The True Murder Story of Jack Black’s ‘Bernie’

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"The True Murder Story of Jack Black’s ‘Bernie’"

I’m recommending this piece for sheer weirdness, because Joe Rhodes’ story of how his awful aunt became estranged from her family, took up with a gay funeral director who was generally considered the nicest man in her Texas town, how he murdered her impulsively, and how the whole mess became the Jack Black movie Bernie is something to behold:

I was living in Los Angeles when Aunt Marge was murdered in 1996 and hadn’t been to Carthage, where I was born, in quite a few years. I went back for the trial in 1998 because, let’s face it, it’s not often that someone in your family becomes the focus of a sensational murder case, on the local news for weeks at a time, the circumstances of her demise so tawdry and bizarre that the story appeared in People magazine, on “Hard Copy” and, eventually, on the guilty-pleasure pinnacle of true-crime cable-TV programs, “City Confidential.” And there was something about Aunt Marge’s ending up in a freezer that seemed appropriate. She’d always been kind of coldhearted. It was not an unfitting end.

Aunt Marge wasn’t on speaking terms with anyone in her immediate family when she died. Not my mother, with whom she’d had an ugly falling out over the terms of my grandfather’s will. Not her only child, Rod Nugent Jr., a successful Amarillo pathologist she hadn’t seen in years, or her grandchildren, who sued her over some trust money she wouldn’t let them have. When informed that Marge died, the first thing my Aunt Sue, her other sister, said was, “What a relief.”

There’s a lot of talk about how reality television enables people to humiliate themselves for money. But we never needed camera crews following us everywhere to voice unacceptable emotions in art. It’s pretty impressively cold to be comfortable saying things this unflattering about your murdered relative, and to work out your emotions about her murder through a black comedy. I’m not sure it’s behavior I would want to engage in myself, but I’m not sure I can quite condemn it either.

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