After Heath Ledger's Death, Is Media Ignoring Hollywood Males in Crisis?
At a time when we're drowning in dispatches about the various debilitations of Britney, Lindsey, Amy and Paris, news about the death of Oscar-nominated actor Heath Ledger seemed to hit us from a pop culture blindspot.
Sure, we knew he was struggling a bit, having separated from his ex-fiancee, Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams and their two year old daughter Matilda. But a gossip press that goes into convulsions when Britney drives over a paparazzi's foot or Lindsay gets a parking ticket, seemed oblivious to Ledger's struggles until he was found dead in his apartment, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication reportedly in his apartment.
To be sure, no one has concluded he died of deteriorating personal circumstances. But if he was a male celebrity in crisis who was overlooked by the media, he's not the only one.
Actor Brad Renfro, who nailed roles in Apt Pupil and The Client, struggled with substance abuse problems for years before his unexpected death Jan. 15. Wedding Crashers co-star Owen Wilson offered a clown's smile to the world before his unsuccessful suicide attempt in August.
And I've already written about how 24 star Kiefer Sutherland hasn't received one-tenth the media attention for his 48-day stay in the slammer over drunk driving charges in December. Though he parties hard enough that entire episodes of 24 reportedly have been re-written to cover his injuries, Sutherland still escapes the kind of attention lavished on young women self-destructing in Hollywood.
As '80s TV icon Michael J. Fox recently noted in Esquire "I have such empathy for all these young women. I was there, and I did all that crap. We'd rip it up, y'know? And we never got busted on any of that stuff."
Ben Montgomery's excellent Floridian story Tuesday cobbling together a possible obit for modern starlets was a wonderful piece of writing, but it too focused on females. And when the Associated Press admitted preparing an advance obiturary on Britney Spears -- an honor usually reserved for much older celebrities -- managing editor for entertainment editor Lou Ferrara cited Anna Nicole Smith as inspiratino for the "pre-bit." (my fave line from that story: "Who in the 60s would have thought Keith Richards would outlast John Denver?")
Of course, I'm not advocating the kind of senseless media fixation which so often marks Paris/Britney/Lindsay coverage. But it seems we are ignoring one end of the problem while over-covering another. It's time to bring some quality journalism attention to both sides of this equation and highlight these struggles before anyone else dies unexpectedly.