That darn press! Writing Dean Jones' obit without facts on his spiritual rebirth

Dean Jones made us all laugh with his honest-guy face and his Disney-designed dilemmas, in comedies like The Love Bug and That Darn Cat! But he also drank heavily and cheated on his wife -- until he came to Jesus and experienced a spiritual rebirth.

His life as a believer lasted the last half of his 84 years. But when Jones died this week, what did many obits fixate on? With few examples, the answer was the same: the showbiz angle.

The Associated Press -- in an obit used by several news media -- trots out the list of snickery titles in which Dean Jones acted: not only the above two, but Million Dollar Duck, Monkeys Go Home and Under the Yum Yum Tree.

In pedestrian AP style, the obit says Jones appeared in five Broadway shows and 46 films, including 10 for Disney.  It drops the names of those he worked with, including Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock and Jane Fonda in the play There Was a Little Girl.

What of his faith? Nada.

USA Today is little different. Its obit lists some of his pro-Christian work ...

A committed Christian, Jones later founded the Christian Rescue Committee (now Christian Rescue Fund), which helped rescue Jews, Christians and others persecuted for their faith. Jones’ other charitable activities included international child-care and world hunger.

... as if it were a natural outgrowth of his showbiz stuff. (At least the story mentioned the Christian Rescue Fund, now part of the Jubilee Campaign. Sounds like a worthwhile cause.)

And as you’ve seen from the video atop this article, Entertainment Tonight likewise has not a hint of the life change that marked Jones since the early 1970s.

But what of the Los Angeles Times, the biggest paper in Tinseltown? It's only marginally better.

The Times reports how Jones rubbed elbows with the likes of James Cagney and Elizabeth Taylor. Also how he continued to work in later years in films like Clear and Present Danger and Other People's Money. Then it tosses in this:

Despite his success, however, Jones' personal life was a shambles. He left "Company" shortly after the opening and was drawn to self-destructive behavior.
Later, he had a religious conversion -- he became a born-again Christian -- that altered the course not only of his life but also his career choices.
"I won't blaspheme God," he told Christianity Today in 2009. "That immediately eliminates most scripts."

Having thus tantalized us, what does the paper add?

Not much. It has Jones confessing, "I was showing up at home smelling of perfume that wasn't my wife's." And that he "underwent a personal conversion," without explaining that. And that Jones believed that "Film and television have been partially responsible for the disconnect between our nation and our God."

For more than that, we have to head east -- for one, the New York Times, which adds some actual spiritual content.

We get prepped with the newspaper's account of Jones performing in the Broadway play Company, followed by:

He soon after become a born-again Christian, and in his 1982 autobiography wrote of "Company": "It was a clever, bright show on the surface, but its underlying message declared that marriage was, at best, a vapid compromise, insoluble and finally destructive."

But unlike the Times on the west coast, this article delivers:

In 1973, Mr. Jones married the actress Lory Patrick, and later that year he had what he called a religious awakening. It came after a night of drinking and reckless stunt driving at a construction site in which he and a passenger could have been killed.
"A tremendous sense of fulfillment that had eluded me all my life became the ‘sign’ I had asked God for," he recounted in his autobiography, "Under Running Laughter." (The title came from the Francis Thompson poem "The Hound of Heaven.")
His faith would influence many of his later career choices. In 1978, he played the jailed Watergate conspirator Charles Colson, also a born-again Christian, in the feature film "Born Again." In 1986, he starred in "Into the Light," a short-lived Broadway musical about the Shroud of Turin, as well as a one-man play, "St. John in Exile."

Even better, the Washington Post tells us -- starting right in the headline -- "How troubled Disney star Dean Jones, who just died at 84, found 'the peace of Christ.' " And not the vagaries in other reports, but seven paragraphs of stuff like:

Yet, after a drunk-driving accident and what the Chicago Sun-Times called "an entertainer’s tour" of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Jones’s outlook changed in the early 1970s. He said he had a "divine visitation" that gave him "a peace I had never before had but which I had longed for."
"I knew that if there didn’t come something that changed my life, that I would probably end up a pretty mess at some point or another," he said in 1997. "And the night that I said ‘yes’ to the lord, it changed instantly. The peace of Christ rolled over me like an ocean wave and I’ve never been the same."
Though he would never top his years with Disney, Jones worked somewhat steadily in the mainstream as well as in Christian productions. One of these was, curiously, an account of the crimes and Christian conversion of Watergate figure Charles Colson called "Born Again" (1978).

None of the obits I saw, though, mention Jones' work with Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, here in my home territory. In 2000, he teamed up with the Rev. D. James Kennedy, president of CRM, to host two syndicated documentaries titled Who is This Jesus? As senior producer Jerry Newcombe of CRM (now D. James Kennedy Ministries) tells me, the specials were a rebuttal to ABC's liberal-leaning special "The Search for Jesus."

Interestingly, several mainstream obits quote Jones' 2009 interview in Christianity Today -- four times in the L.A. Times. Here's the CT article, if you want a closer look.

A final irony in the AP obit is when Jones talked about his Disney projects:

I see something in them that is pure form. Just entertainment. No preaching," he told the Los Angeles Times. "We're always looking for social significance but maybe people just like to be entertained."

In this case, many media didn't look for social significance. So I'm especially grateful for the two major newspapers that told us what Dean Jones was really like, and what he became.

Thumbnail photo: Screenshot from Entertainment Tonight obit on Dean Jones.

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