It’s nearing the end of January and we have already lost several legends this year. Ronnie Spector, Bob Saget, Meat Loaf, Sidney Poitier, and Louie Anderson, just to name a few. Even as our favorite journalists or news sources report these deaths as soon as they can, we get lectured by some of them and even some of our own friends and family.
How dare we “care more” when a celebrity dies. How dare we feel grief over people who are famous for playing pretend, for performing music, or for telling jokes for a living. We get the guilt trips about officers, firemen, soldiers, and doctors who die with no breaking news alerts.
How is that fair? Why does grieving someone mean we “care more”. It doesn’t.
When Betty White died in December of 2021, I was hurt in a way I hadn’t been hurt since Robin Williams’ suicide. You see, those two comedians had a profound impact on my life. I grew up watching reruns of the Golden Girls and, of course, watching the movies of Robin Williams. In the case of Williams, he was in nearly every single movie that I called a favorite during my childhood.
When I was a teenager, it was going back and watching Dead Poets Society, or discovering films like Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, and several other flicks that impressed me.
What kind of impact can a celebrity really have on a little kid while growing up? Well, it wasn’t just that Robin Williams was a part of my childhood. He was part of my sister’s, too. My sister that was 22 months younger than me. My sister that died at the end of 2012 when she was only 24 years old. Losing Robin Williams, even to suicide, hurt as if I’d know him because it meant losing someone who was part of all my favorite memories with my little sister.
So, when Bob Saget or Betty White dies, we get these lectures from people trying to be above mourning entertainment icons. Hey, after my sister died, I got it for a few minutes. I did. My sister didn’t get so much as a blip of airtime when she died, so why do we have to spend days talking about Whitney Houston’s death? Why is it that Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse are mourned on a national level when cops have been ambushed, soldiers have been blown up, or fireman have succumbed to smoke inhalation?
That’s a great question, but is it fair?
It is emotionally impossible to be hurt by every single death we hear about. We’d lose our minds if we grieved every death with the same amount of passion that we do our own family or our favorite celebrities. Its why most people don’t start crying until a eulogy, because it’s not made personal to us until that moment.
And it has to be personal for us to grieve anybody’s death.
Is it fair to dismiss the grief of a celebrity when their music, their performances, or their art touched you in some way? Is it ridiculous to cry every time you hear a song that reminds you of your ex-spouse? Or is that only allowed so long as the celebrity is still alive? When Ronnie Spector died, I happened to watch Dirty Dancing that same night. I hadn’t even thought of the fact that I would hear “Be My Baby” and it brought me to tears to remember that she was dead.
People become celebrities, no matter their medium, because what they do enriches and emphasizes the big moments in our lives. Maybe those moments don’t matter to journalists who think it’s ridiculous that there is so much fanfare over the loss of a relative stranger, but they can and do matter to the masses. Our lives are made more vibrant because of the artists that we relate to.
Losing a stranger doesn’t hurt. Losing people that helped make memories for us, that does hurt.