Like most of the country, I woke up a week ago to find out that Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden and later Audioslave, had died. I was in shock and immediately tapped my husband on the shoulder to tell him the news.
Here’s the thing: I was not a huge Chris Cornell fan. I liked some of his songs, and I appreciated his contribution to music, but he is not someone I felt like knew. He was not someone I thought about on a daily basis. In fact, he was not someone I thought about much at all.
So why did his death resonate with me so? Why was my heart so torn?
I felt the same way when Prince died. And David Bowie. But my grief was not limited to musicians. In recent years I felt distraught when Patrick Swayze passed away. Same with Bill Paxton. Same with countless other celebrities. In fact, I can’t watch the “In Memoriam” part of the Oscars without a tissue in my hand.
Celebrities are put on a pedestal in our society. Even if we think we’re too smart, we revere them and maybe even believe what they have so say.
If my favorite celebrities endorse a product, I am more likely to buy it. If they support a presidential candidate or environmental cause, I tend to want to support it as well. And honestly, I think I am the norm and not the exception to this rule.
Why do celebrities matter to us? Why do people that we have not met (and whom we will probably never meet!) hold so much power?
I think it’s because they come into our homes and our lives and give us a sense of their presence. We feel a connection to a character they play or a book they write or a song lyric that is especially moving. We feel like we know them based on their art—and when they are gone and their contribution stops, we feel the loss pretty deeply.
I have suffered my share of loss that’s much more personal. Grandparents, an aunt, an uncle; even my own child. My first daughter was stillborn. While the loss of a celebrity does not cut as deeply as that kind of loss, it sometimes feels like a close second—or maybe, more accurately, an echo.
You see, it seems unfair and cruel that these larger than life people are actually just people like the rest of us. It hurt to realize that even they don’t get a pass from the cruel randomness of fate. No, they live and die and do everything in between just like you and me. The fact of the matter is, when a famous person dies, the world does not stop moving any more than when anyone else dies.
Celebrities tend to bring us together. They spark conversation. They inspire us to dream about the actor/musician/writer that we ourselves could have been. Therefore when they pass, we all mourn.
I am not sure if it’s right or wrong or even if it matters that much, but our feelings don’t lie, and the public outpourings after these deaths show me that I’m not alone.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.