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Why Do We Personalize Celebrity Deaths?

By Courtney Enlow | Think Pieces | August 14, 2014 |

By Courtney Enlow | Think Pieces | August 14, 2014 |

Without fail, the deaths of the rich and famous bring out the best and worst in all of us. For some, we celebrate and honor and look inward. For others, we tear down and denigrate and write off as meaningless, disparaging those who dare feel feelings of any kind about something so frivolous as the death of a stranger.

Maybe no one’s right. Maybe no one’s wrong. I don’t really care. I just know that, sometimes, these hurt. These really hurt. And I’m not sure there’s any rhyme or reason why.

I do know that three things seem to make certain deaths seem bigger than others: age, manner of death and amount of impact had on people while in this mortal coil, be it nostalgic, talent-based or otherwise or a combination of all of it. So when that person is Robin Williams, someone who mattered in some way to almost every one of us, who still had time and who took himself out of the picture, destroyed by one ugly fucking illness, it hurts. It hurts bad.

If you’re reading this site at all, pop culture matters to you. Movies matter, these people, these performers, they matter to you. They’ve changed and affected and given you life when real life couldn’t. These people are important to us. And when we lose them, we feel that loss, just like we would a “real” friend. Maybe even more. Such is the power of art and performance and comedy and all the wonderful things Williams gave us. Such is the power of his loss.

But there’s more, too. Because on top of the pain of losing someone who mattered, someone you no doubt spent at least a few hours with in one way or another, and in a world where every paparazzi photo on the street is completely staged and planned and fake, death is the realest thing. It’s the one thing even the most rich and powerful person can’t avoid. And when whatever killed them is something that could kill you too? That’s goddamn terrifying.

You may have noticed, or maybe you haven’t and I’ve greatly overshot in terms of how much time you spend thinking of me, but regardless, I haven’t been around as much over the past few months. Part of this is real-life job stuff. That’s what I tell myself, and it’s what I’ve told Dustin. But I know and I know he knows that’s not the whole story. The whole story is that I’ve been struggling, guys. For a while now. Two of the big demons that haunted Williams’ life—addiction (not my own) and mental illness (not my own and my own)—have fucked my life this year. And even though things are better and everything is ostensibly OK, I haven’t been able to figure out how to move forward. I haven’t been able to pick up my own pieces and no one else has been able to pick them up for me. I’ve just been sad. At one point, I actually Googled “can you be hospitalized for being too sad” because that’s how I felt. Too sad to function. And just in the last few weeks have I started to feel like myself again, like I can breathe, like the surface is a place I can keep hold for more than a few moments at a time.

But if these things could destroy Williams, they could destroy us.

Life, mere existence is a fragile thing. No matter how stable we feel, at any time the thread that holds us together could be cut and everything could be lost in an instant. It doesn’t matter how much we have, how much we are loved, how much or how little or how anything. Life is the least stable substance on the planet. It’s fucking weird and sad and scary and stupid and wonderful and so many other things and nothing at all. And when we lose someone like Williams, someone who though we never really knew had a profound effect on our entire beings, that string begins to look awfully frayed.