Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pondering Pendergrass' Passing

Is anybody else bothered by the coverage of the death of the late, great Teddy Pendergrass?

Here's part of the New York Times' obit:

  "Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, suffered a spinal cord injury in a 1982 car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down -- still able to sing but without his signature power. The image of the strong, virile lover was replaced with one that drew sympathy.

     "But instead of becoming bitter or depressed, Pendergrass created a new identity -- that as a role model, [friend and longtime collaborator Kenny] Gamble said.

     "''He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident,'' Gamble said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''In fact, he was very courageous.'"

Sympathy? Courageous? Didn't become bitter or depressed? It may all be true, but I for one want to call out the cliché police! (Better idea: the stereotype police!)

Why are able-bodied people always so surprised, amazed and inspired when people with disabilities don't crumble, don't weep themselves to death? Why is every counter-example, every instance of people with disabilities actually coping and not feeling sorry for themselves (at least not publicly), seen as heroic and inspirational? As an example of individual pluck--instead of, you know, the real reality of disability. If so many of us are doing it, it can't be that exceptional.

     "[Gamble said,] 'I feel that he's in a better place now. ... He doesn't have to go through that pain or whatever he was going through anymore.'''

A better place than finishing the movie he was starting (to act or sing in, not watch)? Than continuing to record and perform? Not to mention his charitable work for others with spinal cord injuries, primarily through the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance he founded.

I'm glad you made yourself and some fans feel better, Mr. Gamble, but isn't that an insult to his memory?

For how I feel about the idea that people with disabilities are better off dead because in Heaven they won't have to deal with their "pain or whatever," see my NPR piece, "Are There No Wheelchairs in Heaven?" at

More and better things tomorrow, gentle readers. For this blog, I mean. Sheesh!
And rest in peace, Teddy.

(PS -- For an excellent disability-eye view of Pendergrass, see the excellent New Mobility magazine cover story from eight years ago, "Teddy Bear Returns," by Tim Gilmer.)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis of the Teddy Pendergrass coverage, thank you. I just kept being bugged by the phrase "paralyzed from the waist down", since Pendergrass was a C5/6 tetraplegic.