I had read about the custom many times before: when a theatre luminary dies, the lights of all the Broadway theatres are dimmed, briefly and simultaneously, in a show of respect. I am accustomed to seeing the announcements on Playbill Online, but until last night I had never actually seen the dimming in person. Last night I had tickets to see In the Heights (again -- I'm reviewing it for Commonweal along with the new West Side Story), and because the Richard Rodgers Theatre has a less-than-accomodating lobby, the husband and I were still outside, standing in a very long line waiting to enter, at 8:00, when the lights on the theatre marquee, and the one across the street, went dark. I was grateful I was there to see it, and happy that I knew what it signified. Requiescat in pace.
The person being honored in this case was Natasha Richardson. I will say nothing more on that topic except this: I heard she had died on Thursday morning, while I was watching NY1. As Pat Kiernan explained that she had been removed from a ventilator the previous night, they cut to a shot of her husband and children arriving at their apartment and stepping out of their car into a barrage of flashbulbs. Liam Neeson gave a sad little wave as he headed inside. A few minutes later, during "In the Papers," Kiernan held up that day's edition of the New York Post (or was it the New York Daily News?). On the cover was a still shot from that same moment -- Neeson, ambushed outside his home -- and the headline "LIAM'S GRIEF." I can't quite describe how disgusted I felt -- and still feel -- looking at all that, and being implicated in it. It reminded me of the scene toward the end of A Star Is Born where one of Vicki Lester's "fans" rips off her mourning veil as she is leaving Norman's funeral.
I know that a lot of celebrities rail against "the media" and bemoan their lack of privacy even as their publicists are sending out press releases every time they go to the grocery store. When those celebs get hounded by the press, they're quite literally asking for it. But Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson were never like that, and to me that makes the intrusion on their lives in this case much more shameless. I'm not usually inclined to jeremiads against Our Corrupt Culture, and it's not like it makes a difference where I think this particular handbasket is headed. But if we honestly believe the public's right to see the look on a famous actor's face shortly after he has watched his wife die is more important than his right to privacy in that moment, then God have mercy on us all.