Why It Matters To Us When A Celebrity Dies

Get over it already. They're not your friends or your family. They're not real heroes. Norman Schwarzkopf died and where were your tears?! You cry for the celebutantes but you don't care about the people who actually risk their lives for your freedom!

So why do you do it? Why do you mourn and care so deeply for people you don't know? For starters, because you do know them. You know them because they let you into their innermost thoughts, dreams, fears, loves, and humanity. You watch them on TV, you read their books, admire their paintings, listen to their music, and you sit in a dark theater and share the exact same emotion at the exact same time with hundreds of perfect strangers sitting all around you. Why? Because for those two hours, the person on that screen is you. That's the magic of why it works.

There is something unifying about the way we share in an artist's work. It's something we clearly need, or we wouldn't be drawn to it. And it's not this "Era of the Famous" that's so different. We've been like this for generation after generation. We look out into the abyss and it's not the abyss that stares back, it's a version of ourselves as shown to us by our greatest artists.

Off-screen they're often just as vital. Many people suffering from mental illness saw inspiration in Carrie Fisher's candor about her own struggles. A generation of kids struggling with their own identity found a friend in George Michael's public declaration of freedom to express his own. Countless precious misfits and wonderfully odd teenagers sought comfort in David Bowie and Prince proudly waving their own freak flag high. Each of these people told the world that you can be anyone you want. Most importantly, they told us we can be exactly who we are.

Harper Lee told us that we will never really understand a person until we climb inside their skin and walk around in it and Gene Wilder and Alan Rickman let us use theirs for a while. Glenn Frey told us to find a place to make our stand and Muhammed Ali taught us to fight with all our heart. Garry Marshall helped us laugh along the way and Debbie Reynolds made sure we also remembered to dance. Garry Shandling reminded us that nice guys finish first and if you don't know that, you don't know where the finish line is. And from your lips, Leonard Cohen drew a Hallelujah.

There are heroes who make sure we survive and there are those who remind us what we're surviving for. Celebrate both in equal measure, because without one the other is irrelevant.