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Three great ones pass on

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It's said the great celebrities die in threes: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison; or Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Recently we saw the passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

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McMahon was the trusty sidekick to Johnny Carson, and the duo was a fixture on American television sets as we drifted off to sleep with "The Tonight Show" in the background. We also tuned in to McMahon's "Star Search" -- a forerunner to today's "American Idol," and watched McMahon ham it up with Dick Clark while presenting "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes." And let's not forget how excited any of us would have been to see McMahon come knocking with one of those cartoonish checks from the American Family Publishers sweepstakes.

Fawcett was a pretty face, and much more. Her role on "Charlie's Angels" made her an icon. Her poster with the electric smile defined a generation. But her dramatic prowess in "The Burning Bed" brought attention to domestic abuse and attention to Fawcett's true talent.

Michael Jackson was Elvis to his generation. First with the Jackson Five and then on his own, he redefined Motown music, 1970s and 80s music, the music video and stadium shows. Songs like "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" are known in every corner of the Earth. But one can't get too far down the road of praise for Jackson without acknowledging some troubling personal traits and, let's face it, weirdness. While he never was convicted of a crime, he was too close to it too many times. Jackson's life wasn't a fairy tale, it was a Greek tragedy. Knowing the hell he grew up in goes a long way to understanding the oddities. Someone who is deprived of a life or a childhood, then gains worldwide fame and untold riches is probably predisposed to act differently than most. Now that he's gone, we find it easier to set aside the weirdness, and remember him for that full-of-confidence young man who saw the ground light up around his feet with each step on the "Billie Jean" video. We're hoping his burdens are lifted.

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