Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Strange Obsession with Celebrity Deaths

@my123cents on Twitter

The bulk of this post is going to be Chad's, but since we both wanted to weigh in on the death of Robin Williams, I figured I'd tie it into one post.  My thoughts will be short and sweet. 

Remember the alien who made us laugh in Mork and Mindy.  Remember the Genie who made us believe in ourselves in Aladdin.  Remember the teacher who inspired us in Dead Poet's Society.  Williams' apparent suicide has created an open dialogue on the issue of mental illness, depression, and suicide.  He was not selfish in his actions.  We don't know the pain he was going through.  That's the thing about mental illness.  People suffer in silence.

I think we as a society need to acknowledge mental illness is a very real medical condition just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.  The stigma needs to be broken.  It's okay to get help. I know several people who have ended their own lives because they felt there were no other options.  If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline anytime, 1-800-273-8255.

Chad's take on things

Monday at work my coworkers got into a discussion about the death of Game of Thrones actor J.J. Murphy. They were trying to figure out which character J.J. portrayed on the show. Since I don’t watch Game of Thrones and don’t think I’ve ever seen J.J. Murphy before, I got up and walked around for a bit to get away from the conversation. When I came back, they had all gone back to work. I sat at my computer and decided to check the news sites to see if anything interesting was going on in the world before going back to work myself. That’s when I saw Robin Williams had been found dead.  This led to a brief talk with the coworkers as they had seen the news and talked about it while I was gone.

Again, I realize what I’m about to write is going to be more of the cynical, angry old man side of me that seems to be coming out more and more lately. That isn’t my full intention. This is more of an observation and curiosity I have towards human behavior.

Photo courtesy: Disney
After news broke about Robin Williams’ death, literally for the next hour every single posting on my Facebook timeline was either a RIP comment or picture of Robin from one of his movies.  I understand the death was shocking due to Robin not being ill but I what I don’t understand is why celebrity deaths impact people so much.

On the way home from work I was talking with a friend and she made two valid points. I have a lot of friends who work in the film/television industry. In a sense, Robin was a peer. That could explain all the postings. I’ve had other people I’ve worked with on shows die in the past few years and everyone who knew them posted similar comments to those being posted about Robin. Difference being fewer people knew these behind the scenes persons and so there were less comments.

The second point my friend mentioned was a nostalgia factor. Robin Williams has been a star for nearly 40 years. From Mork to Popeye to Mrs. Doubtfire to Genie and others that had a lasting impression on the audience, Robin Williams leaves a legacy of quotable and memorable characters.  Anyone who grew up with these characters understandably feels a loss due to Robin’s death.

The issue I have is not so much why people would be sadden by the death of Robin Williams but why one person’s death gets heralded while others get mocked or ignored.  Maybe it’s because I don’t idolize celebrities the way society tells me I should. Yes, there are celebrities I am huge fans of but at the end of the day, I realize they are just people like everyone else and if I actually knew them, my opinion of them could be radically different.

Kevin Ward, Jr.
Photo courtesy: USA Today
Getting back to the first part of the last paragraph, on Saturday night, racer Kevin Ward Jr. was struck and killed by Tony Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motor Sports Park in upstate New York.  The few comments I’ve seen regarding the incident put more blame on Kevin for being on the racetrack than showing compassion for his death. Granted, Kevin shouldn’t have left his car and walked onto a racetrack while cars were still driving. Does that make Kevin’s death any less tragic than Robin Williams’ death that would make it okay to mock or trivialize it? 

Ferguson riots
Earlier on Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri an 18-year-old male, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. This story went primarily unmentioned until riots and looting broke out in Ferguson. I do not know most of the details involved in this case. Does that support what I’m trying to say in this writing? Police shoot a person and a town breaks out into mass chaos yet as of this writing four of the top six stories on Yahoo are about Robin Williams.  Even President Obama has issued a statement regarding the death of Robin Williams yet has been silent about a town in turmoil.

Last month Islamic state fighters stoned two women in separate towns in Syria to death for allegedly committing adultery. In 2014 people are still being stoned to death and it doesn’t make the news for several days.

Again, I understand Robin Williams had universal appeal and recognition. I think part of my issue may also be the manner in which Robin died. The current story is he committed suicide after suffering from depression. While his life is being celebrated and remembered, how long before people move on and “forget” about the reason for his death?  Mental illness seems to be a growing problem in society yet how much is being done to treat and cure (if possible) this disease?  That’s an honest question, as I have no clue what to the answer.  I’ll save that tangent for another time.

Good Morning Vietnam
Robin Williams was a hilarious comedian and talented actor. His death is shocking due to the nature of how it happened. But I am jaded and cynical to the point where the death of a celebrity doesn’t take precedence over actual events in the world that will have more of a lasting impact.  I simply don’t understand the culture of celebrity society promotes. Being rich, being famous, being infamous doesn’t mean anything to me. People are people.

Good thing my123cents has Kevin around to keep things light and fun.


  1. I think its OK to say that Robin had died, but why do TV people keep talking about it for days or weeks. People want to glorify them as though they are special, which they are not. The norm for those kinds of people is death by drugs or booze & the TV people celebrate that. The people who work hard each day & contribute 10 times more never get noticed.

  2. Nearly all the celebrities have a tough life due to loss of privacy. Its very difficult for them to give up a part of your life and not having control of it.