I haven’t written anything before about the apparent spate of celebrity deaths because I wanted to give it a bit of thought. In 2016 it seemed that someone “important” died nearly every day. However I agree with a lot of what has been written about the illusory nature of this. It is clear that in today’s climate of 24/7 television, social media and the internet that we are aware of so many more people in the public eye. And any form of fame seems to last a much longer time rather than being the classic “15 minutes of fame” that it often is. The ability to appear on reality shows,chat shows, quiz shows, twitter and take part in charity events gives that fame a longevity it may not once have had. So when we hear that someone we “know” has died it can have a bigger impact that it once had.
One example of this is Zsa Zsa Gabor who died at (probably) 99 years old. (No one was really sure of her age). I have known of this woman all my life but in all honesty I cannot really say why? She was certainly beautiful but so were lots of starlets then and they mostly fell by the wayside. She had a couple of cameos in films and was known to have married lots of times but I haven’t a clue as to how she became famous or why this continued for over 70 years! And this was before we had the self-promotional opportunities provided by the internet.
But this sense of knowing someone can lead to a sense of loss when they die. My first experience of this was the death of Princess Diana. I wasn’t really a “fan” of hers but why would I be? I didn’t even know her. But when she died I genuinely didn’t understand why my mother was crying. And the overwhelming grief of the nation mystified me – how were all these people feeling such a strong sense of bereavement?
Maybe the feeling is stronger as we get older and the death of a famous “peer” is a reminder that dying ourselves might be close. At the age of 17 I was studying at the local college and saw the cool kids carrying albums under their arms of this strange guy with zigzags painted on his face. Although I never really got into Bowie being more of a soul girl, he has been a musical presence all of my life so it did sadden me when it was announced that he’d died. But I think this was down to a poignancy that it was the end of an era rather than a feeling that the world would be a lesser place without him.
The death of people we know personally and through the media are marking the passage of time and reminding us of our own mortality. To acknowledge it as such is part of our acceptance of the inevitability of death.