For Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, who died late March 19 at the ripe old age of 84, “Only the Good Die Young” was more than just a catchy Billy Joel song. The mere fact of his extended longevity seemed like a spirited defense of this very cliché.
“[The WBC] confirmed the death, declaring on one of its websites, ‘Fred W. Phelps Sr. has gone the way of all flesh,’” reported Michael Paulson in The New York Times on Thursday. “The church did not give a cause of death, but Phelps had been living under hospice care.”
As I outlined in my Aug. 15, 2012 column, “Fred Phelps’ marketing lesson,” the WBC has proven itself an equal-opportunity offender. In the 1953 film “The Wild One,” Marlon Brando’s character, Johnny, is asked what he is rebelling against. “What do you got?” he answers. Phelps took this idea to its logical conclusion.
He and his Topeka, Kan.-based family/church — which was founded in the 1950s — made their presence felt at everything from the funerals of gay murder victims like Matthew Shepard, to otherwise solemn occasions honoring countless deceased members of the armed forces. His message was simple: You are doomed.
He and his small band of cohorts gave common cause to disparate groups through their relentless awfulness. In opposing Phelps, KKK members, LGBT advocates and military families all suddenly had novel, unfamiliar reasons to work against the same thing.
May we never witness the likes of such a human black hole again. He was a hater’s hater; a real purist when it came to negativity.
Sadly for those who would like to return the favor, CNN’s Daniel Burke relayed the news Thursday that Phelp’s daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said they would not hold a funeral. “We do not worship the dead,” she told the network.