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Cawley: Why celebrity deaths hit us so hard – Itemlive – Daily Item

As someone who still listens to Whitney Houston’s music frequently, I was curious to know why her name was trending Monday on Twitter. 

It turns out that her name was trending based on the vast amount of responses to a thread from one user who had asked people to weigh in on a simple question: What celebrity death, in your lifetime, hit you the hardest? 

So many people had listed Houston as an answer that her name had started trending in addition to the thread itself. 

The results aren’t at all surprising. 

Whitney Houston was one of the first celebrity deaths that really had an impact on me. 

I remember the collective mourning from others when Princess Diana and Aaliyah died — both senseless tragedies — but Houston’s death was different for me. 

Part of it was due to being older. I was 22 when Houston died in February 2012 less than 24 hours before that year’s Grammy Awards. 

But much of it was due to growing up listening to her music, which was sort of like growing up with her presence, and the sadness that centered around her downward spiral later in life. 

As a kid, I would often find myself dipping into my mother’s vast CD collection. I gravitated toward Mariah Carey, who still remains my favorite singer, and others with similar music, including Whitney Houston. 

The Houston CD I always had in my rotation was “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” which featured the catchy title track. As I got older, I would dip into more of her music and watched most of her movies — unlike other singers who have ventured into acting, Houston was actually in some decent films. 

“Heartbreak Hotel” stands out as one of the music videos that I would wait around to see. In the late 1990s, it was common to watch music videos throughout the day on MTV and other music video channels. Unlike today with YouTube, you couldn’t pick what you watched and had to wait for your favorite videos to come on. 

So, it was sad for me to witness the struggles she had later on in life and how it tarnished her image, culminating with the night she was found dead in a Beverly Hills bathtub with cocaine in her system. 

I remember watching the continuous news coverage following her death and feeling a sense of disbelief throughout the ordeal. Even today, it’s sad to listen to one of her songs and connect that great talent with how her life ended. 

Other celebrity deaths that stood out to me include Michael Jackson in 2009, Robin Williams in 2014, and since I’m an avid Yankees fan, George Steinbrenner in 2010. 

But the celebrity death that has hit me the hardest since Houston did not come until this year, when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. The sadness, like a punch to the gut, was immediate, especially when the news broke that his 13-year-old daughter had also died. 

Aside from the fact that it was a senseless tragedy, it was hard to grasp that such a larger-than-life person had died so suddenly. I don’t watch basketball much anymore, but would often catch Bryant’s games when he was playing, especially when the Lakers were undoubtedly beating the Nets, the team I used to follow. 

Although there doesn’t seem to be much logic around grieving for someone you’ve never met, that sense of loss and sadness when a celebrity dies makes sense, especially when that person is someone we admired or is inextricably tied to certain memories or moments in time, according to clinical experts interviewed by Well and Good. 

“They’re never supposed to die, and they’re always 25 in our heads,” Seattle-based therapist and grief counselor Jill Gross, PsyD, told Well and Good. “When they die a little part of us dies, too — our innocence dies with them.”

“Feelings are signals — if you feel sad about a loss, it’s a signal it had some meaning to you,” added clinical psychologist Natalia Skritskaya, PhD of the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. 

There are celebrities and then there are icons, who are symbolic of something that’s larger than life, Gayle Stever, a psychology professor at SUNY Empire State College who penned the book “The Psychology of Celebrity,” told TODAY. 

To be hit with the reality that they are fragile and mortal is a blow to our cultural myths about celebrity, Stever said. 

In some instances, people tend to create imagined relationships with celebrities, which makes us feel close to that person, experts told TODAY. 

“I would argue that we know more about celebrities than our neighbors and the people we work with,” Stever told TODAY. “If my next door neighbor died, I would feel bad. But I might not feel the same level of connection if I didn’t know that person as well as I knew my favorite celebrity.”

Other popular answers on the Twitter thread included David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Princess Diana, Chris Farley, Stan Lee, Mac Miller, Heath Ledger, Alan Rickman and Patrick Swayze. 


What do you think?

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