‘It’s hell being famous’: second violent death of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions (2024)

That fame can come with a price is a truism most associated with stars of film and screen or other arts. But the inhabitants of one small town in rural Alabama, deep in the American south, have discovered the truth of that notion via one of the most popular mediums of the internet age: the podcast.

Woodstock, a speck on the map halfway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, was the subject of the hit 2017 podcast S-Town, which followed the often bizarre goings-on, and even more complex relationships, in a small American community where nothing was ever quite as it seemed.

Some are questioning just what the price of that fame was as – for the second time – an untimely death has struck one of the central characters, shocking not only Woodstock but fans around the world.

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Last Sunday Tyler Goodson was fatally shot by police in what law enforcement described as a standoff, saying Goodson, 32, had “brandished a gun” at the officers. His death – he was declared “brain dead” on Tuesday - came eight years after the suicide of his friend and antiquarian horologist John B McLemore.

Both men were known to millions of S-Town fans. As Alabama’s state bureau of investigation began an investigation into Goodson’s death, the Woodstock mayor, Jeff Dodson, said: “Tyler was well-known and loved by myself, his family and this community. That love extends far beyond due to the S-Town podcast.”

While the circ*mstances of Goodson’s confrontation with police are yet to be fully understood, a second death in the orbit of the seven-episode podcast has renewed questions about the hit show, and accusations of media voyeurism.

Goodson told the Associated Press soon after S-Town launched – it was downloaded or streamed more than 80m times – that it had brought a deluge of attention on him and the town, but had not done him any favors.

“It’s a sad story, especially if you’re part of it,” Goodson, who had worked as a tattoo artist and plant worker, told the news agency. A year later, after S-Town had won a Peabody award, Goodson was questioning whether or not participating had been worth it.

“It’s hell being famous without the rich part,” he told Esquire in 2018. “If money came along with it, I wouldn’t feel near as bad about it.”

Last weekend, police spent three hours trying to talk Goodson out of a house before they shot him. Moments before Goodson was killed, at 1.39am, he posted a message to Facebook saying: “Police bout to shoot me down in my own yard.”

Six years ago, the six-and-a-half-hour podcast was released by the makers of Serial, which launched as a spinoff of This American Life and became a 2014 phenomenon when Sarah Koenig, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, spent more than a year re-investigating the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old high school student, Hae Min Lee.

‘It’s hell being famous’: second violent death of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions (1)

That was followed by the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009, then was captured and held by the Taliban for five years and later charged as a deserter.

The third installment of the series, S-Town, hit harder. It followed the story of McLemore, who had written to This American Life in 2012 asking them to look into an alleged murder in Woodstock, which he referred to as sh*t Town.

The story went from true crime to McLemore’s life, the lives of his family members and his close friend, Goodson, and their not-quite father-and-son relationship, which included hanging out at Goodson’s tattoo shop, Black Sheep Ink, and building a maze in McLemore’s backyard.

It was in the brutal third episode that McLemore’s family, and Goodson, deal with his suicide in June 2015, aged 49.

Goodson got a commemorative tattoo of his friend and told Esquire that “John B was my employer and just about the closest friend I’ve had. He acted like a father figure, because he knew my sperm donor wasn’t worth a damn. Hell, I learned a lot from him … He was probably the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

Two years later, S-Town dropped, and that private tragedy became a public one. “I was just clusterf*cked,” Goodson recalled to the magazine. He said he cried throughout. It was the first time he learned McLemore had had intimate relationships with men.

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Goodson said he did not care to judge. “I had my thoughts, but it wasn’t none of my business on his sexuality and all that,” he said. “I don’t have nothing against hom*osexuals, but it was too much for me. I felt like they took that a little far.”

Reviewers had begun to voice concern that the makers of the show had intruded too far. Writing in the Guardian, Gay Alcorn wrote that “McLemore’s agonies are laid out for our entertainment, with scant reflection by the podcast’s reporter as to the ethics of what he’s doing. Journalism requires a purpose beyond telling a ‘good’ story.”

The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson said that S-Town had helped advance the art of audio storytelling “but it also edges us closer to a discomfiting realm of well-intentioned voyeurism on a scale we haven’t quite experienced before”.

By then, S-Town had gripped the public’s imagination. Fans of the podcast, Goodson said, dropped by the property he shared with his wife, four daughters, son, grandmother and uncle.

Goodson tried to cash in on his fame, selling T-shirts with “Black Sheep of S-Town” on the back via Facebook. Reality TV opportunities came up, but he turned them down partly because he was in a court case over personal belongings, including two buses and an 18-wheeler trailer, on McLemore’s property that he had been prevented from accessing by his heirs.

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‘It’s hell being famous’: second violent death of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions (3)

His life began to unravel. Goodson pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, third-degree theft of property and third-degree criminal trespassing. He received a suspended 10-year sentence with five years of probation.

McLemore’s estate filed a claim in Alabama circuit court claiming that the podcast’s producers exploited McLemore by airing salacious details about his sexual orientation, depression and other mental health issues without consent.

“None of these ‘mysteries’ are matters of legitimate public concern, nor were these matters that McLemore contacted Reed to investigate or write about,” the lawsuit, which was filed under Alabama’s right of publicity laws, said. “Instead, they generally involved the most private matters of McLemore’s life.”

In 2019, a judge called the claim that the producers had used McLemore’s identity for commercial purposes “plausible”. A year later, in 2020, it was settled out of court. A lawyer for the McLemore estate said he was satisfied the creators of the podcast acted responsibly and appropriately in their reporting.

That had little bearing on Goodson. Two years earlier he had described Woodstock as “the same old sh*t Town”. Last week the Woodstock mayor’s office said they were not able to discuss what had happened until investigators delivered a report. Separately, the county coroner said Goodson had been declared “brain dead” on Tuesday night at a hospital and his organs were being prepared for donation.

‘It’s hell being famous’: second violent death of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions (2024)


Who is the narrator of the S-Town podcast? ›

S-Town is a podcast hosted by Brian Reed from Serial Productions, a New York Times company. The story follows a man named John who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it.

Who is the narrator for creepy podcast? ›

The program is hosted and created by Jon Grilz who narrates some of the most popular and frightening short fiction horror stories on the internet.

Is the S-Town podcast a true story? ›

The only problem is, S-Town isn't a true crime podcast. Sorry, Serial fans, but this program won't provide you with a new case to obsess over. Instead, what Reed and company have created in seven episodes is something completely distinct. Even in the first episode, it becomes clear that John B.

Who is the host of the Badlands podcast? ›

True-crime anthology podcast from Jake Brennan, creator and host. Listen each week for wild stories about Mike Tyson, Oscar Pistorius, Aaron Hernandez, Evel Knievel, Pete Rose, Spider Sabich...

How old is John B McLemore? ›

It was in the brutal third episode that McLemore's family, and Goodson, deal with his suicide in June 2015, aged 49.

Where does the Our Town podcast take place? ›

The Our Town Podcast showcases all that is good in Alabama's towns. Each week guests are invited from business, sports, entertainment, education, the arts, and so much more to discuss all aspects of living and working in Huntsville.

Who is the mother of John McLemore? ›

McLemore's mother, Mary Grace McLemore, is the estate's heir.)

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