‘But he’s my favourite actor!’
These were my words when I was sat with my flatmates and saw the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died.
This isn’t the first celebrity death that has impacted me, and I doubt it will be the last. I have been wondering something recently though, is it the most selfish kind of grief?
I have been very unashamed of my sadness at the death of some of my favourite celebrities. Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger were a particular blow to my sentimental self. I’ve had numerous heated discussions with people who I have often assumed were rather cold, those that say – You don’t know that person – get a grip.
I’ve been wondering if in fact they may be correct. Do I have the right to feel grief for a stranger simply because they’ve been on my screen or coming through my speakers?
What I’ve decided is that there will always be an element of selfishness involved. It may be that sadness that you never got to see Ms Winehouse live. You never got that one last Houston power ballad, the comeback you had imagined and dreamed of. You wanted to see how Hoffman or Ledger would go on in there career – what tear jerking or terrifying performance would they give next?
Is it really surprising though? We live in a world where we are constantly watching, enjoying or judging those who exist in the funny world of popular culture. We are encouraged to believe that we know them. That song they just sang – those words are for you. That performance he just gave? Yeah that one means something special to you.
It is no surprise then that when our icons of popular culture cease to be – we feel as if we’ve lost something special. More so, this is especially true when it feels as if this was too soon. It’s human nature that we mourn what we see as a premature ending. There is of course another consistent theme in the demise of the celebrities I have mentioned. Drugs. I think the underlying sadness is what leads me to feeling emotional for the passing of these strangers. These people we aspire to – the ones we let in to the hearts we wear on our sleeves – whether we’re weeping at Brokeback Mountain or strutting defiantly to ‘Queen of the Night.’
While I may have gained a little understanding into the point of view of those who see celebrities as strangers, I have to admit I’m glad I don’t. There is something gentle, something very humane about feeling sadness when someone who has impacted us in some way has died. No I didn’t know Whitney Houston personally, but I did know her voice as the sound track to me and my mum dancing around the living room while she did housework. I did know her as the star of The Bodyguard which I watched repeatedly as a child.
So I’ve decided this. I will continue to watch Capote and revel in the sadness that lies too close to reality. I will listen to ‘Back to Black’ when a boy has been a shit and allow myself to believe that Amy understood me. That I somehow understood her.
We wrap our memories around these figures. The sadness is real, albeit a little self-indulgent.