In the wake of the death of Frank Ryan, mixed feelings about mourning
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.
| August 18, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
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