This week, the the United States and the world has lost some iconic people.

First, Ed McMahon who died at the age of 86. Ed was perhaps the most perfect Ed McMahonstraight man ever to grace the late night stage. As Johnny Carson’s partner for over 30 years, he set up and played off of Johnny’s jokes, keeping uEd setting up a joke for Johnny's Aunt Blabbys laughing until we cried. Johnny and Ed were a late night institution for most Americans, and I — like most people in this country — never missed an episode. As the years passed, I’d forgotten just how funny they were together, but when I heard of Ed’s death, I pulled out my “Best of Carson” DVD and watched the whole thing. Man, those guys were great together. Ed’s quiet straight lines and the looks they engendered from Johnny were classic.

Yesterday, Farrah Fawcett passed away at the age of 62 after three years fighting Farrah's famous posteranal cancer. She, too, was an iconic personality. In the 70s and 80s, her beauty was unrivaled. Her picture was everywhereFarrah at 61 — even my gay friend, Rob, had her poster on his wall. Her beautiful smile was unrivaled, her gorgeous hair was copied by millions of women around the world, and her unbridled sexuality was a turn on for boys and men and a roadmap for women who tried — most of the time with little success — to be just a little bit like her. Beautiful even while fighting cancer at 62, she spent her last months sending a message to the world: Don’t give up, no matter what obstacles come your way.

And then we come, sadly, shockingly, to Michael Jackson. To say Michael was iconic is an understatement. As a child, some of my greatest memories surround Michael Michael Jackson as a boyand Donnie Osmond. The three of us were roughly the same age, so I was especially interested in the two boys. Before they were 9 years old, Michael and the Jackson Five and Donne and the Osmond Brothers were rising stars, rivals of sorts and obviously full of talent. It was Michael, though, who grew into the icon he became. With his every move, he outdid himself. Every song he wrote was better than the last. Every dance move he inveMichael Jackson in his 20snted was 10 tiers above the one before. Every video he made outdid the others. He was a true star, beloved and awed by billions across the world.

Sadly, his upbringing and fame did much to scar him. It turned him into a recluse, robbed him of his childhood and his freedom and shaped him into an eccentric person who only identified with children and other child stars. Thankfully, the world today is forgetting his quirks and eccentricities and remembering him for the amazing, astounding talent that he had. I still can’t believe he’s gone.

Three great icons. I’m so glad we got to experience the joy they brought to the world. I’m so sad to see them go. I give them my applause and thanks one last time.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a loyal and avid  fan of Stephen King.  I’ve got an entire large bookcase and part of another filled with hard copies of every book he’s ever released. 

When I was getting my Master’s degree in English, many of my peers looked down their noses at me for loving his writing so much.  After all, it was (raise snub nose here) “popular” tripe and mostly horror, certainly not “real” literature. I would venture to guess that most of these people had never read a word of King’s writing, otherwise I have no doubt that their opinions would have changed — at least in secret.

These same people had no idea that he was the author of the novella, The Shawshank Redemption, and the novels The Green Mile and Delores Claiborne, all three made into highly lauded and well respected films.

Interestingly enough, many of those people changed their minds around 2003 when King was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Foundation, an honor he shares with the likes of Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty and John Updike. Add to that the O Henry Award, the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the World Fantasy Award — to name only a few — and anyone would agree that Stephen King has become a well respected author among authors.

I’m proud to say I was ahead of the cusp on this one. I’ve been a fan since I first picked up Carrie in 1975, and I’ve never looked back. Each book has been better than the last, and I’ve read each voraciously, sometimes never stopping until my eyes closed on their own from exhaustion.  One of the first thrills for me, as a Stephen King fan, was realizing that he enjoyed mentioning something from one of his other books in each new book.  I lived to find that snippet, because only a true fan would know it when he or she saw it, and it as like a secret I shared with King himself.

This culminated in King’s epic opus: The Dark Tower, a seven book series that is, without a doubt, the best story I’ve ever read.  Reading it was joyful and painful, because I knew that, once I’d finished the 1000 to 3000 pages in one of the books, it meant I’d have to wait years before I’d get to start the next one.  Still, each time a new book in the series would come out, I’d start again from the beginning and read them all in order, relishing each moment I got to spend with Roland, Eddie, Suzanna, Jake and Oy. With every reading I laughed, I cried, I got angry and sad and happy. In those books, I not only entered worlds where I was completely enthralled, I learned to strive for only the best from myself, because she who does not expect the best from herself has forgotten the face of her father. 

(There is so much more I’d like to say, but I wouldn’t do anything to spoil the story for you. Just trust me when I say that, while you can read just that series and enjoy it completely, the real joy in reading it comes from reading all of King’s books and stories that came before.  Only then can you get the full impact of the tale. And then follow up and read all the books that have come after, and you’ll get a richer enjoyment from them as well.)

I’m currently reading his latest release, Duma Key, which I believe is one of his best books to date. I’m trying so hard to make it last, but as I round the corner to the last 90 pages, it’s so hard to make myself put it down. I love that I see so much of King himself in the protagonist, I love that I know that he’s going to wrench me out of my comfort zone in the end, and I love the story…such a great story.

King once said in one of his forwards or afterwards (I can’t remember which, but he writes them for his “constant readers,” and I am one of them.) that he enjoys taking his readers by the hand and walking with them around dark corners. (I’m paraphrasing, of couse.) It’s that feeling of being taken by the hand as I enter a foreign, dark and scary place that I love the most about Stephen King. He’s so much more than a horror novelist, so much more than a “popular” writer.

If you are one of the sad few who have never read his books and stories, I suggest a few of my favorites: The Stand (This is my favorite of his novels — I prefer the original version.), The Shining, Hearts of Atlantis, Lisey’s Story (Oh, my GOSH, what a beautiful story Lisey’s Story is!), Duma Key and, of course, The Dark Tower. (And if you read The Dark Tower, don’t forget to pick up his anthology, Everything’s Eventual, when you are finished with the series, so you can read the short story, The Little Sisters of Eluria and be happily surprised.)

And remember, he doesn’t just write horror. The Dark Tower isn’t horror, The Talisman isn’t horror, Lisey’s Story, isn’t horror, The Shawshank Redemption isn’t horror.

Have I convinced you yet? If not, let me take you by the hand as we walk around this dark corner. Don’t worry; I’ll protect you, and if I kiss you in the dark, please don’t be afraid. It’s only a kiss between friends.