Why Celebrity Deaths Make Us Grieve
When people hear about the death of a celebrity, even if they don't personally know them, it can still have a significant impact on them. Here's why.
Many people develop parasocial relationships with celebrities, where individuals feel connected to a star through media, such as movies, music, or social media. Fans invest time and emotions into following celebrities' lives, creating a sense of familiarity and attachment. When someone famous dies, it feels like losing a close friend, even though it was a one-sided relationship.
If you recently lost a loved one who was also a fan, you also mourn the connection and enjoyment of sharing your appreciation with them. It might feel like you are losing another part of your relationship with someone special.
Celebrities often play important roles in people's lives. They inspire, entertain, and touch people's hearts through their work. Their talents and achievements can impact individuals and shape their aspirations, dreams, and identities. When a beloved celebrity dies, their fans feel like they have lost a part of their lives.
Consider the death of Queen Elizabeth II, whose 70-year reign touched generations throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Or singers Whitney Houston and Prince, with millions of fans worldwide. Global celebrities like these offer us an identity and camaraderie with millions of other people. Long before the internet, fan clubs connected people who admired a particular movie star, singer, Olympic athlete, or other prominent figure. When a celebrity dies, so does our identity as a fan. We must readjust how we view ourselves after their death.
Celebrity deaths can also trigger a collective sense of loss and mourning. When a well-known figure passes away, it becomes a topic of conversation and a shared experience among friends, family, and even strangers. Social media platforms amplify this shared grieving process as fans express their condolences, share memories, and discuss the celebrity's impact on their lives. It becomes a way for people to come together, express their emotions, and feel a sense of community.
Another grief trigger after a celebrity's death is a secondary loss of their contribution to entertainment, sports, or national identity. We mourn that they will not write another book, record another song, or play another basketball game.
The death of a celebrity can serve as a stark reminder of our own mortality. It reminds us that no one, not even the rich and famous, is immune to the inevitability of death. This realization can stir up existential thoughts and make people reflect on their lives, relationships, and legacy.
Even if we don’t know a celebrity, the news of their death can elicit strong reactions because of the emotional connections, shared experiences, and reminders of our mortality. It's a testament to celebrities' impact on our lives and their profound influence, even from a distance.
Awareness of Health Issues
Many people connect with their favorite celebrity’s cause of death. When a star dies from cancer, substance abuse, or suicide, it brings more awareness to these issues. Perhaps we also have Parkinson’s disease or a relative who struggles with depression. Learning how a famous person dealt with a devastating diagnosis or beat the odds to live longer than expected can impact how we deal with similar issues.
Grief Tips After a Celebrity Death
It is a common reaction to feel sad when someone we admire, whether an athlete or an actor, passes away. They impacted your presence in a significant way. Grief is not a linear process; when a celebrity dies, it often reminds us of other losses. It could also be the first time someone you feel connected with is gone.
Here are some coping skills after your favorite star dies:
- Attend a public memorial: It might be in person, like the 250,000 people waiting to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth in 2022. Or it might be an impromptu memorial, like the mountains of flowers, notes, and candles at the Staples Center after the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and another family.
- Express condolences online: Social media offers many ways to mourn a celebrity publicly. Reading posts from others who share your loss can be comforting.
- Donate to a related charity: If your favorite actor died from a particular type of cancer, make a contribution to promote awareness, prevention, and research toward a cure. Volunteer in a fundraising walk or share accurate information with someone you’re concerned about.
- Practice self-care: Remember to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Eat healthy foods, limit your screen time, and get enough rest.
- Talk to a professional: A celebrity death stirs emotions we might not otherwise notice. Talk to a mental healthcare professional if you remain depressed or don’t return to the activities or hobbies you enjoy.
Most Watched Celebrity Funerals
Princess Di's funeral is estimated to have had over 31 million British viewers and up to 2.5 billion viewers worldwide. Approximately 2,000 guests attended, including Sir Elton John (who also performed), First Lady Hillary Clinton, Sir Richard Attenborough, Steven Speilberg, and Tom Hanks.
Over 700 dignitaries attended former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and President George W. Bush. An estimated 35.7 million Americans watched the service on TV.
Michael Jackson’s funeral had over 17,500 guests, including Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Magic Johnson, and Kobe Bryant, whose untimely death would draw a large audience eleven years later. Over 31 million Americans tuned in.
Over 1.7 million people watched Whitney Houston’s funeral live stream, while several hundred attended the service in New Jersey. Among those in attendance were Kevin Costner, Mariah Carey, Cher, Oprah, and Alicia Keys.
Kobe Bryant’s family, friends, and fans packed the Staples Arena for his public memorial service while over six million Americans watched the funeral on television. Basketball legends Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, LeBron James, and Shaquille O’Neal were among the 20,000, along with California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The funeral service of Elizabeth II drew enormous crowds outside of Westminster Abby and Buckingham Palace, while an estimated 4.1 billion watched the sad event on TV. It was the first time television cameras were allowed at a funeral for a British monarch.