Paul Gascoigne: fighting the good fight
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an Obituary (noun) is “a notice of a death, esp. in a newspaper, typically including a brief biography of the deceased person”. Standard practice in olden times was the write the obituary after the person in question had died.
After William Randolph Hearst reconfigured the nature of Celebrity a century ago, the dynamics changed. The obituary became something that well prepared newspapers wrote in advance of a person’s death.
Sub-editors all over Britain began producing tributes to the Queen Mother at least 20 years before she died. When I worked on the Liverpool Echo in the Nineties, I contributed to a tribute to Red Rum, a good five years before the famous Grand National horse died (and perhaps entered the food chain as a hamburger).
The news that Paul Gascoigne is struggling with alcohol demons saddened the football family and no doubt led to the writing of tributes to his memory. I know of one leading writer who penned a Gascoigne obituary in February 2008. Thankfully, reports of Gascoigne’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Aged 45, he is at a rehab clinic in Arizona after being in intensive care for chronic alcohol-withdrawal symptoms, but he is fighting the good fight, and now doing well.
The former Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio, Newcastle United and England midfield player faces a crucial few months as he contemplates physical restoration and spiritual peace. The comparisons with George Best, who died of liver failure in November 2005, are too obvious to ignore – and unhelpful.
There are no correlations here, no patterns. This is about one unique individual fighting to live – his disease has little to do with his celebrity – and living to fight.
Fully signed-up members of the human race wish him well, but in the knowledge that many people are suffering the same disease, far away from the public eye, and just taking it one day at a time.
Gascoigne’s greatest achievement will be to render those pre-written obituaries meaningless.