Used to be when a show business luminary passed into the hereafter, we’d go and read their obituary in the New York Times. Now, we’re more likely to look for their clips on YouTube. You can see that in this Viral Video chart tracking a 1978 “Seven Words” performance by the recently deceased George Carlin (obviously not safe for work viewing, unless you work in a bar), which suddenly spiked 1.3 million+ views on the news of his death.
But that particular video isn’t Carlin’s most famous version of the routine. And that points to the larger problem. A concert recording of “Seven Words” was broadcast on WBAI radio in 1973, ultimately leading to a Supreme Court case — but I can’t find it online. I’m not the biggest Bo Diddley fan, but I’m fairly sure this video is not really his absolute best performance– but that didn’t stop it from becoming his biggest viral video when the rhythm and blues great passed earlier this month. The moment when popstars die is their best (last?) chance to show what made them great to a new generation– and that job shouldn’t be left to whatever videos people have randomly uploaded over the years.
Fortunately, the solution is obvious. When famous people reach 70 or so, news organizations usually start preparing their obituary. (For that matter, they do it for dangerously unstable younger celebs, too.) Why not do the same thing with online video, to make sure the best and most representative clips are uploaded, annotated, and ready to go? And though it’s slightly morbid to say so, there are a lot of eyeballs to be earned, too.