Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two degrees of separation from Jacko

by Jim Heffernan

Because I interviewed many celebrities in my years working at the Duluth newspaper, my degrees of separation from uncounted luminaries from show business to politics are very short.

But two degrees from Michael Jackson? I never expected that.

Interviewing the likes of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, on the political side, and Jack Benny and Gregory Peck on the showbiz side (among many, many others), leaves you with just a degree of separation or so from just about everybody anybody’s ever heard of, including presidents of the United States. I even had journalistic contact with one of The Flying Wallendas, from the circus world.

None of this is to drop names or boast. When you work for a newspaper – especially covering arts and entertainment – it comes with the territory.

I tend to think in terms of my degrees of separation from well-known people, especially when they die. Like, I wonder if Gregory Peck knew Gale Storm, who died this week. I wonder if anybody under 50 even knows OF Gale Storm. I can’t forge any definite degrees of separation with Gale Storm.

I learned shortly after he died, though, that I came a lot closer to Michael Jackson than I would have expected. The day after the entertainer died, National Public Radio interviewed a journalist named Brian Monroe who, it was said, conducted the last one-on-one interview Jackson ever gave.

Monroe interviewed Jackson over two days in 2007, and on the radio offered several interesting insights into the human side of Jackson – a side that didn’t show up much in the publicity surrounding the entertainer.

So where do I come in? Monroe, whom the moderator identified as former editorial director of Jet and Ebony magazines, is also a former news executive for the former Knight-Ridder, which formerly owned the Duluth News Tribune. (The older you get, the more the word “former” creeps into your lexicon.)

As a Knight-Ridder executive at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters, Monroe used to visit the Duluth newspaper two or three times a year. I spoke with him several times. When Knight-Ridder disbanded, he went to work for Jet/Ebony, and while there he interviewed Jackson.

So what’s that for me, two degrees of separation from Jackson? Of course, the concept of degrees of separation puts everyone on earth just six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, the actor.

Wish I could say that about Canadian Bacon, the artery clogger.

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