Wake Me (and my sense of self) Up Before You Go-Go

Why the deaths of famous people impact us all on a very personal level, even if we never knew them personally

NEW YORK, Jan. 2, 2017/ Troy Media/ – It seems every death of a celebrity or public figure takes with it a cherished part of our own experience and impacts our life journey.

There was such a spate of deaths across entertainment, sports and politics in 2016 that it’s likely there are very few people who didn’t engage in a moment of reflection when hearing that one well-known person or another had died.

We saw how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s very personal reaction to the death of Fidel Castro resulted in criticism. These ripples of censure arose because he did what we all do – reacted in a way that made sense to his worldview but may not have reflected that of another person or group of people.

So it is with all deaths. Whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Nancy Reagan, David Bowie or Alan Thicke, these private individuals with public profiles hold very different meanings for different people. But they often mean something to everyone, which is why their passings tend to touch us all.

George Michael died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. I quickly realized that his death made me think less about him and more about myself. In 1984, music videos were in their infancy but were beginning to change how we experienced and lived a hugely important part of life – at least for young people.

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go from Wham!, which included Michael, was among the first videos I ever saw. So when I heard of Michael’s death, I was transported back to that transformative time and place in my life and the wider culture around me. 

I’ve never believed that feeling an intense emotional connection to someone we never knew or met was in any way strange. Humans are sentient, acquisitive beings able to incorporate myriad experiences into our personal narratives.

Sometimes, a well-known person becomes an inspiration – a role model who represents who we want to be. Thus, we adopt them as a critical part of the building blocks of self that, when assembled, will result in a fully formed and functioning individual.

Sometimes, and probably more often, that person simply represents a time in our lives that held special meaning and the famous person becomes important because they were present – even if by proxy.

Because of that, we appropriate them as belonging to us in a meaningful way.

Carrie Fisher’s death doesn’t only remind me that I spent the summer of 1977 seeing Star Wars 29 times. It also reminds me of being a teenager in Edmonton and working my first job in 1980. I was an usher at the Paramount Theatre and, although I worked there for over six months, the only movie I saw – because it was the only movie that played during my time there – was The Empire Strikes Back. So I associate Fisher with my own fledgling steps into adulthood. 

Nearly every person holds a particular time and place in life as uniquely formative and influential to their eventual character and personality – to their world view. Years and decades may pass but they will continue to evaluate the world and subsequent experience through that prism.

We mourn the deaths of the famous – or the infamous – because all of a sudden we are reminded of a time in our lives that we may not have thought of for many years. Our attachment to them is no more mysterious than how we may place a lock of hair or the ticket stub from a concert into a scrapbook to be kept forever.

The sense of loss we feel is no less stinging than when we watch a building that was a part of our past come tumbling down under the wrecker’s ball.

The sense of loss we feel is no less real for never having known them in the traditional sense – because, at the end of the day, we did know them in a very genuine and personal way.

Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a U.S based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day. Gavin is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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