I once worked at the same radio station as Dan Ackroyd, before he shot to Hollywood fame. But not at the same time, so I never met him.
I mention that in passing, as Ackroyd supposedly was at one time engaged to actress Carrie Fisher, who has died at age 60. I never met her either. Fisher’s death didn’t shock me nearly as much as when her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, died the following day. It seemed to make a sad event even sadder.
There is a sense of loss though as I ponder yet another unexpected celebrity death for 2016, which seems to have had more than the usual number of deaths. Maybe that’s an anecdotal observation, but everywhere I go people are pleased to see the end of 2016, and not just because they won’t have to endure another US election campaign next year.
I am not sure what to make of the cult of celebrity that has been magnified by the Internet age and the omnipresence of social media. There will be an outpouring of grief online for Fisher, with many tributes from people who, like me, never met her. Yet she, or the characters she played, have influenced their lives.
Social media has created a blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy, or maybe it was always there. Celebrities used to be people we read about or heard about, now they are people we can interact with on Twitter. We can instantly know what they ate for breakfast (I don’t care, but obviously some people do) and we bring them into our circle of friends and family in ways not possible for previous generations. Monthly and weekly fan magazines are a quaint anachronism in this day of Twitter and Instagram.
I don’t think there have been an unusual number of celebrity deaths this year. There are year-end lists being published, and there were a few people whose demise I had missed, it doesn’t seem like celebrities are dying in any greater percentage than the rest of us.
What there has been, I think, is an increased awareness of mortality, and not just because information is so readily available. We have reached that stage where the Baby Boomers are approaching the end of their natural life expectancy. People born today may expect to live into their 90s, but for those born in the late 1940s, anything over 70 is a bonus.
That means there is a generation of pop stars, athletes and actors who are in their last years. With each passing year we can expect to read obituaries for more of them.
Maybe when the volume increases the tributes will be less effusive. Probably not though, given human nature.