People die every day. Every minute. This is a fact. But as constant and natural as death is in life, the public consciousness this year has been repeatedly stumped by the gigantic losses we’ve accrued in the past 12 months.
David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan, Caroline Aherne, Anton Yelchin… the list of beloved entertainment stars we’ve lost goes on and on and on. In the past three days alone, we’ve lost the likes of George Michael, Liz Smith and most recently, Carrie Fisher. Put frankly, 2016 has been overwhelming in this respect.
Although 2014 and 2015 had its own share of tragic losses – from Robin Williams to Rik Mayall, Christopher Lee and Leonard Nimoy – 2016 seems especially despairing. Look on Twitter now, and you will be faced with a trending sea of grief as the public decries the year that’s gone and how merciless it has been when it comes to our favourite stars in the worlds of film, music and television. For an entertainment publication, as we aspire to be, it’s just as intense – a good 10% of our output this year has probably been obituary based.
Indeed, the media in general seems inundated with breaking news stories of yet another tragic celebrity loss, subsequent obituaries, “lives in pictures”, retrospective and newly poignant interviews, documentaries, commemorative broadcasts etc. It’s astonishing how much it affects us when a revered member of our pop cultural history passes away. But why is this? Why does it affect us so deeply when stars expire?
Perhaps it is because of how much of ourselves we indulge into the entertainment industry. Though entertainment is often dismissed as a leisurely, passive aspect of our wider culture, there is so much about the creative arts that infiltrates our lives. Music provides a soundtrack to our memories; we define some of our most personal milestones and experiences by a song or artist that has connected with us. From weddings to holidays, music does so much more than inspire us to dance or sing.
Likewise, the worlds of film and television act as a mirror, reflecting our own experiences and our deepest, most ludicrous fantasies on screen and can be just as affecting and definitive in our lives and memories. As adults looking retrospectively to our childhood, I would argue a large amount of that is defined by the things that entertained us; the things we watched or heard that gave us joy when we didn’t know what the definition of such an emotion was.
So when a member of one of these prolific industries dies, it leaves a big impact; because our memories of them and the way they made us feel are so deeply ingrained in how we define ourselves. Of course, the individual star qualities of these prolific figures and the messages they conveyed through their work and styles, are just as – if not more – affecting. Artists like Bowie, Prince and George Michael broke barriers when it came to the expression of sexuality. Figures like Carrie Fisher, who struggled in their personal lives with all too common afflictions like alcoholism and mental illness, spoke out with honesty and wit about their experiences; making us feel less alone in our own struggles.
The term ‘celebrity’ feels somewhat shallow and superficial in this reality TV age, but in the eras that many of these fallen stars thrived in, their effect on fans spread much further than social media and the selfie culture of today. They remind us of an era when the relationships between star and fanbase were much more personal and profound; and of the connections we ourselves have made with them throughout our lives.
2016 has been a very sobering year for entertainment lovers. We can only hope that 2017 is kinder and relish in the memories of those that have passed.