The Celebrity Death That Shattered Your World

Illustration for article titled The Celebrity Death That Shattered Your World
Image: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

Last weekend, innovative producer Sophie died in an accident in Athens, Greece. She was 34. Tributes poured in, all celebrating her Immaterial immortality—her maximalist soundscapes that deconstructed antiquated notions of gender and authenticity in a single song. It was clear that she gave her listeners a new understanding of how pop music could sound, and her death—the cruel, unexpected nature of it—devastated.

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Her loss made me thing of all the times an artist’s death has impacted me: the loss of Anthony Bourdain’s enthusiasm felt acutely harrowing, as did all the musician deaths in 2016: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael. For Pissing Contest this week, I’d like to hear about the celebrity death that shattered your world. Was it surprising, that their passing rocked you to your core? What was so meaningful about their life? What did you learn from them?

But first, let’s take a look at last week’s winners: these are your first job horror stories.

Esmeralda Pippin, this is so shitty:

My first job was as a chambermaid in a cheap, non-chain motel along Rte 1. It was close enough to beaches for people to use as a vacation stay, but far enough away that it couldn’t charge high rates.

This was reflected in the management practices. I was a teenager and paid minimum wage. There were two other chambermaids, one of whom was the motel manager’s mother. As a chambermaid, you clean up after a lot of gross shit - when I stay in hotels now, well pre-Covid, I leave my room so clean you wouldn’t know I was in there, because I know what the housecleaning staff goes through.

Anyway, the management was so cheap, that they didn’t want to pay to have the septic tank emptied. For those that don’t know, a septic tank is a large tank buried in the ground, where all sewage goes if you aren’t on a city system. Eventually it fills up and needs to be emptied. The manager didn’t want to pay for that, resulting one heavy use weekend in it filling up completely and then BACKING UP ALONG THE PIPES.

I came in to find that all rooms on the first floor had tubs full of shit. Literal shit. The manager’s mom said she would do the second floor rooms and left to smoke. The manager told me to go clean the first floor rooms - all 20 of them. As my parents had drilled into me how important it was to be a good worker, I did. To this day I regret not understanding what a major violation of worker safety this was and walking out.

Brick HardMeat, this is cold:

Not even my first job, but an internship at a small but respected industry magazine owned by Conde Nast (I think they owned much more in the early 2000s than they do now).

This was it! This was my opportunity to really launch my career as a journalist! And their offices were located right in downtown Manhattan. Just as I’d always dreamed. This was going to be my life now. How awesome!

I meet my new boss - the editor of the magazine. He takes me around, introduces me to everybody. Here’s the young hotshot from J-school. I feel confident. I feel full of myself. I meet everyone, shake hands, make jokes, ask smart questions. Everyone is gracious when they meet me, pausing their morning rituals to meet the kid. This is an important moment, for them and for me, right? Everyone but Frank, because Frank’s not here - just just started a two week vacation in Florida. But here’s Frank’s cubicle, swing by when he’s back and meet him.

And here’s your desk! Editor sits me down in front of my computer. Tells me to get my stuff set up and he’ll swing by in a few hours to take me to lunch. I push the mouse to turn the screensaver off, get my note book and pen in place, set up my giant water bottle, take the lid off. Editor calls out to me if I need anything his office is right over here, door is always open.

I turn and nod, turn back to my computer. Knock the entire contents of my water bottle directly into my keyboard.

What the fuck. I have been sitting at my desk for less than twenty seconds.

I turn the keyboard over, shake. I pop my head up, look around. No one has noticed. I run-walk across the open office floor plan to the kitchenette, grab many paper towels, run-walk back. Head is constantly swiveling - has anyone noticed? No.

I clean up my desk and the keyboard as best I can. Continue to periodically shake and try the keys. They do not work. I turn the keyboard over onto paper towels and wait, try again. Nothing. The keyboard is worthless.

I cannot tell my new boss I just destroy a piece of IT less than 20 seconds on the job. I cannot. I pop my head up and look around. I remember Frank. He is on vacation.

I very quietly and nonchalantly unplug my keyboard. Carry it under my arm, using my body to obstruct it from view of the editor’s office. Casually walk up my aisle, down the next aisle to Frank’s cubicle. No one is looking. Everyone is checking email, drinking coffee, getting work started. No one is paying attention.

I switch the keyboards. I did it so fast. It was so easy. I was sweating bullets but it was so easy. I have his key board. It’s my key board now. I walk back down his aisle, then back up mine. Connect it to my computer. It works. I start my internship.

I never introduce myself to Frank.

jedidiah Theadore, this is a fucking nightmare?

I don’t have a great horror story but my first real job when I was 18 was grave digger at the local cemetery where we buried homeless people in card board refrigerator boxes. That was horrible in and of itself.

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Feel free to get hypersensitive in the comments below.

URL: Senior Writer, Jezebel. IRL: Author of the very good book 'LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS,' out now.

DISCUSSION

twinkletoes123
rat in a cage

Gen Xer here: Kurt Cobain and Adam Yauch

Kurt’s death wasn’t that impactful for me at the time but I was senior at University and had planned to go see Nirvana play at a small venue in 1993 but passed on because I was too busy to make the trip to the large city - some deadline or another. Life was busy, and I was also planning to move continents for a new job, had my first heartbreak that year too.

My jam at the time was just really catching live music of upcoming bands at the time*, so my main thought at the time was “bummer, I guess I’ll never see Nirvana live now”... but as look back at it, it amazes me at the outpouring of grief and attachment he garnered. Not that he didn’t deserve it, but I think I just didn’t recognize how attached people were to him and continued to be, and that has struck me about him. I think it’s his continued presence today and that is a reminder of such a pivotal time in my live. Nevermind was one of the first CD’s I ever bought too. (1992/93? I was slow to adopt the newfangled technology :) but needed to replace my tape cassette player, I might still have Nevermind in that format in storage somewhere.)

And Adam Yauch: I consider myself a casual FAN of Beastie Boys. I probably couldn’t name them in a line up, but I can repeat the lyrics of several songs over several different albums. (“Professor, what’s a pirate name for BOOTY?”)
For Yauch, his recent death (ok, I just looked it up, 2012... much longer ago than I thought!) was more of moment to recognize that I and my cohort are getting older, touching on my mortality I suppose. I felt that 47 was too young (I was 41 at the time, shoot) ... I dunno, it really hit me. Plus, he turned out to be a pretty OK person. 

*Humblebrag: In 1992/1993, I went to see Red Hot Chilli Peppers at a 3000 person venue, this is *right* before they blew up. The Smashing Pumpkins were the openers (up and comers)... and before that all, though, was some unknown band from the Pacific Northwest called Pearl Jam... I’d never heard of them and of course they would go on to fill stadiums. I have to say, the way they opened, with such engagement and energy with the crowd, I guess that’s not surprising.

These are my Gen X street creds, thank you for coming to my TED talk lol.