We don’t really know them, yet we feel we know them enough to grieve when they leave. Such is the power of celebrities, and the artistry of art itself. You feel so deeply connected that a celebrity death can tug at your heartstrings as much as-or even more-than when you may lose a relative, friend or acquaintance.
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Tears of grief rolled down the cheeks of fellow scribes as they sat down to pen tributes to singer KK, whose sudden death on Tuesday evening, left a vacuum in a million hearts. As they wrote, their earphones jammed with a playlist of his versatile singing. It reminded me of a beautiful and poignant tweet that a friend wrote when ‘Disco King’ Bappi Lahiri passed away earlier this year. “Mourning is a celebration,” she wrote, sharing her little way of dealing with a celebrity death.
Why do celebrity deaths feel personal?
This year, we’ve already seen far too many. As Armaan Malik puts it, 2022 is a “black year for Indian music”. The demise of Lata Mangeshkar, India’s ‘Nightingale’, was followed by Bappi da, and then Santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma. Now within a week, we’ve lost Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala to a daylight murder, and KK to a cardiac arrest.
The melancholy is as real as in some of KK’s songs: “Hum rahe na rahe kal… yaad aayenge ye pal”. Or Bappi da’s “Kabhi alvida naa kehna”. And even Lata Mangeshkar’s “Rahein na rahein hum”.
Ever wondered why we feel so deeply moved when celebrities die? You don’t have a personal connection with them, and yet their loss feels so personal. Isn’t it?
Experts say it’s natural for people to react the way they do considering the attachment they develop with celebrities – be it with a film star, a singer, dancer, a sports star or even a politician. Plus, it shakes us and wakes up to the harsh yet honest reality about the fragility of life. It’s like a reminder to live your every present moment like your last one.
Eminent psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh tells Health Shots that a celebrity’s nature and nature of work play a significant role in the direct or indirect impact that their demise could have on people.
Why do we feel grief when a celebrity dies?
Grief, he says, is simply about attachment. Which is why it feels so personal.
“It is about relatedness, and almost like an extension of your being. It’s similar to the what you may feel with the loss of a family member, because it is a loss related to memories and moments (related to movies, songs, matches or milestones). It is about adulation and admiration,” explains Dr Parikh, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
According to clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Narendra Kinger, “We identify with celebrities as they are in the public eye, and the familiarity makes us believe that they are close to us. The psychological identification and the physical ‘virtual’ familiarity make us partake in their daily life as if they were an extension of our ‘real selves’. Hence, when a celebrity dies, we feel as if someone close to us has died, and so we mourn.”
The feeling was familiar for many when Rajesh Khanna, Sridevi, Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor passed away. Their demise left a lump in the throat- not just because they were stars, but because their rich body of work touched the right chords.
Forget closer home, even the death of Princess Diana, singing stars Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and cricketers Shane Warne and Andrew Symonds more recently among several others, hit us hard.
Also read: Ridden with grief? A psychiatrist reveals how it can affect your health
What is the psychology behind mourning a celebrity’s death?
“The psychological principle is of ‘identification’ and ‘internalization’,” explained Kinger, the founder of Talk to Me. By that, he means that these popular personalities become a part of our personalities and life. And therefore, even our reactions are a result of how we tend to make them a part of “our reality”, despite “not being a part of their reality”.
Nevertheless, one can’t ignore how the media blitz and bombardment, social media hype, as well as the 24-hour ‘breaking news’ cycle, spurs a sense of more attachment. The attachment feels deeper.
“In the boredom and routine of our own lives, it is common for the common person to be impacted. To come to terms, we need to get more out of our own lives than be invested in them. We have to be aware of our own reality,” Kinger tells Health Shots.
Sometimes, fans’ response to their idol’s death can be extreme.
“The possible extremes to celebrity deaths which we have witnessed in the past are self-immolation, self-harm, attempts to commit or suicides, etc,” Kinger said.
He ain’t bluffing. As per news reports, a 19-year-old fan of the late singer Sidhu Moose Wala tried to commit suicide by drinking phenyl.
Does the nature of celebrity deaths impact the way people react?
It makes us wonder if the nature of a celebrity deaths also plays a role in the way people react? Think of the disbelief and shock over the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s demise. Or even when Siddharth Shukla died of a heart attack.
Dr Parikh agrees that the nature of death instills a different type of a thought process in a person who may be a fan of a celebrity.
But it needs to be understood that grief is an emotion that people feel depending on the “dynamics of their attachment” – be it when someone dies closer home, or in the celeb-verse. So, an older generation person may not grieve for a Sidhu Moose Wala as he or she would for a Bappi Lahiri. But there may be concern and sympathy for the way the 28-year-old Punjabi icon died – with a bombardment of bullets.
How to get over celebrity deaths?
Well, nothing beats talking about it when it comes to coping with the grief of a celebrity death! Mourning is a celebration, didn’t my friend say it?
Dr Parikh agrees. “Talking to people who feel a similar way, who are able to identify with how you feel, is the best way to deal with the loss of a celebrity. Celebrate how they have touched your lives with memories and moments.”