Thursday, January 31, 2008

Short Story: The Suicide of Courtney Rayner

This is the rough draft of the short story I wrote in San Francisco. Feedback is welcome. This work is subject to a Creative Commons license (see below.)

The Suicide of Courtney Rayner
by Jason Mical
San Francisco, CA 2008

When Courtney Rayner finally committed suicide in front of the Chinese Theater the Nation claimed to be many things: depressed, pessimistic, faded, even a little sad. No one claimed to be surprised. The previous months were some of the most turbulent and troubled in the life of Rayner and by extension the Nation: the public fights with an eventual divorce from her husband, the late-night glamorous parties at the most exclusive of clubs, the entering and leaving of rehab and the now-famous breakdown on national television. The last occurred in what would become known as Courtney’s “hell week,” the seven days before ending her life in front of her last audience.

Great care was taken in creating the character of Courtney Rayner from the beginning: a marketable, fresh-cut, girl-next door actress and singer who could be equally comfortable selling movies to tweens as she was selling concert tickets to tweens. It is no mistake that the only people who use the term “tween” are the cynical types who see nothing but opportunities for financial gain from art, and it is these men and women who helped craft that perfect heroine. Great playwrights were humbled by the process, as even their most spectacular onstage personas only had two or three hours of life at the absolute maximum; Courney Rayner was a method-process that spanned ten years and millions of dollars in investments.

As the backgrounds on her compact discs switched from pink to more adult shades of blue and then to black on white, so too did Courtney’s character grow with her audience. Her dancing went from innocent to suggestive to erotic. And carefully-crafted rumors began to circulate about her wild and carefree lifestyle. If she wore a new pair of sunglasses, it was guaranteed that 100,000 girls would purchase the same pair in the next week. The Nation was almost Pavolvian in its predictability when it came to Courtney Rayner.

After the fact, many of the Nation’s experts agree that the toll of playing Rayner was simply too much for a young actress to handle. Others indicate that only once in the span of her ten-year career did Rayner ever step out of character, the breakdown on the Tara Sanders Show. That video is still the most played video on YouTube, and numbers do not lie. But the role was executed with such accuracy that it seems almost unfair to criticize an artist for a blunder that amounts to a fraction of a percentage of the overall time spent in character. That mistake is reprinted in whole at the end of this story for interested parties.[1]

As hell week began, the bookies who thusfar profited greatly from the Courtney Rayner death pool stopped taking bets. Evidence of cocaine use mounted, and the police were said to be waiting for Rayner on the lot outside of the Tara Sanders Show; she narrowly avoided them by running to a friend’s waiting Civic. Family members came forward, pleading with her to stop her partying. Somewhere, investors started drawing lines across old charts and planning what to do next with their fortunes.

In the end, Courtney Rayner died with as much dignity as she was allowed. According to the best corroboration of eyewitness accounts, at 10:52 PM on the 7th she drove her custom white Ferrari to the Chinese Theater, running it onto the curb and disturbing a homeless man camped nearby. She calmly removed a 9mm automatic pistol from her glovebox, stepped out of the car, looked down Hollywood Boulevard and without saying another word shot herself in the head. She did not miss. By the time the bullet entered her skull and ended life processes in Courtney Rayner’s brain, a crowd of about 20 people were assembled around her, many of them taking pictures, recording video or texting friends.

Within 30 seconds the first image hit Flickr and Twitter streams everywhere hummed with the news. Perez Hilton caught it from Twitter and posted an image, scooping Them magazine by a half-hour. YouTube routinely policed videos but they hit BitTorrent within minutes and had more than 500,000 seeds after an hour.

It instantly became the topic of conversation on message boards and blogs, and moved to talk shows the next day. The popular psychiatrist with his own show devoted an entire week to the problem of suicide, arguing that Rayner’s family should have done more. A month and a day later, Rayner’s previously-unknown brother crashed his BMW into a brick wall at 120 miles per hour, killing him instantly. Her husband was found in his bathroom, a pile of pills still clutched in his hand.

The Nation’s health statistics for that year list Courtney Rayner Copycat Suicides as the 45th leading cause of death, followed by accidental death from thresher insertion.

[1]Tara Sanders: Do you have anything to say to those would think you should be a better role model?

Courtney Rayner: Actually, I do. First I want to apologize. I never wanted to be a role model. It kind of goes with the territory, you know? The territory of being famous. Which I didn’t really want either, but here we are and I’m doing the best that I can at it.

Sanders (Looking uncomfortable): Right, so tell us about your plans for a comeback tour.

Rayner: Wait Tara, I’m not done yet. I mean, yes, I realize I have a responsibility. But is what I’m doing so different than what goes on in any other home across the Nation? Sure, I’ve got more money, but there are a lot of girls out there making decisions as dumb or dumber than mine. Right now, some girl is having sex with a boy she hates because she has no other way to deal with her psychological problems. Right now, there’s a girl doing weed or coke or something worse because she feels like she has no other way to deal with how she feels on the inside. Am I not a reflection of that? Am I not the Nation’s girls, just magnified a million times bigger and brighter than anyone wants to admit? Sure, we can take all the glamour and glitz but by God we can’t handle the single bit of fault. Show fault, and you’re a slut, or a drunk, or a bad kid or a bad parent or a bad person. What I have to say to them Tara is: we’re the same people. The only difference is, there’s a camera on me.

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rogerwhitson said...

really interesting. Have you considered the point of view, though? You seem to have hints of journalism lurking in the description of the event, and I really like that tone. Perhaps you could write it as a police report? or a blog? Make it part of the media reporting you mention in the story.

Jason said...

"Make it part of the media reporting you mention in the story."

That's a really good idea... I'll definitely keep that in mind for the rewrite.

tim.callington said...

A sad tale with too much resonance in the real world. I'm interested in what will happen next though. Are we reaching any kind of high water mark in our celebrity obsession...or am I just being optimistic?

courts,(: said...

Wow, a brilliantly written and imaginative story, but im quite freaked out because my name is Courtney Rayner... its so weird! I read this all the way through feeling really surreal lol.