When Celebrities Die

“Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” – Prince

Last month, one of Minnesota’s most beloved musicians, Prince, died unexpectedly. Flocks of people traveled from near and far to Prince’s house, called Paisley Park. Even more danced and partied outside Minneapolis’ famous First Avenue theater, shutting down one of the most central roads in downtown Minneapolis.

Conversations revolved around Prince for weeks. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” said one of my friends. Many were shaken by his death. Others were moved by his music in the wake of his vanish from the earth. At a workout class I attended with my wife, they played Prince music and the instructor, in between jumping-jacks and squat-jumps, talked about how much Prince meant to her.

Unfortunately, I did not feel the same remorse for Prince’s death as many did. I didn’t visit Paisley Park or listen to Purple Rain on repeat. Though I felt sadness for the death of a human life, I didn’t mourn for Prince like others did. Was I being cold?

Then this weekend, one of the world’s most beloved athletes and activists, Muhammad Ali, died from a long battle with Parkinson’s Syndrome. I suppose every news source and media channel has focused on Ali since then, highlighting the wonderful life he lived and the sadness of his passing. Since I’ve been fasting news lately, I didn’t see the news until a day later, when my brother told me. I had no idea, and when he told me, I was shaken up. I felt terribly sad about the news.

Why did I care more about Ali’s death than I did Prince’s? It seems unbalanced and callus. Is something wrong with me? Trying to cope with the polar opposite emotions I felt, I reasoned: I wasn’t raised listening to Prince, and in my adult years I have never been moved to know his music or enamored by his grandeur. There’s no real reason why, but I never became a Prince fan. Because of this, I didn’t feel an emotional connection to his life or his death. In fact, I hate to admit, but I even found myself feeling somewhat disturbed by others who seemed so distraught by the death of this person who they had never even met.

I didn’t get it at the time, until Ali died. Then it made more sense. Still though, I kept wrestling with the idea of innocent children, amazing people, saints and sinners, and people alike who die every day without ever having a chance to create art, or without becoming famous or wealthy. They die sad and alone, or after long torturous mental or physical illnesses. Yet, when we hear about these peoples’ deaths, we are rarely as moved as we are with the death of celebrities. We don’t visit their graves, or spend a weekend night celebrating their lives in the street. Instead, our eyes scroll over the article and onto the Kardashians, or we change the news and flip to ESPN or HGTV. Heck, if it weren’t for Hilary Clinton’s involvement with the Benghazi incident, the rest of us would have seen a brief news report of military deaths in the Middle East, and we would have flipped the channel without thinking twice.

Maybe I’m being unrealistic. After all, I know we can’t feel sad about every life that ends. If we did we would spend our lives in constant mourning. Still though, I can’t help but be bothered by the emotional distraught we feel for the deaths of celebrities so ali_3208256cmuch more than we do the deaths of “normal” people. As I said, unlike with Prince, I did grow up idolizing Muhammad Ali. As a teenager, I watched videos of his fights, memorized his phrases, and was enamored by his grandeur. Everything about Ali fascinated me — how hard he trained, committed to his cause, mastered an art, became an elite performer, and most importantly, was a champion. Ali made history by changing sports, entertainment, news, religion, and music. I didn’t agree with everything Ali did, but I was definitely intrigued by his life. So when I heard Ali had passed, something inside of my stomach dropped. “What?! No…” was my first reaction. I was distressed and doleful.

But then, I remembered how I felt about the death of Prince. And I started to ask myself some questions.

Why do we care so much about the death of celebrities that we are enamored by? Do we feel we know them somehow, even if we have not met them? Do we feel connected to their art or their story? Is that a real connection, or is it a false sense of connection? Should I care more or less about this?

These questions are mostly unanswered, and I am definitely not proposing we refuse to mourn celebrities like Prince or Muhammad Ali. Instead, I am proposing that we make significant efforts to value the lives of all people, regardless of their fame or our connection to their works. Regardless of if this is the thousandth time we have seen them on TV, or the first. Regardless of their talent, or their lack thereof.

When it comes to mourning celebrity deaths, you should most certainly continue to mourn the death of any people who have impacted you. Go to Paisley Park, sing Purple Rain on repeat, watch Mohammad Ali videos, put his famous knockout photo on your computer desktop. Talk about them. Let their talents and legacies live on. My plea, however, is that you consider why you may be mourning more for these people than you do for the newborn that died during birth, or the soldier who died in Iraq, for the prisoner who was executed, or the elderly man who passed in his bed alone.

Should all human life be valued equally?

We should strive to care about all lives, not just the ones we “get to know” on TV.

Am I over-thinking this? Maybe. But that’s what blogs are for.

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