When Celebrities Die

I think I was about 12 years old when I first started thinking about what it meant to be part of a celebrity fandom. I had a pretty major crush on Julian Lennon. (In hindsight I’m pretty sure this crush stemmed from my love of The Beatles and the crushing reality that I couldn’t for some reason legitimately have a crush on John.)

A cynical friend of mine said, “Why do you like him so much? It’s not like you’re going to meet him and get married.”

alan rickman harry potter always quote

She was right, of course, but I hadn’t ever really thought I would meet and marry him. I just liked the way I felt thinking about what he might be like as a person and I can still conjure up those feelings when I hear certain songs from his album, Valotte.

My friend’s comments didn’t stop me from amassing quite a few celebrity crushes in my life, not the least of which is my almost life long crush on Wil Wheaton and my heady girl crush on Felicia Day. Both of those crushes stem from a place of appreciation, for who they are and what they’ve come to represent to me about myself, and about the power of popular geek culture.

This is what’s important to us plebeians about celebrities. It’s not often about who they are, really, or even the fact that we don’t really know them (although we can’t ignore the projection we do into those dark spots of identity that are left out of most public images). Each celebrity crush I’ve cultivated marks a specific time of my life, part of the evolution of my own identity, and often the identity of the celeb as well.david bowie labyrinth

So I could understand another friend laughing at my crush on Jimmy Fallon because all she could see was his giggling, stoner face from SNL when all I see is the most excited, puppy like face of a new dad hosting The Tonight Show. Watching his excitement at being a new dad, and the love with which he talks about his daughter speaks to some of the same transformations I’ve gone through becoming a mom.

Dear reader, you might be asking what does this have to do with celebrities dying? It’s easy for me to understand how many people can have strong feelings about celebrities passing away. It’s like you lose a little bit of yourself along with them and that can mark the end of an era of your life as well.

Iwhite lily outside potions classroom will forever remember David Bowie when I’m singing the painful harmonies on Rock Band 3 and will still cringe at his piercing stare as the Goblin King when I eventually share Labrynth with my daughter.

Alan Rickman became Snape for me. Never has an actor in a movie based on a book replaced the image I first had of the character until Rickman. His performance and his ownership of that character, transcended the screen and the page. I know I am not alone in this sentiment because the most outstanding internet memorial for him going around is a single lily placed by the potions classroom door at Hogwarts in London.

And to this day, I still miss Robin Williams.

dead poets' society oh captain robin williams screenshot
Oh Captain, my Captain.


What celebrities hold a special place in your heart or mark a specific time in your life?

Have you mourned their loss more intensely?

5 thoughts on “When Celebrities Die”

  1. Love this.

    When I was a high schooler I was convinced I was going to marry Val Kilmer. He has not passed (although my, er, obsession?, has all but passed away) but those feelings I had were very real and are just part of who I was back in the day. There were and have been other celebrity crushes throughout the years, but whether I like it or not, Val was the most intense one of them all. ;o)

    The deaths of Alan Rickman and Robin Williams (perhaps RW more so) hit me really hard as well, and I felt embarrassed by that. I love what you say about it being an end of an era in your own life. And I think I felt that, because they had sort of always been around doing projects and making new movies, they would always be around. It's hard to lose these people who symbolize so much in our lives, even if we never met them and even if it's a different kind of loss than a close loved one. Thank you for putting these things into words!

  2. Oh I loved Val Kilmer for awhile too, although I don't think he would have made it in a list of significant crushes. (Right around the time of The Saint I thought he was pretty hot!)

    I think a lot of our culture is quick to dismiss feelings when they are about people not closely related to us. But the truth is, celebrity or not, those people who we see a self imagine within are the ones we remember. It doesn't matter if that is a teacher (lots of crushes there for me!) or a celebrity or our own family.

    Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂

  3. When Davy Jones passed in 2012 I realized the cold hard fact that I was aging. It was such a bizarre feeling. Besides being an icon of our youth, a celebrity has immortal status like our superheroes. I'm still grappling with the fact that Bowie and Rickman are gone. It just doesn't seem possible. They represent a part of me that has always been evolving as they did.

  4. I never really thought about age in a hard reality. My perspective has always been a bit off since my siblings are so significantly older than I am. But as they enter their 60s… well the aging thing has started to hit a little closer to home for me, too. I think we can still evolve with them. It's one of those things that their work is significant to us and will continue to be even if they are not creating "new" works for us to appreciate. 🙂

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