What famous figure, alive or dead …

I am sure that you have all played this game. “What famous figure, alive or dead, would you like to meet?”

I keep this at “famous” figure as there are many deceased relatives that I would like to visit with again. I would really love to meet my grandparents, now, as an adult. How different it would be to relate to these people and see them for who they really are rather than through a child’s eyes.

And when I look online at the choices people make they range from Jesus Christ to Lady GaGa.

Today my choice is Angelina Jolie.

Apart from being incredibly beautiful, this woman intrigues me. I know very little about the Brangelina stuff that I see on the tabloids as I check out of the grocery store. I have not seen the Lara Croft movies (or any of her movies, in fact) nor do I have any desire to do so. I have, however, seen television interviews in which she has surprised me with her insight, intelligence, eloquence and general “down to earth” demeanour.

I have been impressed that Angelina Jolie has used her celebrity to promote awareness of problems in the developing world and has even adopted children from these areas. She is a United Nations Special Envoy for Refugees and has worked for the UNHCR for some time. In some ways her adoptions have followed the principles espoused by Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save”. Enjoy the fruits of your work and privilege but also share some of that with others less fortunate. She has three kids of her own and has balanced that with three more that were adopted from the developing world. She has struck a chord with me as I think she has made a genuine effort to use her celebrity to help others.

I am anxious to see In The Land of Milk and Honey, a film that will be released in North America next month – one that Jolie wrote and directed. The plot revolves around a love story of a Serb and a Muslim in Bosnia during the war in that country. I worked in Bosnia for several years and heard horrible stories of violence, rape and ethnic hatred that tore families apart. The film is fictional but the setting real. So real, in fact, that Jolie ran into problems getting permission to shoot the film in Bosnia as originally planned and had to move filming location to Hungary. The film was shot in both Bosnian (with subtitles) and English. I want to see the Bosnian version. I admire Jolie’s gutsy decision to tackle this subject and put her reputation on the line at the same time as writer/director rather than actor with a film that will not be a blockbuster but will explore a delicate topic.

But today’s news was the topper. Angelina Jolie has revealed in the New York Times that she has had a bilateral mastectomy in order to reduce the risk of her acquiring breast cancer after finding that she carries the BRCA1 gene for the disease. Her mother died of breast cancer in 2007 and she is at significantly increased risk herself, being found to carry the genetic mutation that will elevate her lifetime risk of breast cancer significantly. She has made this decision so she can reduce her risk and be available for her children. This must have been a huge decision for a movie celebrity to make. By being open with this Angelina Jolie has also done a great service to other women who face the same risks. Once again today’s revelation by this celebrity also strikes home to me as my wife died of breast cancer at age 48 and one of my daughters, already touched by breast cancer at a young age, has elected bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction to minimize her risk of recurrence. I was proud my daughter for making this difficult life choice and I can relate to the angst that Angelina Jolie must have suffered as she made the same decision (at almost the same age).

We often look at celebrity through a very tainted lens. We see them through Hollywood gossip columnists and papparazzi. But under the movie star veneer live real people who live with personal challenges just like the rest of us.

Today my celebrity hero is Angelina Jolie. I am free for lunch tomorrow if she is.

One thought on “What famous figure, alive or dead …

  1. Someone posted that article on facebook earlier this week. I was shocked when I read the paragraph that began ‘my partner, Brad Pitt”. At first I wondered if there was going to be a punchline, if the woman writing the article was going to make a joke about wanting Brad Pitt, George Clooney etc being her imaginary husband/boyfriend… then at the end of the article, it simply stated “Angelina Jolie is an actress” or something like that. I wholeheartedly agree that it is a great service for a superstar – who, we have to admit, is photographed/admired far and wide for her faaabulous body and boobies, in addition to her other actions and qualities– to promote a major, proactive approach, and to be so candid about her experience with breast cancer. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she literally saves some lives by coming forward in this way.

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