Why Losing A Celebrity Can Feel Like Losing A Family Member

This morning I woke to the news of Luke Perry’s death, shocked at the passing of another celebrity, but weirdly, more shocked to realise he was 52 years old.

Fifty-two. Whaaaaat? I had immortalised him as a teenager on Beverly Hills 90210; never quite as hot as Brandon in my opinion, but still worth watching in his own right.

His death seems too soon, and maybe this is what has left me most gutted despite him not being someone I felt particularly connected to -- that somehow, he should have been invincible, this heartthrob of the '90s who women have idolised for decades.

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But he wasn’t. He died a natural death after being hospitalised for a stroke last week. It’s all so very normal, and somehow the disbelief, shock and grief seems more because of this; because as it turns out, he was just as human as you or I, after all.

It’s curious, really, the way celebrity deaths hit us so hard. It feels like a personal loss even though it isn’t. At least, not in the sense that we know them. But still, we know them. They are the intimate strangers who have connected with us on a personal level; whose creative works have often shaped our self-identities and helped us understand ourselves better.

We have followed their lives, watched their evolution, allowed the journey of their heart to affect the journey of our own; whether through a movie from our childhood we can still remember word-for-word, a television series binge-watched during times of sickness or loneliness, an album played on repeat for months in the midst of a breakup.

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These are the people who have connected with us on an emotional level often deeper than we have allowed even those closest to connect, therefore the loss of someone we identify with in such a profound way, whether we knew them personally or not, affects us more than we are often prepared for.

We follow celebrities' lives, watch their evolution, allow the journey of their hearts to affect the journey of our own. (Image: Getty)

We feel the loss of someone who helped us through our own losses, who often put into words things we felt but could never articulate ourselves. We grieve the loss of their creative work, the reality that there will never be another album, another movie, another season; they will never create anything new, and this deep sense of mourning is not only for the person themselves, but for how much they have given during times of our life we have needed it, that has now gone forever.

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I was 14 when Kurt Cobain took his own life. Grunge music had become a solace in the throes of my own dysfunctional and abusive life -- I felt understood by grunge music, and his suicide was one which shocked and affected me tremendously at such an impressionable age; the tragic death of so many musicians since triggering that same response of shock and disbelief, that same awareness of my own pain and mortality.

The death of Robin Williams has perhaps been, in more recent times, a death which I have struggled with the most. There is not one of his movies that has not profoundly challenged, moved or changed me in some way; that I felt so connected to his personal journey, to his willingness to speak so openly of his depression, only intensified the loss I felt at the news of his death.

When the news of Princess Diana’s death came, I was at the Adelaide show; the carefree atmosphere of Spring days and carnival rides changed in a heartbeat. It was incredible to see shock spread throughout thousands of people; how the mood became instantly sober, the murmurs of disbelief rippling through the crowd -- this much-loved woman so many could relate to; her death impossible to comprehend. This much-loved woman who had become family to my family; and to everyone’s family I knew.

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It may seem ludicrous to grieve the death of celebrities; people we haven’t known ourselves, or known beyond a television screen or set of headphones. But not only have these people become part of who we are, but they have become part of our shared experiences and memories also; concerts, movie premieres, binge-watching seasons of our favourite shows on a Friday night -- things that bond us to the people we love.

Our grief is legitimate. The amount of grief we experience is directly tied to our amount of connection we feel to someone. Whether we know them personally or not is irrelevant. We’ve lost a person who meant something to us, whether that was the shaping of our own lives or in the way they connected our lives to those around us. We need to acknowledge our grief and process it just as we would at the loss of those we do know personally, at the loss of those we love.

Just as we would at the loss of those we call family.