ST. PETERSBURG — At first, Bobby Schindler had no idea what his mother, Mary, was watching on their office computer Monday morning.
Then he heard some odd music and lyrics that sounded like the name of his sister, who gained national fame as the subject of one of the most contentious end-of-life battles in recent history: Terri Schiavo.
"You don't want to see it," Schindler recalled his mother saying, tears in her eyes as she switched off an online video replaying Sunday's episode of the Fox network's animated comedy Family Guy. The show, known for its brutally explicit satire, began with elementary school kids acting out a performance called Terri Schiavo: the Musical, making a parody of her 2005 death in a Pinellas Park hospice.
Even now, as they field e-mails and phone calls from supporters across the country, Bobby Schindler said the family can't fathom why a network TV show would poke fun at a woman who died in a vegetative state after removal from life support.
"I wish the producers could have seen (my mother's) reaction," he said. "It rips your heart out." A spokeswoman for the Fox network declined to comment.
Wednesday will mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Schiavo, who fell into a persistent vegetative state after collapsing in her St. Petersburg home in 1990.
Her husband, Michael Schiavo, fought a protracted court battle against the Schindlers and several conservative groups to win the right to discontinue life support for her in the mid 2000s, saying his wife would have wanted to die. Fueled by bitterly partisan debate and intense media attention, the conflict sparked a heated, nationwide struggle over end-of-life issues.
Schiavo's feeding tube was removed in 2005. Her father, Robert Schindler Sr., a highly visible figure in the fight to keep her alive, died in August.
The Schindlers, now maintaining a foundation in Schiavo's name, were focused on a fifth-anniversary fundraising concert scheduled for April 11 in Indianapolis with country stars Collin Raye and Randy Travis. Then the Family Guy episode aired, featuring animated children singing lines such as "Terri Schiavo is kinda alive-o" and "(She's) the most expensive plant you'll ever see."
Schindler hopes to generate enough protests to cost the show some sponsors. But one of the venues that offered the Schindler family some support during the fight over Schiavo's feeding tube may not be so friendly now. Fox News Channel is a sister company of the network that airs Family Guy.
The show has drawn fire before. In February, Sarah Palin protested Family Guy when a character with Down syndrome said her mother was "the former governor of Alaska." Palin, Alaska's former chief executive, has a son with Down syndrome. The conservative Parents Television Council also protested when the show depicted a character having a heart attack after getting a lap dance from a stripper.
But such portrayals don't always draw anger. The son of legendary infomercial pitchman Billy Mays complimented the producers of Comedy Central's explicit animated show South Park when it poked fun at him after his unexpected death last year.
Still, Schindler couldn't look away this time. "It really shouldn't matter what side you're on regarding my sister," he said. "Something like this should offend anyone."
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected] See the Feed blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.