I am not much of a basketball fan, but I knew how influential Kobe Bryant was on and off the court. I grew up with the show Glee, and can thank Naya Rivera for depicting one of the first gay relationships I saw on television. I know Boseman made history as the first Black Marvel Comics superhero with his performance as T’Challa in Black Panther. I felt empowered seeing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, even when I was little. Though we have never met them, the deaths of celebrities cause us real grief that we must learn to cope with.
When those in the public eye die, it is common for us to grieve publically. In our grief, we cope by posting on social media; we fill our Instagram feeds with photos and quotes and broken heart emojis. While we cannot ignore the cultural influence of celebrities, it is also important not to discount the personal bonds we have with celebrities or their work.
Celebrities and other figures in popular culture shape who we are, and when they die we should allow ourselves to deal with our emotions on a more personal level rather than only voicing our grief into the void of social media.
Because celebrities are so prominent in popular culture and we are constantly seeing them in the media, it would be impossible to not also grieve together, even when it can seem superficial. Their work, and much of their private life, is public, so members of our culture may share the same memories of them.
However, the way we connect with memories of these celebrities is often unique and more intimate. When Amy Winehouse died, I remember listening to her Back to Black album with my mom. I had turned to her music in difficult times growing up to find confidence and strength. Still, even then, it felt strange to feel angry or confused that she was now gone. Since I didn’t know her personally, I didn’t feel like this grief was mine to feel. Telling myself that I could not grieve only made it more difficult to process my emotions.
We should respect ourselves and our emotions when celebrities die. As we pay tribute to the losses of athletes, actors, justices and musicians, we can appreciate how we personally relate to popular culture. Even when we do not know them personally, I am grateful for the people behind these societal contributions who connect us, shape us and make us feel human.
Hallie Underwood ’24 is an undeclared major from Columbus, Ohio. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.