Why Celebrity Deaths Affect Us

We certainly don’t have to tell you, 2020 has been a tough year. For those who follow celebrities in sports, politics and entertainment, it has been a time of tremendous loss.

From Kobe Bryant to Chadwick Boseman and Naya Rivera, we remember those we lost this year with the additional grief that comes with the isolation of the pandemic. And of course, this week’s death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in a class of its own as mourners gather at vigils all across the country.

Experts say we especially grieve a celebrity who “created a legacy out of being great at their craft,” people like Heath Ledger, Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain. Others say we may feel we know a celebrity, sometimes knowing more facts about them then we do coworkers or neighbors. Perhaps you remember where you were when Kurt Cobain died or David Bowie did.

Grief over a celebrity death can feel like a strange loss, CNN’s Lisa Resper France explains:
“On one hand, stars are usually not people we actually know. Yet on the other hand, they’re in our everyday lives through their art, the best of which lets us see ourselves reflected on screen or in song, creating a sense of connection.It’s why their loss can knock the wind out of us. And grief, whatever the source, feels amplified these days.”

Among the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID have been some of our favorite writers, musicians and actors, too, and while many of us work from home, we haven’t been able to share our grief over the “water cooler” with coworkers or over a beer with friends.

The recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us that collective grief, whether on Twitter or at the Supreme Court, can be healing, especially if it is followed by action. It’s also a good time to remember that the death of Ginsburg’s mother and sister had a profound influence on her, one that only made her work harder.

And as cultural experts look back at the contributions of Chadwick Boseman, they find meaning in the legacy he left behind during his short life.

So whether it is Boseman, Ginsburg or Bryant you are missing, the grief you feel is real. Whether you need to tune out or to take action, remember those you admired have left a legacy behind that’s meaningful and can help you frame what’s important to you.

Photo by Frederique Smit

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