Marie Osmond, Mormondom’s Princess Di

Like so many other women, who didn’t think they thought much about Princess Di while she was alive, my grief at her death surprised me. Many in the media expressed confusion that average people would care so much about a woman who spent more on cosmetics in a year than many of us earn. A woman who, even before marrying into a royal family, and after divorcing from it, had a life of great privilege. I myself couldn’t understand it. But just as the news from Paris thirteen years ago cut an unexpectedly personal wound in me, so too did today’s news of the death of Marie Osmond’s son.

Too young to have experienced it firsthand, my relationship to the Osmonds’ music is mostly of the retro, so-bad-its-awesome variety. The fabulously dated hair and costumes, the “little bit rock’n’roll” that couldn’t be less so. But I can’t resist the story of a woman trying to muddle through hard times, coming out strong for herself as best she can.

Sure, Marie isn’t really one of us. There is an I-don’t-even-know-how-many stories tall picture of her on the side of a building on the Las Vegas Strip. In terms of finance and name recognition, she’s several stratospheres apart. But like Princess Di, she wears her vulnerability on her designer sleeve. (In Marie’s case, probably one she designed herself.) They share an inexplicable everywoman quality that, try as they might to cover it up with expensive foundation, oozes forth its lumpy mix of unfulfilled promises and life-sustaining small joys, crying out, “I’m you!”

Marie has hit all the good Mormon mom no-no’s and tragedies: working mom, divorced, lesbian daughter, post-partum depression. (Here, too, she outdoes us real everywomen, who can only claim a couple of these.) But for every Mormon failing, there is a very Mormon success. She makes dolls. They look to me like projects from a nightmarishly difficult Honors version of RS Enrichment Night. They remind me of all the jars I’ve canned. Preserving pieces of homegrown fruit, I was also preserving dreams of being that perfect Mormon mom I can never seem to be. If love can cover a multitude of sins, perhaps that is why we Mormon women pour so much of it into tenderly made jars, centerpieces, scrapbooks, cookies, tomato plants, lesson handouts and dolls. I may not have as much patience as I need, but I do have a shelf full of old-school Mormon woman canned goods, and I hope it counts for something.

The fact of Marie’s continued public life reminds us that even if we’re not perfect, and, just as importantly, even if everyone finds out we’re not perfect, it will be ok. We won’t have to go into hiding. That’s what that giant smiling billboard on the Strip says to me: “I’m not perfect, and I’m not hiding.”

Though Mormon women like to have a general veneer of perfect, ward Relief Societies being intimate as they are, we also know who else in the ward has been divorced, whose daughter is pregnant and whose son is in trouble with the law. To a remarkable degree, we still accept each other and strive for that elusive perfection together. At its best, that’s what Relief Society is. Maybe the reason we ache for Marie and Dianna is that we want to gather them in and protect them the way we do with our sisters in the ward, but they’re just out of reach.


  1. Thank you for your well written thoughts on this iconic figurine of Americana. It is easy to be harsh in our criticisms of her public persona, but any parent will immediately sympathize with the unimaginable horror of loosing a child, and we instantly remember that she is a human parent just like us.

    Although I am not a Mormon, I admire much in the American Mormon culture and that added dimension makes her all the more interesting to follow. Perfectionism is heartless taskmaster and to watch people battle it can be fascinating.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    A lovely meditation.

    All those no-nos and tragedies are actually an integral part of her appeal.

  3. Great post.

    I was also preserving dreams of being that perfect Mormon mom I can never seem to be.

    Painfully true. :)

  4. We all love the icons who are just like us after all is said and done.

    Marie has always seemed to me to be a wonderful, caring, copmpassionate person – and she hasn’t let her experiences make her jaded and cynical. I admire and respect that tremendously.

  5. I grew up with the Osmonds in the old Pacoima Ward (CA). I saw them go from a poor family to a rich one.
    I was there for Maria’s Blessing (finally a girl!).
    I have watch over the years their/her falls, and their/her recoveries. I wish them only the best.

  6. Crap! I don’t even have any jars of canned goods!! (And I say “crap” in public)

    This is lovely, Cynthia–thank you.

  7. SB2,
    Thanks for doing this. Very touching.

  8. Marie’s son Michael just passed away of apparent suicide after long depression. The story is here.

    This event makes the series on chronic depression that much more timely and important. My heart and prayers go out to Marie and her family.

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Cynthia, beautiful post. (And SO TRUE about the canning!)

    I’m imagining how Marie must be feeling about her son’s suicide. Utterly heartbreaking.

  10. I say crap too. And maybe I need more public Mormons who are flawed and real and messy like me.

    I never saw the parallel between Diana and Marie, but as soon as I read it, it felt very right. Thanks SB2.

  11. I believe a lot of Mormons put on a fake happy face. Some don’t no how to get out of the religion right. I believe that was part of her sons depression. Worried about getting out of the religion and not wanting to make people unhappy doing so. Just my opinion.

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 11
    There’s a blog post just waiting to be born from that comment.

