There is no denying it. 2016 has seen the world lose some extraordinarily talented people. From David Bowie to Alan Rickman and Prince to Gene Wilder, a lot has been said about why we treat the deaths of those we probably never even met as almost equal to those close to us. Here are just a few thoughts on why grieving those lives in the spotlight can be just as poignant and important.
To be honest with you, I’m still very much at the point of still feeling the loss of Alan Rickman, whose role as Professor Snape in Harry Potter is one that I very much grew up with, going on to later discover his performances in the likes of Die Hard and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. (I regret that I never saw him onstage.)
The point I’m trying to make here is that, if you have grown up with seeing someone in particular on stage, screen or through their writing, it is their work and work ethic that the public particularly admire and respect. So their death will tend to shock ordinary people, knowing you won’t get to experience anything new from them or get a new perspective of life through the plays, television programmes or films that they could have been in.
It is not so much a case that you knew these people as who they really were, but it is a loss of what they represented to you through the roles they played, the music they created or the words they wrote. This is perhaps what we mourn the most as we didn’t know them as individuals as their families and loved ones did, and therefore cannot grieve in the same way.
In the wake of George Michael’s recent death, radio stations played numerous songs of his on the radio, the BBC showed a concert of his on television and the news covered the tributes pouring, all heightening a sense of loss that was bound to be felt by a large proportion of the public.
Of course, many will say that there are worse things happening around the world and this isn’t in dispute. Yes, there are many terrible things happening that we should perhaps be more focused on, but sadly a larger number of people are more likely to unite in grief over one person in the public eye than a number of civilians killed in a far off country. This isn’t right in the grand scheme of things, but it is the state of the world in which we live. Perhaps the balance will shift.
Here are just a few of the people who we have had to say goodbye to in the past twelve months, who have made me pause and grieve:
Alan Rickman: nobody could quite play a villain as well as him. His Sheriff of Nottingham showcased his talent for delivering a line perfectly, while his Hans Gruber was quietly sinister – cold and in control and is one of the most memorable villains in film history. But it will be the role of Professor Snape that he will be most remembered for, nasty but with a hint of vulnerability at the end that endeared the character to many of the fans.
Garry Marshall: he directed three of my favourite films: Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride and The Princess Diaries with a great sense of comedy and ensuring that despite the characters flaws managed to keep them likeable.
Harper Lee: the author only wrote two novels in her lifetime, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman – but both equally powerful and memorable for confronting difficult topics such as rape and race.
David Bowie: essentially a very private man, David Bowie passed away in January this year shocking many fans, his death coming just two days after the release of his final album Blackstar.
Edward Albee: the American playwright is best known for works such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Zoo Story.
Carrie Fisher: best known for her role as the feisty Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher was also frank about her struggles with mental illness and addiction. She had been recently over in the UK promoting her latest book.
Whatever the reason, people grieve for celebrities in their own way just like losing a loved one – not to the same extent of course, but it is also a chance to celebrate what they achieved in their careers as much as what the world has lost.