Death on the CNN Curve

Death on the CNN Curve


shutterstock_192474056IT WAS FAME that killed Robert O’Donnell, killed him as surely as that shotgun blast he fired into his brain on a dark, dusty, West Texas road, miles and years away from the thing that made him famous in the first place. Technically, it was the bullet that did it — a .410 shell, the kind his mother kept at the ranch house to shoot rattlesnakes and warn trespassers. It certainly wasn’t an accident. You can’t shoot yourself in the mouth accidentally with a .410. The barrel is too long. And it wasn’t someone else’s doing. He left three notes, lined up side by side by the coffee table, two to his two boys and one that simply said, “No help from nobody but family.”

So it was the bullet, or depression, or his willful trigger finger that caused his death, this spring, at the age of 37. But the reason he did it, and the reason no one who knew him was surprised, that is where the fame comes in. Eight years earlier he had saved a little girl’s life, as the whole world watched, and, for a while, he was the center not only of his small universe, but of the real, known universe, the new one that sees everything simultaneously on CNN. There was a parade, countless television appearances, a letter from the president, a handshake from the Vice President, a made-for-TV movie. But eventually, the cameras went away, the world’s attention moved on and he was left alone — a man so changed by fame that he no longer belonged in his world, but not changed enough that he could leave that world behind. READ MORE