When They’re Gone:

Examining the reasons why we grieve when celebrities pass on

By Cheyenne Sykes

Posted on November 28, 2017 at 12:04 PM PDT


Be silent in that solitude,

Which is not loneliness—for then

The spirits of the dead who stood

In life before thee are again

In death around thee—and their will

Shall overshadow thee: be still.

(Spirits of The Dead - Edgar Allan Poe)


Whether we knew them personally or not, we must all admit that celebrities have an impact on our lives. They make us feel and think through their works of art.  The world remembers them for the contributions they made in their industry, whether it be music, film, television, or even politics.

Robin Williams, a master in the industry, made us laugh and made us cry through his many iconic performances. Musical giants like Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie and so many others, moved us with their songs. When celebrities pass on, they leave this world with their legacy and two question of why: why did they have to leave so soon? And why does it hurt so much?

Many of us can remember exactly where we were when we heard our favorite celebrity had died. For some, it feels like they have lost a member of their family. Usually it’s unexpected and difficult to comprehend what a life without that person would be like. In an interview with the Huffington Post's, David Kaplan, the Chief Professional Officer of the American Counseling Association, says: “These deaths also feel so personal because they resonate with us on a deeper, psychological level. We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.”

Legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams, died in 2014. As a comedian, he made us laugh with his hilarious and sometimes vulgar language, but it was his performances in film and television that really made him stand out. “He had a deep soul and was a great guy. He was in a lot of shows and movies I watched and he really made me see life differently.” Many children from the 90s will remember him as the iconic voice of Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin.” Other generations will remember him for his notable, “Oh captain, my captain” role, in the film “Dead Poets Society.”

For many, Williams was a defining part of their childhood. One Redwood High School student in particular, Spencer J.,  felt a personal impact from William’s death. “Because I ‘grew up’ with him and because he went to the same high school as me.”

Just because you don’t know a celebrity personally, doesn't mean that you can’t feel the heartbreak when they leave. On many levels, we feel very connected to these people, whether they were from our hometown or their past somehow resonates with ours. ‘What’s Your Grief’ reporter, Dean Podestá, explained, “We feel connected to our favorite celebs. These connections are not just about how much we love, appreciate and respect these people, but sometimes because they remind us of, well, us. This can be as specific as their connection to a moment in our past, or as general as the fact that they are about our age or have something else in common to us.”

When kids are growing up, they look to the people around them for insight on how to live and to how to be unique. As one Dominican University student said, “People look up to celebrities as role models, as people they want to be like or be with. People feel as though they knew the celebrity personally. So when they die, it’s similar to the feeling of losing a loved one since they felt that they knew them so well.”

In 2016, the music industry took a huge hit from musicians’ deaths in 2016. So many greats died that year: David Bowie, Prince and George Michael just to name a few. With Prince’s death, the world paid tribute by lighting up national monuments with a purple hue. All around the world, people mourned the death of the beloved singer of “Purple Rain.” He left his mark, both with the music he made and with the lives he touched.

Music plays such an important role in each of our lives, as St. Margaret's High School football coach, Stephen B. commented, “I imagine that since music has so many overtones and people link songs to memories and when they die it sort of takes people back to when that song impacted their life…”

Many people feel as though there’s an empty feeling when their favorite musician dies. The thought that they will never again make music is disheartening, but makes people really appreciate what they gave to us when they were here.

    When it comes to political figures, like Princess Diana, England was grieving for a woman who was, at the time of her death, technically not a member of the royal family. However, she was still an important figure, especially considering that she was the mother of Princes William and Harry. People were outraged that Queen Elizabeth or any of the other members of the Royal Family hadn’t said anything until five days after her death was announced. This caused the Queen to make, “her first live televised speech in nearly four decades.” This still didn’t make that empty feeling go away. Entertainment Weekly reports that Sir Elton John, a dear friend of Diana’s, played a modified version of “Candle In The Wind,” written originally for Marilyn Monroe. Reporter Maureen Lee Lenker reported that John “reworked the lyrics… to reflect Princess Diana’s life, changing ‘Goodbye Norma Jean’ to ‘Goodbye England’s Rose’ and adjusting the verses to speak to her charitable work. New lyrics spoke to the joy she brought England and the world, also noting how the nation would miss ‘the wings of [her] compassion...’”


“We'll carry on


And though you're dead and gone believe me

Your memory will carry on...”

My Chemical Romance