Bad news first: we received word that Peter Tork of the Monkees has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer: adenoid cystic carcinoma, a head and neck cancer that usually affects the salivary glands but was found on his tongue. The people behind Idolator are big fans of the Monkees, and we certainly wish him the best in his recovery. Tork remains chipper about the situation:
“It’s a bad news, good news situation,” explains Tork, “It’s so rare a combination (on the tongue) that there isn’t a lot of experience among the medical community about this particular combination. On the other hand, the type of cancer it is, never mind the location, is somewhat well known, and the prognosis, I’m told, is good.”
Now for the weird news: we got tipped off to this from a press release that came from… Peter Tork.
Yep, Tork’s camp sent out the press release announcing the cancer diagnosis and the surgery, and fleshing out the story with quotes, Tork’s backstory, and a listing of tour dates with Shoe Suede Blues, his new band. Far be it from me to accuse someone of being crass who was just diagnosed with a rare form of a cancer, but as Maura asked me, “Who sends out a press release about their cancer?”
Here is my non-cynical take: Peter Tork was a member of the Monkees, a huge band in their day, with millions of fans all over the world. The press release is good-natured and includes a link to a Web site for those who want to educate themselves on the disease. Celebrities with diseases often use their pulpits to help raise awareness, which is admirable; Natalie Cole sent one out last year about her battle with Hepatitis C.
His people probably thought that fans would genuinely like to know what was happening to him, and, hey, throw some tour dates there on the end while we’re at it; if nothing else, it shows how hopeful Tork is about his own recovery.
I think that part of the ooginess I felt while reading this release-–and part of Maura’s reticence in covering it-–is that, in this age of reality shows and Twitters and Perez Hilton, it’s hard to take an announcement like this at face value. A Google News search for “Peter Tork” brings up 27 recent articles about his cancer—that’s 27 more people talking about him than were yesterday. Press releases like this aren’t uncommon; I’ve even heard tales of publicists shopping artists with diseases to publications to manufacture press.
There’s a delicate balance to be struck between getting the facts out there and self-promotion. I once had a band member die in a bad van accident on the eve of an album’s release, and I struggled with mentioning the product in any statement I sent out. Hell, just sending out a statement was an issue. Ultimately, it came down to story management (a big part of a PR person’s life); facts needed to be straightened out, so I presented them as best I could while being respectful.
Daniel Gill of independent promo company Force Field PR encountered a similar situation with the recent passing of Telefon Tel Aviv’s Charlie Cooper on the eve of the duo’s album release. In the end, Gill and Cooper’s bandmate Joshua Eustis of the band decided to eschew a press release, instead directing all inquiries to Eustis’ statement on Telefon Tel Aviv’s MySpace. Gill says they did this out of respect for Cooper’s family and to have one central statement to control the details of the story.
An additional dark side of both of these kinds of stories (beyond the human tragedy, of course) is that a hook like a disease (or a marriage, or a baby) often results in interest from publications that might not have covered these artists before. Maybe the problem is ours, and not that of the people sending out the releases.
1960′s Pop Idol from The Monkees, Peter Tork, Announces He Has Cancer [Billboard Publicity Wire]