Grief Over Celebrity Deaths


I’m of at least two and maybe even more minds when it comes to how the news of celebrity deaths unfolds on Facebook.

On the plus side it does provide a place to collectively mourn and find comfort from others when famed entertainers and cultural figures pass away. It also enables Facebookers to share what they liked or admired about that person and their lives and and work, and post about the impact the deceased had on their lives.

On the other hand, it also too often feels like a Greek chorus of wailing Sicilian widows. Deaths also prompt one of the things I like least about Facebook: what I call me too-ism, where people have to weigh in whether they have anything worth posting or not (a subject I may address in a future column).

I even have one entertainment journalist friend who too often laments not meeting or interviewing the late person. It kind of irks me as it feels as if he is making it about him rather than them. But I also must simply say, well hey, it’s his way of dealing with it.

Behind it all is how our American culture deals with death. Not that I’m any expert on the best ways to do so. Unique among most people I know, I had very few people close to me pass away until I was into my forties. Since then it’s been like an ever-increasing onslaught. That’s a sad fact of aging.

At the end of last year, Facebook was rife with posts bemoaning how cruel a year 2016 was in terms of celebrity deaths. This sense of distress may also have been fueled by the presidential election and a feeling that America as at least some of us know it and quite possibly democracy in our nation was dying. The double whammy of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds dying one after the other in the span of a day at the end of the year added to the feeling. People were posting how it was the worst year ever.

Science and culture blogger Greg Laden compared the amount of celebrity deaths (using TV Guide as his resource) over the last seven years and found that 2016 had the lowest amount of those years; 2013 had by far the most. So it was, he posits, a matter of perception.

It was a year that for those in my boomer generation and at least the one that followed had such significant passings as, in popular music, David Bowie and Glenn Frey of The Eagles at the start of 2016 and Leonard Cohen and George Michael at the end, to name some major artists though hardly all. Major cultural figures from our youth such as Muhammad Ali and John Glenn also died. And many of my male peers (and likely a few women) had big crushes on Patty Duke and Fisher’s Star Wars character Princess Leia.

It feels like the world we have known is slipping away, and ever more rapidly. This also must remind may, consciously or unconsciously, of our own mortality.

Scientific evidence that higher fellow mammals like elephants grieve underscores how primal the emotion is to us. I find myself in many ways rapidly going to the fifth stage of acceptance in the Kübler-Ross process of grieving here at age 63. I don’t know if that’s the healthiest approach or not, but I believe it’s positive.

On the other hand, it’s been about a dozen years since my father died and I continue to process that.

Whatever the case, the passing of celebrities that have had an impact on our lives and world will only increase. And Facebook – the prime source of entertainment of many of us – for better or worse is where we witness, experience and work out the current American way of death.

Populist Picks

I’m the sort who sometimes goes back to movies, TV shows and books for a second or even further pass, and have musical albums circle back around in my life. Here’s a few of those.

TV Series: MI-5 – I’ve written here many times about how much I like this BBC spy series. As I now watch at all again thanks to smart TV, what strikes me the most is how it grew more sharp and sophisticated over its 10 seasons.

Album: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis – Everyone should hear and really ought to own this jazz milestone. In spinning it yet again lately I find myself awed by its resonant and beautiful melodicism, one of many aspects of it that just seems to grow more profound over time.

Book: Rascal by Sterling North – I adored this book when I read it as a child when it came out in 1963 for its story about a boy raising a baby raccoon. Its subtitle “A Memoir of a Better Era” grew as a focus in rereading it as an older adult.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2017

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