It’s been a real shitty year for the survival of sports heroes, politicians, writers, musicians, astronauts, actors and actresses, and other people in entertainment. Every year, we lose a few well known faces, but this year has been like the end of a REALLY long day during the Hunger Games, the cannon ringing out with blast after blast, and familiar faces flashing across our screens. I pondered for a while whether it was simply the access we have to media that’s made this feel like a particularly deathly year, but I can’t recall a year in my life during which we lost 3 of the greatest athletes in their respective sports, 2 generation-defining musical talents (maybe 3, depending on what you think of Leonard Cohen, and on how Canadian you are), a supreme court justice that was the poster child for conservative villainy, a couple of powerful writers and activists, a world leader so closely tied to the idea of communism, a whole slew of actors and actresses from one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, the quintessential sit-com mom, a former first lady, and a few really young entertainers. Jesus. Some, like Gordie Howe, have cut to the very heart of my childhood. These people were woven into the fabric of my personal narrative. Such personal heroes – people like Howe and Ali and Palmer and Wiesel – these were giants to me, who were getting up there in age; it wasn’t surprising, but their absence certainly is. Others, like Prince, Glenn, Bowie, Fisher, Rickman, hell, even George Michael, these were people that I learned to appreciate as I got older. They made up the backdrop of my life, the multicolored tapestry that serves as my frame of reference.
I see so many jaded social media posts about how none of these fans know the deceased personally, and that there are so many other things to care about in the world, why waste a feeling on a celebrity? This attitude makes me crazy. I knew none of the celebrities that died this year personally; I can’t even claim to have met any of them. That doesn’t mean I didn’t know them and their work; it doesn’t mean that I ignored their faces, their contributions to the zeitgeist, or the often unwilling sacrifices these people made of their privacy so that we could all share in their gifts. And maybe that’s why these people and their deaths matter; they mark a passage of time, a way-point on the way through life, a sad reminder that we are all getting older, and that even those we collectively recognize as the best and brightest of us burn out at some point. Celebrity deaths matter simply because these people remind us of our potential – whether that is to be beautiful, or talented, or successful, or powerful, or intelligent, or wise – and their deaths remind us that, at some point, either your recognize your talents or you don’t.
So, even if YOU don’t care about the death of these celebrities, have a little empathy for people who do. They mourn the piece of their life that is now gone, however removed that piece was from reality, and they are looking up at the length of road they have before them, reminded that it doesn’t go forever.