On March 22, 27-year-old Jade Goody lost her fight with cervical cancer, leaving behind a husband and two young sons.
“Who was Jade Goody?” you may well ask. Goody was a British reality television star who first came to prominence in 2002 when she won the UK version of Big Brother. Much like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Goody was famous for nothing more than being famous and pretty much made a career out of her infamy. That is, until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 (on TV during a “celebrity” edition of Big Brother) and decided to use her celebrity to bring the plight of this terrible disease to the forefront of the British nation.
Unlike Hilton or Kardashian, though, Goody was the product of a dysfunctional background in South London. Her mother was a crack addict who lost an arm in a motorcycle accident and her father was a heroin addict who was in and out of prison his entire life, until he died in 2005.
Britain loved Goody, or at least it did in 2002. At 21, Goody took her celebrity status and ran with it. In many ways she achieved the “American Dream,” — poor girl made good. The public loved her rough-around-the-edges attempts to make a better life for herself and her family. A true rags-to-riches story in the celebrity age, Goody had little talent for anything other than self-promotion. In 2007, in the wake of many business disasters, Goody decided to return to Celebrity Big Brother, where she got into a spat with Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. Within seconds, Goody was booted from the house as a result of her “racist slur.”
Although Goody apologized, she was now hated by the nation that once loved her. In India, people burned effigies of her in the streets, sparking an international incident. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown actually apologized to the people of India. But in 2008, Goody agreed to appear on Big Brother in India, hosted by none other that Shetty. It was while on this show that Goody learned she had cervical cancer and decided to fight the disease publicly, allowing the cameras to film her throughout the course of her illness:
People will say I’m doing this for money. … And they’re right, I am. But not to buy flash cars or big houses — it’s for my sons’ future if I’m not here. I don’t want my kids to have the same miserable, drug-blighted, poverty-stricken childhood I did.
Goody was outspoken. That was part of her charm and part of her downfall. She was a loose cannon. The tabloids and their readers followed Goody, waiting to see what mess she would find herself in next. Goody was the personification of the “human car wreck” — a British Britney Spears if you will. People couldn’t help but rubberneck.
After apologizing for her in 2007, Brown praised Goody’s public fight after her death, speaking of her efforts to raise awareness about the disease, the need for screening, and the fact that cervical cancer can hit a woman at any age. He said:
She was a courageous woman both in life and death, and the whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.
Since Goody’s public diagnosis, reports indicate that more women between the ages of 25 and 35 have been seeking out smear tests for cancer screening in the UK. In most cases, cervical cancer can be cured if caught early enough. Goody’s fight captured the UK’s heart because she chose to turn the cameras on herself. As a result, those who normally ignore such things have taken action. Already there is news that a film will be made about Goody’s life.
In a celebrity-obsessed culture, celebrities can have a bigger impact on their fans than politicians. Case in point: President Barack Obama’s mother died from cervical cancer at the age of 55, but that hasn’t led to a rise in cervical cancer screening since Obama’s election. So it would be refreshing if celebrities like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian (whose own father died from esophageal cancer in 2003), would use their celebrity status to bring awareness to something like cervical cancer in the U.S.
Goody died tragically, yet she managed to use her celebrity status to do something positive. She could easily have focused on herself and railed against her death sentence. Instead, she put her children and her nation first and chose to do something positive for her fellow countrywomen. Goody may be one of the few examples of “celebrities for nothing” that actually did something worthwhile with their lives.
Come on Paris and Kim. Follow suit.