On Mourning Celebrities


2016 was uncommonly brutal on celebrities.

I might be a humbug, but I don’t get the grief over celebrity deaths. Yes, death is bad and it is especially sad to think of a talented person passing. As psychologist David Kaplan suggests in Lindsay Holmes’ reflection on Prince’s death, “We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.”

But is all the lamentation really appropriate?

1. Celebs are not invincible

First of all, what did you think, that they were going to live forever? Celebrities are people and people die. This is an unfortunate fact, but it’s a fact. Moreover, celebrities often live lives that are not quite healthy, and so they might bring on the grim reaper quicker than regular people. What’s really a surprise is that some of these guys last as long as they do. It’s a marvel that a guy like Keith Richards can still stand upright.


As a culture, we might be a little obsessed.

There is someone who is invincible, but, it would seem the popular culture doesn’t really pay attention to that. To quote Leonard Cohen, “I heard there was a secret chord / That David played and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?”

2. Side buns live on

Secondly, yes, it is sad to think that talented people have passed on, but, most of these celebrities became known to us because of their work decades ago. That material is still with us, and we can watch or listen to it any time we want (provided George Lucas doesn’t replace the Princess Leia’s slave costume with some CGI tunic for some unfathomable reason). Side buns are still a possibility if anyone wants to don them.

To be honest, the stuff these celebrities were doing lately was garbage, and we’re not really missing out on anything because of their deaths. George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. I was phenomenal, for instance, but Vol. II never came and what did follow was rubbish, God rest his soul. A few of these guys were still contributing to the canon (Alan Rickman might have been at the height of his career), but most had retired long ago. Meanwhile, we can use this occasion as a way to celebrate the great work they did do.

3. It’s not 2016’s fault

2016_torches_2017Lastly, celebrity deaths are just something we’re going to have to get used to. As a culture, we’ve spent the last seventy years fawning over movie stars, musicians, and other celebrities to an extent never seen in history. And the pool of shared loved celebrities continues to grow as the market for mass media expands. At some point, all of these beloved celebrities will die. And the frequency will increase since the pool of stars has increased so much.

The fact that so many died this year is not indicative of a particularly bad year, but of a rather unhealthy devotion to pop stars. The more celebrities we love, the more we will have to mourn. It’s a matter of arithmetic.

And, so, as this year comes to a close and everyone laments at how crummy it was, let’s take a moment to remember what is really important, how fleeting life really is, and jam out to some poignant music from the past: