What is it about celebrity deaths?

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The untimely death of Prince, on Thursday, at the age of 57, has left fans shocked and in mourning. While many are expressing their grief, others are surprised to experience such a strong personal reaction: “I didn’t know him, so why am I this upset”? With the recent deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie and now Prince, I have been left wondering what it is about these deaths that captivate us. As a twenty-one-year-old young woman whose musical interests tend to fall into the indie/alternative kind of vibe, I’ve probably talked about Prince maybe once or twice in my life. While I full well knew who he was, what he looked like, and about three of his songs, I’ve never had the thought, “Prince is one of the greatest artists of all time”. I know my friends and I have never had one single discussion about how amazing Prince is but here they are on various social media sites claiming how sad they are and how much they are going to miss this legend. Why? Why do we feel the need to take part in something that we are barely connected to? Do I think it is tragic that someone so talented died long before he should have? Absolutely, but other than first hearing it on the news and thinking how sad I am for the family, I probably would not think about it again. Yet, it is strewn across every website and news station. My friends who have never once spoken about Prince are posting about how wretched his death is and how they are so depressed from this great loss. I doubt they really are that interested. The same thing can be said for Bowie and Rickman. While I have no doubt Rickman was an amazing actor, I can’t name a single movie Alan Rickman was in other than the Harry Potter series and Sweeney Todd. I am seeing fourteen and fifteen year olds post how sad they are over Prince’s death. At fifteen are you really such a huge Prince fan? Maybe this is the cynic in me but I find it almost insulting to the artists to pretend you are such a fan.

Celebrity worship syndrome (CWS) is classified as an obsessive addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life. While I am shocked to learn this is a real disorder, I don’t think this explains our morbid fascination with celebrity deaths. This leads me to the question that really disturbs me: Why do we do it? We jump on the mourning bandwagon. Is it for attention or do we just want to feel included in the hype? What do we have to gain by pretending we are going to miss someone that, in a year, we won’t really remember? Does the loss of a famous figure just remind us of our own mortality? Maybe, but I think these feelings of mourning become more intensified, within minutes of a death because thousands of articles are published on the topic. In less than twenty-four hours after Prince’s death, you can Google his name and see more than ten pages filled with hundreds of articles. Only minutes after, I hopped on Facebook and saw it was a trending topic. Maybe we just want to feel we are not alone. Perhaps, those sharing and posting about the situation are sharing a deep, emotional connection with one another. While I have no real answers, I find myself captivated with these questions.

As a side note, I would like to let anyone who may be feeling overwhelmed with grief and sadness know there are options. There are counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and even professional hotline numbers and websites available if you need to talk through your grief. One such site is http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

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