Why Do Celebrity Deaths Affect Us So Much?

Have you ever found yourself becoming emotional and teary-eyed with the news that a beloved celebrity has died? You might have felt foolish at the time. After all, you did not know them intimately. You'd never met them. They did not belong to your family. However, you feel incredibly sad. In some strange way, you are grieving their loss.

Key takeaways:

The good news is that grief is a normal and healthy response to news of a celebrity's death, and it has a definite emotional origin that is connected to how these icons occupy space in our emotions.

Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary!

Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

Celebrity deaths that shocked the world

Everyone has a favorite celebrity, and most of us have witnessed the death of at least one cherished legend. First, let's take a look at four celebrity deaths that stopped the world in its tracks for different reasons.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was arguably the first celebrity death that was a global event. Looking back at the footage from the hours following his death, you can see the horror and grief that people were experiencing.

John Lennon was another celebrity who's death had a big impact on many people. There was the feeling of sadness and shock in plenty of houses when the news broadcasted that he had been shot dead. In the days following his death, 400,000 people gathered at Central Park to show their love and support for this musical genius.

Princess Diana was a beloved figure around the world, and her death in a car accident in 1997 was met with shock and grief by millions of people. Her death was mourned throughout the United Kingdom, and it is believed that over 2.5 billion people around the world watched her burial on television.

Robin Williams was a celebrity whose death affected the world for a different reason. Probably many people felt a wave of sadness come over them when they first heard about Robin Williams' death by suicide. Intriguingly, there appears to be a correlation between the news of Williams' death and a nearly 10 percent increase in the number of suicides in the months after his death.

Parasocial relationships

When we have an imagined, one-sided relationship between an individual and a celebrity or other public figure, it is called a parasocial relationship. This is a relationship that develops through music, TV shows, movies, or social media. It is characterized by feelings of familiarity, closeness, and emotional connection. Losing this connection causes a vacuum between you and the other person, and it can be difficult for some to adapt.

Parasocial relationships are formed for a variety of reasons:

  • They offer an escape from the demands and stresses of everyday life.
  • Celebrities serve as role models or sources of inspiration.
  • They help us tolerate our anxiety and frustrations.
  • Watching and listening to them provides an escape from difficult relationships or events in the real world.
  • Some celebrities can give us an emotional connection.

Grieving and the emotional impact of celebrity loss

Grief is tied to feelings of attachment and intimacy. It is the mourning of the loss of a relationship, the loss of a person's place in your life, and the loss of possibilities for the future. Losing a celebrity is comparable to the death of a family member because it also involves the loss of memories and precious moments. Our emotional connection to an idol or hero is based on our memories of what that person meant to us at important times in our lives.

It's not surprising that when we feel a bond with a celebrity, we mourn them when they die. This can be emotionally draining and leave us feeling vulnerable, sad, and confused.

Stages of grief and loss

It is natural to experience a range of emotions when a celebrity who has had a significant impact on your life passes away. The stages of grief that a person may experience when a celebrity dies can be similar to those commonly associated with the death of a loved one. These stages, as proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, include:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It is important to note that not everyone experiences these stages linearly and that everyone copes with grief differently.

When mourning a celebrity's death, you may feel that people do not validate your emotions or that you cannot freely discuss it with others. The loss you are experiencing is normal and essential to acknowledge.

Celebrities embedded in our psyche

Celebrities can become embedded in our psyche because of the emotional impact they have on us through their work. For example, someone may feel a strong emotional connection to a particular movie or song because it resonates with their own experiences or feelings.

Have you ever learned of the death of an artist and thought, “I remember exactly where I was in my life when I was listening to her song?”. Perhaps it was a song you shared with your first love, a wedding song, or a song that reminded you of your first breakup.

Celebrities not only play a role in our growing up, but they also frequently fill the voids of a role model or caregiver that we were missing. When we needed comfort and understanding, we turned to their lyrics, so when they die, a small part of ourselves passes away as well.

Friends and family who have died

Mourning the death of a celebrity can bring the deaths of loved ones to the forefront of our minds. If your loved one was a fan of the deceased celebrity, it can bring back memories of how much you miss that person. It can also highlight the fragility and mortality of the people closest to you.

Tips to help cope with a celebrity death

It is perfectly natural to feel grief and sadness when a celebrity who has had a significant impact on your life passes away. Here are a few tips that may help you cope with your emotions:

  1. Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions. Talk to a trusted person about your feelings, write in a journal, or participate in activities that bring you comfort.
  2. Participate in a memorial service. Showing our respects in person or through social networks can help the grieving process.
  3. Self-care. Grieving can take a physical and emotional toll on your body. Be sure to get enough rest, eat healthy, and engage in activities that bring you joy or relaxation.
  4. Use social media. Join a social media community of people who feel the same way and who can identify with how you feel.
  5. Reflect on the positive impact that the celebrity had on your life. Listen to their songs or watch their movies, and allow yourself to feel the sadness. If you start to well up, then let the tears come — it's all part of the healing process.
  6. Make a photo album. Create a photo album dedicated to the celebrity in order to remember and honor them. This can help you learn how to sit with your emotions as you reflect on the images and then let them go as you close the album and put it away.

If you feel like your sadness is overwhelming you and having a detrimental effect on how you normally go about your daily routines, consider attending a grief counselor. Bereavement specialists are a tremendous resource for validating your grief and assisting you in processing and dealing with it.

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