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Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 08/18/2010

In the wake of the death of Frank Ryan, mixed feelings about mourning

By Jen Chaney

Frank Ryan, plastic surgeon to the stars, dead at 50. (AP)

The sudden death of Frank Ryan -- a plastic surgeon who nipped and tucked the rich and famous for many years -- is yet another example of a celebrity passing that leaves us feeling a little conflicted.

Ryan, 50, died Monday after he drove his Jeep Wrangler off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. As noted in a post this morning, he was reportedly texting a Twitter item just before the accident. Ryan's Twitter page is still active; looking at his final couple of comments and the image he shared is both chilling and terribly sad.

When anyone dies prematurely, it's upsetting and a reason to pause and reflect. Life can be snatched away in an instant, literally with the typing of a meaningless little Tweet.

But at the same time, as sobering as Ryan's death, or any sudden death, may be, there's also something that feels a little bit, well, odd about watching all these celebrities -- many of whom were the beneficiaries of Ryan's surgical skills -- eulogize the man.

Several of Ryan's patients -- Lisa Rinna, Melissa Rivers, Janice Dickinson -- attended a candlelight vigil held last night in Malibu. And as terribly inappropriate as it might sound, there was something almost comical about watching so many people with fake facial features grapple with such genuine and real emotions over the man's demise.

Again, Ryan's death is not funny. It's anything but. But I can't be the only Celebritologist having similar thoughts while observing all of this. (Actually, I know I am not, based on the comments on this morning's post.)

Then there's the much-debated matter of those 10 procedures Ryan performed on Heidi Montag in one day. As he explained in this video back in January, Ryan didn't see the procedures as inappropriate. Perhaps, in his mind, that's what the patient wanted, and since there were no obvious health risks, it wasn't his place to tell her no. Clearly some people would disagree.

Does that make Ryan a horrible person? Not at all. Does that make him a person who "changed the world," as Montag stated on Twitter? Well, that's probably a wee bit of hyperbole during a time of grief. Or perhaps Montag is again confusing "the world" with "her breasts."

(Update: A reader sent me an e-mail to point out that Ryan did change the world on some level through the work of his philanthropic organization, the Dr. Frank Ryan Foundation. The foundation helps underprivileged and inner city kids through various programs and day camps; I am told Ryan personally volunteered his time, removing tattoos from the bodies of former gang members and working with the kids in other ways. I thought that information needed to be noted here.)

Of course, as a I type this, I already feel bad. The man just died. None of us are allowed to think anything other than mournful, serious and spiritual thoughts at a time like this, right? But let's be real. After someone famous dies, we often grapple with conflicting emotions, despite the fact that we never really knew the person who passed away in the first place.

After Gary Coleman died, many people felt sad. Meanwhile, many others filled their Twitter feeds with bad "Whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?" jokes. (I read some of them. I laughed at a couple. And then I felt like I should immediately go confess to a priest.) And when Rue McClanahan succumbed to a stroke, did one of your co-workers immediately start forwarding absurd YouTube clips from "The Golden Girls"? Of course.

Our ability to find the comedy in tragic situations -- especially ones involving celebrities, which are often pretty unreal to begin with -- allows us to move on with the business of life.

It is possible to express sincere condolences to those who loved Ryan and to feel badly about his death, while also acknowledging that his work wasn't necessarily embraced by everyone. It's called speaking the truth. And it's also called being human.

By Jen Chaney  | August 18, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
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"But I can't be the only Celebritologist having similar thoughts while observing all of this." No Jen, you definitely aren't alone on this one.

The LA-Entertertainment Industry has a truly bizarre take on the beauty ideal, as well as what that ideal should look like as they age. I'm not a fan of what Ryan did to his clients' faces and bodies (Montag, Stallone, Dickinson, etc - Yeesh!) but he was one of "the best" out there for giving these folks what they wanted.

What is truly sad is that this man died at the height of his success most likely b/c he was using his phone (texting? twittering?) behind the wheel. Thankfully no one else died b/c of his actions.

Posted by: flippityflop1 | August 18, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

That line up of celebs mourning is a walking ad against plastic surgery.

If Ryan was one of the best and his clients looked like that, I really don't want to see the worst.

Posted by: epjd | August 18, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

When will people understand that texting while driving kills. I guess he never got the app that could have prevented this horrific accident. Hopefully others will get the app, SMSReplier, so that they too won't become a statistic. Don't text and drive.

