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Obituary: Jade Goody

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

jade-obit

Britain’s long national nightmare is over.

Jade Goody has died of cancer at the age of 27. For anyone to die at such a young age, for such a seemingly random reason, is always a terrible tragedy. That is no less true when that person who died is a reality TV star who got famous for being famous despite having no discernible talent, skill or charisma.

Though widely derided and even hated by many, Goody was not a bad person; just a very stupid one. Her many quotable utterances from her time on Big Brother showed her failing at history, failing at geography, failing at botany, failing at language - basically showing a remarkable breadth of ignorance on every subject.

On her repeat performance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 she also failed at humanity, using racist language to describe an Indian housemate whom she’d had a falling out with, though even here it seemed borne more of her cherished ignorance than of full-blooded hate. The other micro-celebrities involved in that incident saw their future careers wither and fade in those moments, but anyone expecting Jade to return to obscurity thereafter was to be disappointed.

Jade’s popular appeal often seemed unfathomable, but it hinged on her being Britain’s village idiot, a likeable fool whom people wanted to talk about. When she became a public villain, she was still going to be talked about, though it made her harder to sell. The new story became the rehabilitation of Jade Goody, and she was still performing her penitant’s pilrgimage with an appearance on the Indian version of Big Brother when her cancer diagnosis first  came in.

It seemed like a publicity stunt. If anyone would stoop so low as to fake cancer to win back the public’s sympathy for a disgraced reality star, it was Goody’s publicist, that modern Mephistopheles, Max Clifford. Jade, as his gormless ventriloquist’s dummy, would never have the wit or the strength to resist his machinations.

Even with Goody’s recent terminal diagnosis, it still felt a little stage-managed. It still felt like an attempt to make her a hero again. And now she’s dead, and still I half believe this is just phase one of the comeback tour.

In the final weeks there was a weird kind of heroism about Jade. If ever it could be said that someone died as they had lived, they could say it of Goody, who made her death the last event in her tabloid life, and she did so not because it would benefit her, but because it would help her children. She married her on-off boyfriend (currently serving out a sentence for assault) and sold the rights to the coverage to OK magaine for a reported £700,000, all of which will go to her two boys. She would have had every reason to retreat from the cameras in her final days, as weak as she was. It’s ironic, then, that the final time she stood in the spotlight, she did so for reasons that seemed brave and noble. She tamed the tabloid monster and turned it into something good.

Jade Goody is gone, and we ought never to have known that she was ever here in the first place. She should never have been famous. There will be a thousand more just like her, and most of them will grab hungrily at their fifteen minutes and wring them dry, only to disappear so completely back into hoi polloi that their eventual death in old age is never noted beyond their own family and friends. Jade Goody might have longed for such an ending.