Ellen Byron

A Celebrity Death Hits Home

One Monday a few weeks ago, my friends and I were hanging out after a gym class. I don’t remember how it came up, but someone mentioned that a popular rapper named Mac Miller lived around the corner from us. I’d never heard of him so I looked him up on Twitter and saw this tweet: “No one in my neighborhood invites me to their parties.” Being who I am, I tweeted back, “Hi, Mac! I’m your neighbor, Ellen. Nobody invites me either. Come power-walk with my friends and me sometime.”

I joked that I should make him “Welcome to the neighborhood brownies.” My friends thought this would be awesome. Being who I am, I did. That Wednesday, I baked brownies, attached a friendly note, and tried delivering the tongue-in-cheek gift. No one answered at the front gate, so I brought them home.

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On Friday, I decided I’d try re-delivering the brownies at lunchtime. I was about to leave when I got this text from one of my friends: “Mac Miller OD’d.” Moments later, the helicopters began hovering, always an ominous sign in our celeb-adjacent neighborhood. They would be there all day, as were the news vans that quickly arrived, passing the coroner’s van on their way up the hill.

As I watched news reports, I thought of Demi Lovato, who only months before had survived a near-fatal OD. I spent a season writing for her show, Sonny with a Chance, and knew her to be a talented teen carrying the weight of a TV series and music career on her young shoulders. I also thought of my friend, Jimmy. You see, I lived through the experience of seeing a friend, dead from an overdose, being carried out of his apartment in a body bag as the lead story on the evening news.

In the 1980s, a hot young actor named James Hayden starred on Broadway in the play American Buffalo, alongside his mentor, Al Pacino. Industry buzz was that Jimmy’s  role in the upcoming film, Once Upon a Time in America, would catapult him into superstardom. On the day he died, Jimmy and I were supposed to have lunch. Instead I got a devastating telephone call. When an up-and-comer ODs while playing an actual drug addict, it’s front page news – national front page news. I was in shock for months. Jimmy’s sister moved in with me for a while, and we grieved together.

James

My Mac Miller story soon took another surreal turn. It turned out I’d been trying to deliver the brownies to the wrong house. One where an Alice in Chains musician lives, who was probably mystified if he saw a woman of a certain age in gym clothes with a plate of brownies buzzing his gate.

A few days after Mac Miller’s death, I walked up to his actual house, a nondescript ranch  on a cul de sac around the corner from me. Flowers, candles, and talismans covered the front steps. I saw the memorial and began crying.

The note I wrote to Mac is still sitting on our hall table. I don’t know what to do with it. I know I should just tear it up or recycle it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

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I found out who Mac Miller was on a Monday. I made him brownies on Wednesday. By Friday, he was dead.

That haunts me.

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Readers, asking a question for this post feels wrong somehow. But I’d love to hear any thoughts my story generates.

27 thoughts on “A Celebrity Death Hits Home

  1. I am so sorry. My heart breaks for you. Many many hugs to you. (I really don’t have a answer what to do with the letter. I am the weird one who would pack the letter away and know that I had good intentions.. ) 🤗🤗🤗❤❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ellen, I love that you reached out. In today’s society it’s so easy to feel disconnected from our neighbors and everyone else. And while Mac may never have known you cared enough about a local stranger to attempt to make a connection, your story may inspire others to do the same or serve as a reminder that good people do exist. As for the letter, I would either keep it, if you think you might want to reread it someday, or leave it with Mac’s memorial. Who knows, maybe another young person at risk of OD’ing will end up reading it and make some changes when they realize someone out there actually cares. And maybe, someday, when the new neighbors end up moving into Mac’s house, you can try redelivering a fresh batch of brownies.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’d probably keep the card. It’s a sad story, but an important one to remember. I guess being a mystery writer makes us no more immune than others to the shock of a real death–especially of one so young and so close to home, literally.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s silly, but you begin to think, what if? What if I did deliver the brownies and Mac and laughed over the thought of him joining a bunch of soccer moms for a neighborhood walk? Did he need a mom himself that day? What if he reached for a brownie instead of a needle? It would have only postponed what seemed inevitable, but still… you wonder.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Oh, no, Ellen, I’m so sorry! It’s very sad when a person dies young. We had a neighbor who took his own life. While we didn’t know him well, there was a sadness and sense of loss all the same. I’d probably keep the note, too, but I like the suggestion of perhaps leaving it at the memorial.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so very sad, Ellen. Obviously, he touched your heart. Adding your invitation to his memorial would cement that action in perpetuity, so to speak. You are a kind and loving person!

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  6. Two of the worst phone calls of my life were the one about Jimmy and the one I got at 8 a.m. on 9/11/01 telling me that David Angell and his wife Lynn were on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. David was a co-creator of WINGS and they were two of the nicest people on earth.

    I left the letter at Mac’s memorial on his front steps. Thanks for that idea, all.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Definitely the most appropriate thing to do. But I would definitely write this event down in your diary.
    That was very brave of you to even try to meet someone like that out of the blue.
    I don’t think the facts would have changed though, if you had delivered it. People in that state may not be affected by any turn of events.
    Proud of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sending hugs, Ellen, I’m sure it made you think of James Hayden. I remember when that happened – that awful sense of lost potential. You were so sweet to bring him brownies – even though he didn’t get them, your kind action still counts, if that makes sense. I like to think of you two laughing over those brownies, but having lost loved ones to addiction, I know that the brownies wouldn’t have made any difference so please don’t blame yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

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