Posted by: philip14 | August 18, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

The idiot deserved his fate. This is a perfect example of Darwin's Law at work, eradicating stupid people from the human race. Fortunately, neither innocent people nor his dog were injured.

Let this be a lesson to other people who text while driving.

Posted by: DarwinsLaw | August 18, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I cant believe this terrible event! If only he hadnt been texting while driving! I use SMS Replier to make sure I dont text while I drive.. too many people die from distracted driving, and we have got to put a stop to it! check out my blog about it at

Posted by: blueyedevil089 | August 18, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

"Deserved his fate"? That is truly unnecessary. Not to mention ridiculous. While most of us don't 'tweet and drive' have you NEVER been momentarily distracted while driving and only by the grace of God and circumstance did not get into an accident? You'd be lying to say you weren't. We all know it and so do you. And to the author--what's the 'mixed feelings'? A man died prematurely in an unnecessary and tragic way. His death is sad. Period. There's nothing 'mixed' about that.

Posted by: The_Huntress | August 18, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I think it is very, very sad that he lost his life. It is even sadder that he lost his life because he thought he could text/twitter while driving, despite all evidence to the contrary, especially when he had a passenger in the car, who was also injured (hope his Border collie comes through). It isn't any less sad just because I don't agree with the way he made his living.

Posted by: Californian11 | August 18, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comments, The_Huntress. To answer your question, there is nothing mixed as far as feeling sad that this man lost his life. I hope I made that clear in the post. But sometimes we also respond in other ways -- with jokes, or by revisiting more controversial parts of the person's life, etc. That's true of of any famous person, not just Dr. Ryan.

I was just trying to capture that mixed response that, at least some people, definitely have.

Posted by: Jen Chaney | August 18, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

prove evidence he was texting while driving .
proof says he texted 20 minutes before he got in his jeep and he was only 5 minutes away from where he was when he texted .
maths doesnt lie .
check your facts first .

Posted by: PUNKDYA | August 18, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

What's bizarre is that these days even the doctors of celebrities qualify as news. While foreign bureaus are closed, news rooms are cut to the bone and local papers fold, the boob guy for a Z-list reality bimbo gets a headline and an article.

Not mourning too much for this useless moron. He made boobs for a living, not saving lives. I echo someone else that at least he only took out himself and not another innocent victim.

Posted by: Pupster | August 19, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Jen - I think you are honestly and bravely describing a common phenomenon. In our culture there are these standard narratives that we are supposed to follow in response to tragedy, and one deviates from them at some peril. While these stories can be comforting, human experience is much more complex.

Your colleague, Hank Stuever, explores this a little in his review of "The Big C" when it comes to cancer. And after reading the hundredth obit of a saintly teenager killed in an accident I have been tempted to tell my teenaged son to be a total jerk because nothing bad seems to ever happen to jerks.

So, of course, all people of good will should mourn an untimely death - even if caused by foolish actions. But sometimes it is okay to dig a little deeper.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | August 19, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

What will happen in the wake of the wake?

Posted by: kabuki3 | August 19, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I think it shows that all of us are susceptible to the urge to answer those seductive chimes and buzzes when we get an incoming text - even if its while we are operating a 5,000 pound piece of steel and glass.

I hope Ms. Montag uses this tragedy as an opportunity to speak out against texting and driving. With her popularity she could save lives on our highways with just one simple announcement. 6,000 deaths a year to text and drive...can we all say "no more!"

ERIK WOOD, owner

Posted by: ErikWood | August 19, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Reply to The_Huntress

I don't believe in God, Bigfoot, the tooth fairy or Santa Claus.

If the accident was his fault, then I might have some pity. Since he was the one responsible for doing something as stupid as sending texts/tweets while driving, then he deserved it.

Reply to PUNKDYA

Police reports indicate he was tweeting at the time of the accident.

Posted by: DarwinsLaw | August 20, 2010 2:35 AM | Report abuse

In what passes for journalism today, you are regurgitating the other sensationalist media stories that claim Dr. Ryan was tweeting while driving. What evidence do you have of this? The photo he posted to twitter was clearly taken at the top of a sand dune, and NOT from a car. What evidence is there that after taking that photo he got into his car and decided to tweet the photo while driving? Does that even make sense? Did you check with the police or witnesses to find out what time his jeep went off the road? Isn't the PCH pretty heavily trafficked? Isn't it easy to compare the time he went off the road with the time he posted his last tweet? Cmon, even celebrity journalists are supposed to doublecheck their facts, right?

Posted by: Serendipity94123 | August 23, 2010 2:14 AM | Report abuse

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