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We See Dead People 

It's Halloween. Is your favorite celebrity dead yet?

Halloween.When you get to the emotional core of our big National Dress Up Day and Kids' Candy-&-Horror Fest, it's all about finding creative ways to deal with our fears -- our fear of the unknown, of horror, our fear of death. Especially death.Face it: it's not witches and ghosts and ogres and deformed freaks and slashers per se that creep you out. It's what would happen as a result of encountering them in real life; namely, your death. Followed by your burial, decay and disappearance from this world. It's all very grim, dismal stuff, and yet deep in the back of our brains we know it's what awaits all of us. No wonder, then, that humans -- who are, after all, the only animals that know they're going to die -- have created myriad ways to mock death, to try, at least for awhile, to rise above it. From Irish wakes that are celebrations of the life of the, um, dead person, and Mexico's famous festivals filled with skeletons, to jokes about tragedies like the Shuttle explosion or Third World famines, to repulsive Halloween costumes -- anything will do to take the edge off the gruesome side of kicking the bucket.

Even that phrase, kicking the bucket, is one of the ways we mock death. Give it an odd name and it doesn't seem as bad: Kick the bucket, buy the farm, pass on, meet your maker, croak, give up the ghost, breathe your last, slip this mortal coil, walk the last mile.

The age of mass media and celebrity culture has made our relationship with death even more complicated and, frankly, confusing. We become so familiar with media celebrities, the state of their lives starts to seem important to us. How many times has this happened to you? You're watching TV with some friends and someone is interviewing a famous old actor when one of you says, "Jesus, I thought he was dead." Or even weirder: someone refers to one of your favorite celebs as "the late So-and-so," and you find yourself in that surreal media culture state of realizing you had forgotten the celeb had hitched a ride to the afterlife. And then, of course, there's that collection of well-known people who seem like they should have died by now.

These days, one of the things that define the members of a particular generation is the list of celebrities they grew up with. Boomers? The Beatles and JFK. Gen Xers? Van Halen and Reagan. Gen Yers? Hip hop and Clinton. Pre-boomers? Sinatra and Roosevelt. You feel as if you know these people, but the feeling usually depends on the celebs staying in the public eye. Fame is fleeting, and "out of sight, out of mind" often translates into "Hey, I haven't seen [celeb's name] for a long time; maybe she's dead."

"Celebrities don't have "lives' like we do," says Dr. John Crane, a communications professor at UNCC. "Their existence is determined by the availability of their image."

"We put celebrities on a pedestal," explains Dr. James Peacock, a sociology professor at UNCC. "We take in their mannerisms, dress and speech. If the celebrity isn't continuing in that role, the only reason must be death."

In this land of opportunity, some folks have found a way to profit from celebrities' deaths. Greg Smith, for instance, started Grave Line Tours in Hollywood in 1987. He charges $40 for a two-and-a-half hour guided tour, in a 1969 hearse no less, of all the famous sites where stars such as Peter Lorre and Janis Joplin left the planet. For those who like their walks down memory lane a little more high-tech, they can access the Dead People Server, which gives the user up to the minute information about whether any celebrity in question is still with us or has moved on to the next dimension, and we don't mean Hollywood Squares.

At CL we're jumping on the "mock death" bandwagon, just for Halloween. What follows are three lists: people whose appearance in the media during the past year led at least one of our staff members to say, "I thought he/she was dead"; people who some of us forgot were dead; and celebs who seem like they should already be dead. Hopefully, we'll answer the questions besieging you: Is Gerald Ford still beaning people with golf balls? Was Mickey Rooney just a bad dream? Is heroin-using rocker Scott Weiland still with us? You know that Suzanne Somers went from Three's Company to pioneering the firm butt and thigh industry, but what about Mr. Furley? I mean Don Knotts. . . or was it Barney Fife? Read on.

We Thought They Were Dead

Eddie Fisher: Popular singer of the 1950s with several Top 10 hits, married to Debbie Reynolds before becoming one of Elizabeth Taylor's ex-husbands. He recently published an autobiography, proving beyond doubt that he's not dead yet.

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