A Note on the Death of a Celebrity

Paul Walker, the star of several films, most notably the “Fast & Furious” franchise, died in an automobile accident in Santa Clarita, California today(November 30th). His untimely death is the major news item on several entertainment websites and is the talk of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Ordinary people are mourning his passing. What I want to know is: WHY?

I have read John Donne’s poem, “No Man is an Island” with its ending, “Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.” I understand that each death is a loss for all of us as human beings, but it seems that the death of Mr. Walker or any celebrity/famous person/infamous person should be no more and no less important to me than the death of anyone.

As human beings, we are social animals. We hold the lives of our family and friends as important to us. Our societies have created elaborate funeral rites where we are able to share the grief of loss with others who are close to us and to the person who died. I have experienced the loss of both my parents, my mother in law, two brothers and my wife in just in the last twenty years. I have lost people I considered friends and anticipate mourning the loss of a woman who has been a mentor to me for many years who is in ongoing ill health.

Yet, I am mystified why it is that society is so ready to mourn the loss of individuals we never met in person and act if a dear friend has died when a celebrity dies—either unexpectedly or predicatively based on their age. This rush to mourn the dead celebrity is made even more unfathomable when people can read about the murder of a person, again someone really unknown to them, comment on it in passing then move on with their lives without the outpouring of comment on social media about it. There are, of course, exceptions. Stories like the deaths of JonBenet Ramsey and Trayvon Martin stay with us for years. Stories of homeless people on the streets or older, reclusive people found dead in their homes or people killed in our urban areas pass through our lives unnoticed unless we know the individuals involved.

Do I think the world is poorer for losing Paul Walker, Heath Ledger, Mama Cass, Elizabeth Taylor, et al.? Yes. Do I think that it is any poorer than the loss of anyone else in the world? No. Do I think that writing this article will change anything? Probably not!



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