a lot about how much your parents' divorce ruined your life. There's no doubt he would have made more music as a solo artist, and when you take into account that he had a child to think of by that point, it's a solid bet that some of that music would have centered around his fears about becoming the thing he hated most, which was a dad who left his kid. That would only be when he wasn't singing about drugs, of course, because that's definitely a problem he was going to have to address at some point if he was going to live much longer. He also had that weird stomach ailment that a series of doctors were never able to adequately explain, so you'd expect some of that to influence his writing as well. In other words, he'd be Eminem.
My friend and shoe Brett Rader gets credit for suggesting the idea first, but don't take that to mean it's completely insane. Eminem and Kurt Cobain are both "voice of a generation"-types who inspire people to do (sometimes awful) things. Both have daughters with seemingly insane women. Both have nearly debilitating drug habits. Both talk at length about how their relationship with their parents negatively impacted their lives. They've both talked about weird physical ailments at one point or another.
"Munchausen syndrome, thanks for asking!"
Kurt Cobain was also great at getting into public disputes with fellow musicians, which is an act Eminem literally described as what he does when he dedicated an entire song to yelling at Mariah Carey on his Relapse album.
Is it that outlandish to think that a bunch of solo albums of varying quality, a series of public feuds with assorted enemies including the mother of his child, lots of relapsing into drug addiction (along with lots of songs about it), and a lifetime spent fighting the fear that he might be exactly like his parents would have also been Kurt Cobain's story for all these years, if only he was around a bit longer? Not really, and even if so, it's way less depressing than thinking about the fact that he died with a gun in his mouth at the age of 27 instead.
Follow Adam on Twitter @adamtodbrown and then come see him tell jokes in person at the Hollywood Improv this Friday (1/16) with Lahna Turner and lots of other funny people.
For more from ATB, check out 5 One-Hit Wonders Who Deserve Way More Respect and 4 Famous People Who Got More Hate Than They Deserved in 2014.
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