  13. Chris Henrichsen says:

    Plenty of people, including plenty of Osmonds, have been able to leave the church through other means. It appears that this was of a serious clinical nature. Nice try.

  14. Chris Henrichsen says:


    Read the post right after reading about this and a number of other suicides in the Des News. I really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

  15. I guess this is a generational/”where did I grow up” thing. I’m (almost) 40 with ties to Utah (but raised outside Utah). I’ve never considered the Osmonds a cultural symbol of Mormonism.

    A couple of my brothers who are several years younger than me know she’s Mormon, but say that in their age cohort, she’s the doll lady on QVC.

  16. I was not raised Mormon. I grew up playing with Donny and Marie dolls and watching them on TV. I loved them. I still do. I’ve actually turned on QVC just to watch Marie because she makes me happy. (I’m totally not into dolls now.)

    I hadn’t heard about her son. How tragic.

  17. unknown #11: I think it’s pretty rude to speculate like that about reasons for the suicide right now (and blame loved ones who are hurting the most!). Just my opinion.

  18. StillConfused says:

    I too read about her poor son and how he felt he needed to end his life because he didn’t “fit in”. He was such a young man. I guess he didn’t know that none of us ever really feel like we fit in. Any many of us don’t want to.

    I also wonder how hard it is to feel like you are in the spotlight especially as a teenager. Luckily I didn’t have that problem so my sillinesses and challenges as a teenager didn’t make it into the news.

  19. My sister used to work someplace where celebrities were regular clientèle. Before she did DWTS, Marie Osmond came in for something and my sister reports that she got a VERY warm reception and that employees talked about her after she left (in a complimentary way) much more than many other (more famous to me) stars. That surprised me.

    I feel for the family–what a hard thing to have happen.

  20. I knew a sis from my mission who lost her son to suicide. At the funeral I recall that sister telling my companion and I “that the Spirit is carrying her thru”. I hope the same will be true for Sis Osmond and her family. I think we do need to remember what Donny Osmond said in his statement, about praying for them and respecting their privacy.

  21. “If love can cover a multitude of sins, perhaps that is why we Mormon women pour so much of it into tenderly made jars, centerpieces, scrapbooks, cookies, tomato plants, lesson handouts and dolls.”

    I flunked out of centerpieces, scrapbooks and dolls, but oh yeah, you nailed it.

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  22. I flunked out of centerpieces, scrapbooks, dolls, tomato plants, and lesson handouts, but I’m great with the cookies. (Unless you meant baking them?)

    Great post, Cynthia. “I’m not perfect, and I’m not hiding.” = my favorite line.

  23. michellefrommadison says:

    Has it been determined yet whether the suicide was after a telephone made by Nancy Grace of CNN to his home where she may have berated him to the point of considering suicide, because she’s in federal court right now for doing that to another victim?

  24. interesting comparison…I know we all try to put on our happy faces and there is something to be said of that, but it is also true that the 5 minutes you speak with someone at church give you NO idea as to what is really going on in their lives…not even a tip of the iceberg picture.

    “I’m not perfect and I’m not hiding”-what a great reminder to do what you can and refuse to be stopped by what you cannot do.

  25. Love that not hiding part. It is something I’ve (maybe too) brazenly admitted at church sometimes and gotten a mixed response. But perhaps I should keep trying. Although I’m not generally talking about canning — that is so far off my spectrum. I’m moreso usually saying “nope, didn’t have time, will try better next month” with visiting teaching.

  26. Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, has a thoughtful peace about suicide with mention of Michael Osmond. It focuses on the role of family members in helping those who may be suicidal. Anyways, it made me think of this thread.

  27. I definitely agree with the title of this post. My apathy towards both figures is such that I can hardly decide for whom I care less.

  28. Cynthia L. says:

    Peter, didn’t your mother ever tell you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”? Or, as Sai Baba said, “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?”

  29. I’m not Mormon, and not female, but I find a lot to admire in Marie Osmond. She was first presented to us as a perfect young woman, sweet and talented and religious, too. Her life since has brought challenges she could never have foreseen then, forcing her to become more worldly. What has been great to see is that she her increase in worldiness has never made her coarse. She’s not perfect, she’s just trying to do the right thing. What more can you ask? By the way, I am appalled at Roseanne Barr’s charges about Marie’s son. Marie has been about as vocal as she can be about gay rights and still keep her temple recommend, and Roseanne’s cheap shot is her thanks? What a vicious thing for Roseanne to do.

  30. If Marie is Princess Di, I must be the Englishman who emigrated to Canada to get away from it.

    As someone said above, my generation of Mormons doesn’t see Marie as much more than a doll hawker.

    (I’m sure she’s a good person, but she hasn’t been relative to cultural Mormonism in 30 years.)

  31. Some young people commit suicide because they cannot live up to the idealism or the aspirations of their parents. Marie osmond was not and could never be a Princess Di.they grew up in totally different environments. Marie is the income provider of her family , Princess Di was a figurehead with a guaranteed income.

  32. Chris Henrichsen says:


    You are missing the point of the comparison. It is the role they played in their respective communities. Anyways, no need to attack either of these woman.

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