When the comedian, Jonathan Winters, died on April 11, some news accounts listed “natural” as the cause of death. How can that be? There is no such thing as “natural causes.” Winters passed away from something, some “unnatural cause.”
Disease is not a natural condition of life. If it was, why do doctors attempt to treat it?
Failing to disclose cause of death is a peeve I’ve long held with the media. The media disclose everything else about celebrities until they die. Only then are the bereaved families and paid PR hacks allowed to control the news.
Long Row publishes in January an annual Death List of those who are well-known to him with dates, ages, places and causes. Of the 24 deaths recorded so far this year, 18 causes of death were found in initial reports. For instance, we know that five passed away from heart-related causes and eight from cancer.
Then there are the six mysteries, including Winters. Not immediately available were the causes for the baseball players Stan Musial and Virgil “Fire” Trucks, singers Rise Stevens and George Jones and, of all people, the former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop. What did most of these deaths have in common? Advanced age, that’s what. Stevens died at 99, Koop at 96, Trucks 95 and Musial 92. Apparently in the media’s eye, anyone over 90 does not die of anything. They just die of the natural cause of “old age.”
The obituary of George Jones in the New York Times is another matter. He was only 81. The second paragraph provides only a clue to his death. Jones, it read, was admitted to a Nashville hospital the week before with “fever and high blood pressure.” Symptoms, yes. But what brought on those conditions? Another bout with drugs and alcohol? What?
You can argue cause of death is a sensitive issue. And a very personal one. I say it is the public’s right to know the cause of all deaths, not just those of celebrities. Knowing cause of death, even in those over the age of 100, provides important data. They put names and faces to dry statistics as we try to understand death and its causes.
Just because he died at the advanced age of 87, Winters should not be given a free pass by the media. They owe it to the public to disclose the truth. We read these initial reports with great interest. But if and when the cause emerges at a later date, we are off to the next interesting thing and never get back to cause of death.
“Natural causes.” It’s just a symbol for what the media believes is an apathetic public’s disinterest in unpleasant facts.