The psychology behind celebrity deaths

9th November 2016
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2nd March 2017

The psychology behind celebrity deaths

The untimely death of George Michael will leave a void in the hearts and minds of adults and teenagers alike. He created a fictional persona in order to cope with his sexuality and pressures of media attention as he became an integral part of pop culture. George had an altruistic trait in his personality which facilitated his giving millions to charities and on a more personal note, to individuals he met on the street, such was George Michael.

Like many A listers who have died during the past year there are psychological aspects associated with how we mourn their loss. We know where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the death of George Michaele or Robin Williams ..the list is endless. Moments after we hear the news social media is saturated with videos and tributes of the late singers performances and lyrics.

Ironically whilst we feel the loss we have in fact rarely met these pop idols, we know little about their real lives and intimacies , we know nothing about the reality of the causes of their depression loss of a a loved one is intensified by the meaning it has for our own person and the joy it has now eliminated. Depression and low mood is normal to experience in particular when we loss our pop idol. For older adults he was our teenage heartthrob and this becomes an integral part of our personal identity.These feelings of sadness is in fact good for us to experience when a celebrity dies. The reason being that it heightens our sense of empathy and understanding of death.

Some celebrities die after a long life of service to entertainment whilst other are taken form us in their early life. Many have pretty normal lives with few major life problems while other struggle with alcohol, or depression or suicide or narcotic abuse. Much of these can be attributed to a perpetual attempt to please the concert audiences to please their fans on tour and meet constantly higher expectations. When Robin Williams took his own life he was one of 40 million Americans suffering from depression. There is the constant struggle emotionally to hide behind the mask and put on a brave face. This alone requires a huge effort many fans never realize is part of celebrity culture. Philip Hoffman was a gifted and versatile actor at the peak of his career when he died at the age of 46 in 2014. Yet in all he was one of some 8,000 people who died from heroin poisoning. Celebrity deaths help us to understand the nature of addictions and its tragic consequences.Further it provides us with insight into our own coping strategies or the lack of coping skills when a loved one passes away.In the context of Celebrity culture it helps fans and viewers to assess their own values and beliefs about death and also helps fans understand the full humanity of A listers and the problems they have to endure on tour and the struggle to maintain a degree of intimacy about their private family lives and relationships. At the hearing of the late George Michaels death it became nostalgic for me and many others when we reflect back psychologically to the time and place we heard that song and its lyrics. This can produce bittersweet nostalgia and re assess what’s working properly in our own lives. For many Georges death will bring them back to their late adolescence when they were making career choices and making serious decisions about their future. These thought or cognitive exercises are helpful in that they help us separate what is important in our lives at the moment and what is not   When we reflect back on Georges life journey we can see how he=is image had changed significantly, and this became one of the main reasons why he led a reclusive lifestyle trying to avoid concerts and facing his fans. Coming together in social media is another helpful coping strategy for fans of the late George Michael. Collective mourning between fan groups helps us connect emotionally with others who share similar and feelings and the impact of his musical genius on our own journey.

Arthur Cassidy Ph.D