Commentary
5:00 am
Fri August 15, 2014

What Are We Supposed To Do When A Famous Person Dies?

Our celebrity-obsessed culture has a lot of trouble handling death. Arguably our ordinary everyday American culture does as well, but in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ passing, it’s become obvious that the end of a celebrity’s life can just leave us mystified.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams
Credit hotgossipitalia / Flickr / Creative Commons

If that celebrity dies through his or her own hand and while the star of their celebrity-hood is still brightly illuminated, it’s even more perplexing to us. We feel we know them and our grieving process wants to treat them like family or a dear friend. Yet we can’t partake in the ceremony of their funeral, put our arms around their grieving spouse and personally speak words from our heart to their survivors.

In our awkwardness we share our feelings with our friends. Writers put together tributes and cartoonists (like me) sketch memorializing drawings. Recently on NPR, Bob Mondello his tribute with the phrase that Williams was now “free” from his torment. Mental health professionals then pointed out that such statements can send wrong messages to those struggling with depression who may be close to making such life-ending moves themselves.

When I received a phone call a day after Williams’ death, saying the adult daughter of an old friend had just ended her own life, I couldn’t help wondering if there was a connection between the media’s overexposure of Williams’ sad story and the tragic death of this woman.

I don’t have the answer. Maybe I’m contributing to the problem with this commentary. I sure hope not. But we humans just keep muddling along, dealing as best we can with tragedies, however inadequate our efforts may be, especially concerning celebrities.