I don’t really want to get into the whole sad spectacle of Farrah Fawcett’s semi-public 15-year decline. I also don’t want to venture into Marilyn Monroe territory, indulging in that strange American desire to lionize the beautiful and troubled after they are dead, ministering to our guilt with wild eulogies to innocence lost. So I’m going to talk about the poster.
It is a famous poster, perhaps the most famous image of Ms. Fawcett (it seems coarse to splash it up in her obituary, but here it is). This poster hung in the office of my high school basketball coach, the only grace note in an otherwise cramped, sweat-musty room packed with hundreds of cracked binders overflowing with plays and drills. The coach would call us in on the morning of big games, one by one, and talk about what he needed us to do that night. Just over his shoulder floated the image of Farrah Fawcett, her bright, sharp grin just a watt away from hysteria, her hair alive in a way that none of us could understand. I’d stare at the poster as my would-be Bobby Knight of a coach frothed on about defensive assignments or shooting the ball more, trying to figure out if she was happy in that bent pose, and of course, as a 16-year-old, wondering what it would be like to have sex with a woman like that. (I would be lying if I said that poster was central to my young erotic life, but amid the omnivorous fantasies of a teenage boy with cable TV, it held its own.)
I wasn’t exactly obsessed with the image, and I don’t think any of my teammates were either, but running into our old power forward over Christmas, about a year out of college, the poster actually came up in conversation; it was like a mnemonic prompt for our nostalgia, a fixed image amid uncertain memories providing a starting point for all kinds reminiscence. It turned out that all of us had stared at that poster as the coach talked, generations of teenaged basketball players — some of us turned on, some of us merely hypnotized — avoiding his fierce eye contact, taking in instead this strange, beautiful image of a woman at the dangerous peak of her appeal.
So I’m sad she’s dead at the age of 62. Sad for her youth, my youth, and the way it all seems to tatter up at the edges, no matter how beautiful we once were. But hell, she sure was beautiful.