There’s no shortage of stories that make you realize how fragile life is. That fact was brought home to longtime “American Idol” fans this weekend with the announcement that season seven contestant, 35-year-old Michael Johns, had died from a blood clot in his ankle. There are few details at this point, but TMZ reports that Johns had twisted his ankle and was in a great deal of pain. Though he visited a doctor, he was cleared to go home and reportedly died in his sleep.
The intensity of grief experienced when a person dies is usually proportionate to the amount of love he showed the people around him during his life. Johns’ wife Stacey and his family are understandably shocked and grief-stricken. They said, “Our family is devastated by the passing of our beloved Michael, a wonderful husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from all corners of the globe.”
For a public figure, however, it goes beyond that. Though Johns, a native Australian who moved to the U.S., didn’t reach the superstardom of Idol alums like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, he continued working in music, earning him a fervent and devoted fan base, and was planning on releasing a new album this year. The administrator of his website asked for prayers for the Johns family.
Then, of course, there are Johns’ fellow contestants with whom he shared a unique experience, competing in the Idol bubble for several months and then touring together for three months.
If you’ve ever read my brief bio on this site, you know I’m an “American Idol” fan. And while I’ve enjoyed every season, my favorite remains season seven because the mix of singers made up, what I think, was the most talented top 10 in the show’s history.You had powerhouse rockers like Carly Smithson and eventual winner David Cook; the heartfelt pop/folk sounds of Brooke White and Jason Castro; the emotional ballads of David Archuleta; the country stylings of Kristy Lee Cook; and the soulful sounds of Johns.
Season seven’s group was the only one that drew me to an actual concert and their performances didn’t disappoint. I still have the program book from the event and saw that during the show’s run, Johns felt closest to David Cook and Carly Smithson – though in the ensuing years he also collaborated with Brooke White a number of times.
On her Facebook page this morning, White – whose talent goes beyond songwriting to writing in general – expressed her emotions at the news:
Yesterday I learned the news that we lost this dear friend of ours and I just haven’t processed it. It’s tragic and I’m sad. I just had the thought the other day while driving down the freeway, that if someone asked me who my favorite male voice was it’d be Michael johns. Man I wish I had picked up the phone to tell him that, but I didn’t. He was stupidly talented, handsome, charismatic, funny and quite a complicated character. I loved singing with the guy. We toured the west coast and shared the stage too many times to count, recorded a couple great duets, wrote “little bird” and a few other tunes together. He believed in my voice and was so generous with his compliments. And sometimes he was a real stinker too. His fans were the most devoted and obsessed I’ve seen. He was supposed to be the special guest at my Christmas show and he called me to cancel a few weeks ago, that was the last we spoke. It’s weird to think we won’t sing another tune together again in this lifetime. Isn’t it weird. My heart goes out to his family, his fans, friends, to his Stacy and his beloved Puddy. Michael Johns, we will miss you hard… you will always be my favorite Australian.
Smithson took to Twitter to reveal her grief:
I don't even know what to say or how to feel. I was so strong yesterday but today I'm just a mess. My buddy is gone forever. #MichaelJohns
— Carly Smithson (@CarlySmithson) August 3, 2014
Kristy Lee Cook posted on Instagram:
RIP to @MichaelJohns my friend from American idol. He was such a fun person to be around and was always making us laugh. My prayers are with his family and rest his soul with God! #YouwillbeMissed ❤️
David Archuleta tweeted:
Remembering a friend this weekend, Michael Johns, and keeping his family in my prayers. You'll be missed, Australian buddy. #RIPMichaelJohns
— David Archuleta (@DavidArchie) August 3, 2014
No doubt David Cook, who lost his brother to brain cancer several years ago, will be adding his condolences soon as well.
Though there’s little that can lessen the grief in the immediate aftermath of an unexpected death, both Brooke and Kristy Lee reference the one thing that can eventually bring some comfort: the idea that there is an afterlife, that the deceased person’s soul is in God’s hands now, and that there will be a reunion of loved ones some day.
While it’s nice to say you will keep someone’s memory alive in your heart, it’s much more comforting to believe that person actually remains alive in some form, that his identity remains intact. It’s a concept that many have struggled through, but it can be a major epiphany for those who come to believe it.
For instance, “Love and Salt” author Jessica Mesman Griffith, talking from a Catholic perspective, told me about coming to terms with her mother’s death. She said, “I needed to acknowledge death, to acknowledge that suffering was a reality and something I had endured…I needed a way to feel that this story was not over with my mother and the other people we had lost – that we were going to be able to have some connection with them. It’s not something we’re waiting for, it’s not something that’s going to happen when we die. It’s something that we have access to right now. There’s not a wall between us and heaven. It’s much more permeable than we might believe.”
To my knowledge, Michael Johns didn’t discuss his religious or spiritual beliefs, so I don’t know what faith tradition he followed, if any. What I do know is that some of his colleagues and fans don’t believe this world is all there is and are praying for him, his family, and his friends now. I’ll add myself to that list as well.
Michael Johns brought soul to the stage of “American Idol.” Now I hope his soul rest with God and rests in peace.
David Cook released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter:
“Mike was one of the first people I bonded with when I got to Hollywood week, and I can honestly say that the depth and pressure associated with the first few weeks of the Idol experience would’ve eaten me alive, had it not been for Mike. He had a way of making this gigantic, life-altering event seem small and manageable. To say I’m shocked and saddened is a gross understatement. I’m completely gutted for his family, including his wife, Stacey. I hope they can find at least some small amount of solace in the fact that he made mine and many others’ lives so much better by having known him.”
Idol contestants from all seasons weighed in with condolences as well.
Here are a few clips of his performances: his solo audition of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a post-Idol duet with Brooke White on “Life is Okay,” and his Idol duet with Carly Smithson on “The Letter.”