The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the subsequent societal mourning that has taken place over the last week reminds me of two other significant celebrity deaths of 2020.
Actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for his role as T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, died at age 43 in August. His death was met with international grief. Children lost their superhero and adults lost a man who brought to life influential Black figures on screen – something that is still all-to-uncommon in cinema.
He was memorialized by many calling him “King” – a reference to his King T’Challa role in Black Panter. His death and the life he lived while privately battling colon cancer, reminds us of the inner strength that he had and gives us examples of true power and grace.
In February, Katherine Johnson died. Johnson was the mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first crewed U.S. space flights. She broke barriers in her industry, not only as a woman but as a Black woman in the 1950s. Johnson’s contributions to the space program were many, and she paved the way for countless people in her industry. Her story was told in the 2016 movie, “Hidden Figures.”
These are just two of the many people lost in 2020. Adding the “Notorious RBG”, as she was affectionately known, to this list is a blow to not only her admirers but to society in general. Ginsburg was a known liberal, but she will also be remembered as a moderate for the way she interacted with those on the other side of the aisle.
Ginsburg had a well-documented friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was her political opposite. The two did not agree on many things, however, they respected each other’s intellect and opinions.
A lot can be learned from the life that Ginsburg led. Her tenacity to have the career that she wanted in a time that did not value what she had to contribute, is similar to the drive possessed by Johnson. Both women advocated for themselves, knowing that they had every right to be taken as seriously as the men with whom they were surrounded.
Ginsburg’s fight with cancer began well before she was diagnosed in 1999. Her mother died of cancer the day before Ginsburg graduated from high school. When Ginsburg was a young wife and mother, her husband, Martin Ginsburg was diagnosed with testicular cancer. She attended classes at Harvard Law, taking notes and completing homework for both them, caring for her daughter and tending to her ill husband. Ultimately, both Ruth and Martin Ginsburg died from complications related to cancer.
Ginsburg, like Boseman, quietly dealt with the disease. She fought against it when it ravaged her loved ones, and she powered through it in her own body, continuing to take the bench on the Supreme Court throughout her fight.
Ginsburg’s life and influence cannot be summed up in a short column. Her career paved the way for women to live as equally as men. Her impact cannot be overstated. Without Ginsburg, the world we know today may be unrecognizable.
The world will mourn for Ginsburg, as it did for Boseman, Johnson, and the many other influential people who go before us. As time passes, their deaths will become normalized – for some even forgotten. What must not be forgotten is the spirit she left behind, the strength she possessed and the fight for equality that she raged – may we all maintain the fire that she started.