This week we all had the unfortunate task of saying goodbye to two celebrated and beloved icons, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. With Bowie’s eccentric style and music and Rickman’s dry humor and villainess ways, they were two extremely different performers, but loved so much that the world is mourning their loss with heavy hearts.
Celebrity deaths happen often, as it’s a natural part of life. And while the majority of us don’t know any of these celebrities personally, we still shed tears over the loss. Why is that? Why do we mourn the death of these celebrities like they’re a close friend or family member?
The answer is simple – when we’re a fan of a public figure, they become a part of our lives. Not a physical part like friends and family, but an accessory. They become something that means something special to us, and when that something is gone, it’s almost as if a part of us is gone, too. We mourn out of nostalgia rather than personal grief.
When someone like Alan Rickman dies, we’re sad because Rickman played characters that we treasure. Suddenly our Severus Snape really IS gone, and it makes us sad. We know from the people that were close to him that he really was one of the most loving, generous, loyal, and nice people around, which is great, but it’s not something that we know first-hand. Yet here we are, reading tributes to him on the internet, and crying.
I can think of a handful of celebrity deaths that made me cry – Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, River Phoenix, Cory Monteith, James Horner, Christopher Lee, Michael Jackson…people I never knew and never would know, yet people who had an impact on me at some point of my life. And because of that, I felt that loss.
Of course it’s a different kind of mourning we go through than when someone we personally know dies. When friends and family pass, the mourning seeps into your whole body, it becomes something physical that you can’t really shake. Sometimes it’s hard to cry because the sadness is too much…because it’s too real. And it’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.
It’s not like that when a celebrity dies. Not to say that crying over a celebrity is something superficial or fake, because it’s not. But there’s that distance we can put between the death that makes it seem, well, not so bad. Yes, we were all sad when Robin Williams died. Many of us cried. We thought of those moments when he became a part of your life, like when you saw “Aladdin” for the first time, or when “Good Will Hunting” was your favorite movie for a few years. But that sadness wasn’t the same sadness his family and friends felt when he was suddenly gone from their lives.
I know lots of people who think it’s silly to mourn a celebrity’s death. “It’s not like you actually knew them”, they’ll say. And that’s fine if they want to think that way. But don’t let that stop you from mourning. And don’t let it stop you from celebrating what that celebrity brought to your life. Because when it comes down to it, that’s what we’re doing. Today, although we’re sad, we’re celebrating the joy that Alan Rickman brought us when he played the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham. We’re celebrating the life of David Bowie by listening to his music.
And that’s the silver lining in all of this: film, music, print…all the things that celebrities did are here forever. Sure, we can miss these people because they won’t be making more movies or performing music or writing books, but we’ll always have access to the stuff that made us love them. So in a way they’ll always be a part of us whether they’re alive or not.