On April 21st of 2016, millions around the world were shattered at the news that Prince passed away at the age of 57; far too soon for such a unique light in this world to be put out.
Prince was, and forever will be an icon.
MTV stopped regularly scheduled programming to play Prince music videos and then his film Purple Rain, radio stations interrupted today’s top hits to play classic Prince tunes, and fans posted online tributes to the legend and spoke openly and emotionally about the loss felt around the world.
People were visibly affected, and as fans mourned his death both online and at his residence, a reminder came that you don’t have to be physically touched by a person to feel their embrace in your life.
With each celebrity that passes away, a question is posed – why do fans react so deeply to the death of someone that most have never met and don’t know personally?
The answer is placed somewhere between the digital media age, the need to be enveloped in something bigger than ourselves, and the tireless passion of both artists and fans. There is a special relationship, now more than ever, between celebrities and the people who look up to them and that relationship has bridged the gap between just liking an artist for their craft and feeling connected to who they are both on and off stage.
While these connections aren’t new, they’re more publicized today than they ever were before with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram at our fingers every second of the day.
When a public figure passes away – the internet serves as a monument.
Princess Diana’s death was felt worldwide; to some, it felt like the world actually stopped. There were memorials set up all across the world in her honor with admirers who spent hours in tears and prayer after news of her death spread. Princess Di was a humanitarian, a beautiful soul, and a lovely spirit – the masses understood why her loss was felt so deeply. There were many lives she touched that she improved and did so with a warm smile and genuine heart. Her death happened before
There exists, however, a sort of judgment that comes along with fans – especially young adults – reacting with devastation to the loss of musicians and actors.
From actors like Heath Ledger, Paul Walker, and Robin Williams to musicians like Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, and Prince who passed away too soon, the entirety of pop culture was affected and there was a valid reason for it.
These celebrities poured life, love, raw truth, and inspiration into their work – thus pouring it into their fans.
If you ever watched a movie with Heath Ledger – specifically his last two films – you were likely enchanted by how he actually became the character he was playing. Some blame his role as The Joker for his death; saying as he turned into the character for the film, he found a darkness it was impossible to escape from.
If you watched Paul Walker in The Fast & Furious series, or anytime he was in a car on a track – you saw his passion for speed, life, and his family. While eventually the speed took him, he wouldn’t have been Paul without it, and the people who love him have acknowledged that.
If you paid attention to any movie with Robin Williams, you saw him pour pieces of himself into the characters he played, giving them a personal dimension. Some of his roles were light and fun, others were darker, but he found a way to give his all to his roles and bring the world happiness – even if he couldn’t provide it to himself.
If you’ve ever felt trapped by your own demons, you’ve likely found yourself in an Amy Winehouse song. If you’ve ever felt like this world just wasn’t for you, you’ve probably found home in a David Bowie tune and if you’ve ever needed the inspiration to live your life for yourself and to dance through this journey because you never know when the end will come, you’ve definitely found solace in a song by Prince.
These celebrities are better labeled as artists and their talent is better labeled as inspiration. They gave their fans hope, provided them with comfort, and allowed them to aspire to be themselves because they saw the people they looked up to fighting their own battles and winning.
Young people now are faced with so many obstacles just to get through their days that sometimes it seems impossible. From the need to fit in, to the standards set (for most young women) to be pretty and skinny and (for most young men) to be strong and powerful – the world lays too much weight on their shoulders.
This is where music, film, and literature come in – they provide young people with a place to exist where they feel safe, where they feel inspired, where they feel like they belong.
Perhaps this explains why fans are not only encompassed by these artists in life but so deeply hurt when they lose someone who gave them so much. You may not be able to text your favorite celebrity or grab a drink downtown with them Saturday night – but you can listen to a song they wrote when you’re sad. You can watch a film they made when you need someone to understand you and you can read something they’ve written or listen to something they’ve said when you’re feeling down on your luck and remember that tomorrow is a new day and with it, comes a slew of new opportunities.
A hero, by definition, is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. If someone – be it a firefighter or a musician – can inspire even one person to live a little better, love a little deeper, and accept people for who they are – they’re a hero. The word has nothing to do with their line of work but everything to do with the depth of their compassion.
So when a headline breaks that a celebrity has passed away, try to remember that to you, they may not ever have made a dent in your personal life, but to someone else, they may have been the only person who ever made them feel loved.
2016 has brought with it many losses, inspirational people who were taken to another world, and we as fans can keep their legacy alive by letting the light they put off exist in our hearts – long after their untimely passing.