Many deaths come in a sudden, unexpected fashion. At Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory here in Lewisville, Texas, our experience is that most these untimely passings are accidents, such as car wrecks and the like.
Public deaths that occur in front of large audiences sometimes seem to be even more shocking then those that occur in private. You do not expect to see someone performing in communal venue keel over and die. Often times the audience reacts in a perplexed fashion – they wonder if the performer is simply doing her/his job. Shock and sorrow follow when it becomes clear that a real passing has taken place.
While this may not seem to be a common occurrence, in actuality, it happens more often than you might expect.
One of the more infamous deaths the happened during our lifetime took place on June 8th, 1971. Nutrition guru Jerome Rodale (pictured above) passed away during the taping of The Dick Cavett Show (at that time Cavett and Johnny Carson were the prime choices for late night viewing).
Rodale, who has largely been forgotten today perhaps in part to the circumstances of his demise, was one of the leading advocates of eating natural, whole foods. For example, he believed that Polio vaccinations were unnecessary: the disease could be avoided with a properly balanced diet. Another of his nutritional tenets was that club soda contributed to poor eye sight.
Like many dietary fads, his work had its moment in the sun, primarily in the early 1970’s. He was featured on the cover of the Sunday New York Times magazine.
On June 8th, 1971, he was the second guest on Cavett’s taped late night talk show.
Rodale had a winning personality that came across well on camera. Cavett conducted a lively 30 minute interview with him, during which Rodale pronounced that he never felt better in his life and was fit enough to live to be 100.
Rodale then presented Cavett with an asparagus which he claimed to have been boiled in urine. Cavett asked him if the urine had come from anybody either one of them knew.
Following this spirited exchange, Cavett welcomed another guest, New York Post columnist Pete Hamill.
As Cavett was starting to chat with Hamill, Rodale emitted a loud snoring sound – this drew a laugh from the audience, as it seemed that Rodale was expressing boredom. After a few tense moments, it became clear that Rodale had left the mortal plane.
Still uninformed, the audience laughed when Cavett asked if there was a doctor in the house.
Two interns tried to revive Rodale to no avail. An ambulance crew eventually arrived and transported Rodale from the scene.
To this day, Cavett continues to be asked about this event. People frequently tell him that they saw it on television.
No one ever saw this on television because Cavett and the network decided to pull the tape. It has only been viewed once by The Cavett Show staff, and has never been shown on national television. Purported transcripts of the Rodale interview have been apparently been leaked at various times, their authenticity is much in doubt.
Keep in mind, this was pre-social media where a modicum of discretion still ruled. No one could record the death, because no one had cell phones in the audience. If this transpired today, it would go viral on social media in a matter of hours, if not less.
Following Rodale’s death, before Cavett did his next show, he called his former boss and then competitor, Johnny Carson. He told Carson that he was not sure he could do another show. While being completely understanding, Carson suggested that Cavett just go out and do it – this was the only way to deal with such a tragedy, much like doing a show after a prominent political assassination.
In coming days, we will continue this series on the impact of public deaths.