George Michael 1963 – 2016
2016 – The Celebrity Columbarium
2016 – wow what a year for celebrity deaths! We kicked off the year with losing David Bowie and Alan Rickman to that devastating disease called cancer and the deaths of Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher, her mother Debbie Reynolds and pop star George Michael in December felt like the final twists of the knife. Are we being dramatic, or has 2016 actually been a cursed year for the ‘celebrity’ and those who spend time idolizing them**? Millions of people around the world reacted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Why do we mourn people who we have never met, so publicly?
The way that we grieve online today is also amplifying the perception that 2016 really was the worst year for celebrity deaths. In addition to the 24 hour news cycle, most people are using the aforementioned social media outlets to express their personal memories and attachments to celebrities. Before the world wide web, that conversation and that grief was limited to talking in person and pulling from newspapers. The younger the celebrity, the cause of death, the more sudden the death, the larger the shock, cultural impact and social media outrage there tends to be rather than if they succumbed to a long-standing illness or old age.
Millions attended Whitney Houston’s funeral and listened to “I will always love you” as her body left the local church. After Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros was killed covering a Libyan uprising, thousands attended his memorial service. The majority of the audience at each of these funerals attended them virtually which is one of the few things that is changing the way we mourn and how we do funerals in the 21st Century. EVERYONE can be let in to experience this historically private event.
Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter have also made us much more comfortable with sharing intimate details about ourselves online with strangers on a constant basis. Many deaths and funerals are reported, commented on, tweeted, snapped, recorded and posted online before even their loved ones have heard of the news.
According to Famous NYC Funeral Home to the Stars Frank E Campbell ‘They (the public) Want Closure’. The funeral home stood as a backdrop to those who came to mourn Heath Ledger in NYC in 2008, as his casket was carried from the home, and the media and fans who came to watch. The intense dedication and unity of the mourners, the familial connections felt for people they have never met, the volatility of grief was apparent for all to see and this is not just reserved for Heath Ledger and his fans but to every “celebrity” or person in the publin arena. “They need to be a part of that life that they … have never touched personally, individually, privately, and in person — but through the media, through television, through the movies, it was very much a part of their growing up and their life. They want closure,” Schultz (director) said. “People from every walk of life.”
National University professor/celebrity death expert Jacque Lynn Foltyn says “All these reactions can be viewed as ways of managing death in societies where actual death and the corpse are hidden away and seldom experienced firsthand but rather through Game of Thrones and CSI. Funerals are more rare, as memorial services have become popular. For some, social media is the virtual memorial service when they cannot attend, making a death an international event.”
**As a side note for all those interested (or maybe its just me!), there is an interesting and (self admittedly) unscientific analysis of whether 2016 really was the worst year for celebrity deaths….check out CNN.com for further details. We lost at least 34 celebrities in 2016, which factor in Oscar and Grammy winning celebrities but when it comes to numbers, 2016 is edged out by 2006, during which 36 celebrities died so there!