As has been the case with the last couple times I've seen Dick Clark on television, he still significantly slurs his words as the result of a stroke suffered years ago. He has a tendency to mis-speak, and the physical shape that his mouth takes to form words is jarringly mechanical. And while everyone either knows or has known in the past someone who's had a similar ailment, either from a stroke or simply old age, we obviously are not used to seeing an individual on national television with this impairment (NOTE: This of course excludes Scott Weiland.)
Among my group of acquaintances, Dick Clark's appearance was met with equal parts horror, pity, and an overall sense of discomfort. I on the other hand thought it was great. "This is a man whose career has been made in the public eye. I think it's great that he doesn't go hide in private just because he's sick." I nobly declared. "It's not as if he's being exploited. He knows he's slurring his speech, and likely knows that he'll be mocked by lushes in bars. It's great to actually see someone front and center on national television batting through something that apparently is only acceptable behind closed doors."
My congregation was unmoved. Furthermore, a quick unscientific study of other bar patrons revealed that I was clearly in the minority.
"It's just so sad to watch!" This was the most common sentiment. People apparently don't like to feel uncomfortable and awkward while counting down to the New Year. They'd much rather save that burning shame for the following morning.
"He should not be on TV," one particularly survey subject offered. "He can barely speak!"
"But he had a stroke," I countered, "and he's still speaking more clearly than half the people in this bar!"
"But half the people in this bar aren't the ones on national television," she vollied back.
"Very true," I conceded. "But I'd rather watch Dick Clark slur through a speech impediment than listen to the perfectly enunciated conversation that Ryan Seacrest is currently having with one of the Jonas boys." (I think the particular Jonas at that moment was Donnie.)
For 2009, I'm hoping for an increase in public figures who refuse to hide from the world as a result of limitations. Roger Ebert has already done his part. Since Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, his appearance has become disarming as you would expect. But at the same time, his mind is still functioning perfectly, as evidenced by his must-read blog. It would be great to see others follow this example and continue to utilize their skill set, even if other aspects of their body fail them. No blemish is too big or too small so long as you can fulfill the job requirements. Camera operators with scabies. Roadies in wheelchairs. Mall cops with a glass eye. Investigative reporters with tourrette's syndrome. It's time for all of you to walk out your front door (or roll out) and face the world head on.
Yes we can.