This year is off to a rough start as far as beloved celebrities go. We lost David Bowie AND Alan Rickman within days of each other, and then Glenn Frey from The Eagles just a few short days after that. Abe Vigoda, whom everyone joked about being dead, finally died. Today, unbelievably, it’s Chyna and Prince.
It’s a bizarre feeling when someone famous dies because even though you didn’t personally know that celebrity it doesn’t mean they didn’t have an effect on your life. You had your first kiss to one of their songs. You saw one of their movies with your dad when you were a kid. This entertainer had no idea who you were, and your paths never crossed, but they’ve somehow been there with you.
And then they’re gone.
It’s not like you spent every day of your life talking about Alan Rickman while running an Instagram fan account where you posted your drawings and sketches of his characters, but it still makes an impact. So what do you do? You do what everyone does now and write about it in your big, public journal known as social media. You write about their impact on your life or share YouTube videos of their songs that remind you of a special time in your life. You change your profile picture to their photo and read every old interview they gave. Basically, you have your own personal memorial service.
The problem with this is that some people get really upset when they see others mourning the loss of someone famous because they don’t believe the other person is qualified to be as sad as they appear. “Oh, you’re sad David Bowie died? Then why don’t you name me three of his songs that aren’t on his top Spotify tracks? Yeah, I thought so.”
I get it. It feels frustrating to see someone that you’ve held so close to your heart being claimed by countless other people who were casual fans at best. How dare they pretend to care as much as you care? You were going to their concerts before this random idiot was even born. This is MY thing, and YOU can’t have it!
It may sound petty, but it’s just another form of mourning. It’s sadness in knowing that your special thing is also someone else’s special thing. You’re protective of the things you love, so when someone you feel is undeserving tries to love it you push them back.
Dealing with the death of someone famous whom you were a fan of is like watching your ex-girlfriend start to date again. Sure, you don’t have any business in whom she goes out with now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t check out her Instagram from time to time to see who she’s hanging out with. “This guy? THIS guy? Uh, no. He’s got a ponytail and checked in at Wendy’s on FourSquare. Who uses FourSquare anymore? And what does he want to do? Be the mayor of Wendy’s? Oh, real cool, dude. Look at you, Mr. Wendy’s. No. You’re not allowed to love her. Get away.”
The truth is, a lot of the time it’s not the loss of the person that hurts so much. It’s the realization of your own mortality.
On paper, celebrity deaths should not affect us at all. It’s not like your life is going to greatly change because an actor you enjoyed passed away and won’t be in any other movies. That’s not to sound heartless, but in the grand scheme of things it shouldn’t really mean anything. People die every day. People die tragically every day. So why does the passing of an aging entertainer bother us so much?
The truth is, a lot of the time it’s not the loss of the person that hurts so much. It’s the realization of your own mortality. It’s realizing the evidence of your youth is fading away. It’s coming to terms with the fact that, with each of these deaths, a little piece of you passes away as well.
So it’s not just, “Robin Williams died.” It’s “I’m a little farther away from watching Aladdin with your brother when you were 9 and had that giant blizzard that canceled school” and a little closer to my own demise. It’s “laughing at Mrs. Doubtfire with Liz Simpson on your first date together” is now something that much more removed from your present day. It’s tragic that Robin Williams passed, but you didn’t know him. What you did know was all the good times you had attached to him. The fading of those cherished memories is the most personal thing you could ever feel.
If you’re someone who gets mad at people on Facebook for “pretending” to be fans, just realize that there are people who were actually close to Prince or David Bowie who could look at you and say, “Look at this guy acting like his death devastated him. Oh, you’re not going to get any more music or movies? Great. I lost a personal friend. I lost someone I love.”
Then there are even closer friends and family members who could look at those guys and say the exact same thing they said about you. In a way, we are all that pretender fan. That’s perfectly fine. You don’t need to prove how much you cared about someone to be sad about their passing. So what if a bunch of teenagers become fans just because he was trending on Twitter? The way someone’s legacy stays alive is by passing it on to the next generation. And don’t forget that, at some point, you were that teenaged kid discovering a band for the first time, too.
Rob Fee is a comedy writer. Twitter: @robfee