Celebrities die at the same rate as we common folk, but their deaths can seem more significant given that millions of people have had a stake in their lives, and thus millions of people feel their passing in a personal way. Social media has given us a platform to publicly share our private grief. This past weekend news of the actor Matthew Perry’s death was met with an outpouring of emotion, and an avalanche of online tributes.
What did you think of his death? What did you think of his life?
The truth is we know so little about the life of any celebrity, save the small piece of themselves that they share with us through the camera. And yet, that small piece can be just enough to give us the illusion that we know them, and that we have a personal connection to them, despite never having met them.
After reading many posts about Matthew Perry on social media, it seems that a lot of people felt a personal connection to him, or more specifically to the witty and sarcastic character that he played on “Friends.” The character Chandler Bing was the avatar through which Matthew Perry made his mark on the world, and his mark on each of us. And he was, in a word, brilliant. It was hard to watch Friends, and not feel a bit better about life, and a little bit better about ourselves. A big part of that was thanks to the humour of Matthew Perry.
We never met Matthew Perry, and yet we knew him. Or at least we felt like we knew him. Thus, his death can feel personal and the grief around it can be real.
In my adult life I have experienced the passing of dozens if not hundreds of celebrities, as have you, but there were four that caused a grief reaction in me; Matthew Perry, Robin Williams, Princess Diana and Anthony Bourdain. Each of these celebrities, who died tragically and before their time, caused me to shed a tear when I first heard of their deaths. All of them had the two things in life that we assume will make us happy; fame and fortune. And yet in each case, despite “having it all” they lived personal lives of pain, and turmoil. The irony is, each of them seemed to have the ability to make everyone around them feel better about themselves, while consumed by their own darkness. Robin Williams once said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy.”
But what made these four people unique, at least to me, was that each of them during their life, was real and open and honest when it came to their challenges. Anthony Bourdain let us share with him his struggle with depression, Matthew Perry took us into his fight with addiction, Princess Diana revealed to us her broken heart, and Robin Williams reminded us that we can be among people but still feel alone. Their gift was not only what they showed us on the screen, but what they shared with us about themselves – honesty, fragility and vulnerability. In so many ways each of these four celebrities seemed super-human, and yet each of them reminded us that they were in fact deeply and fully human. That’s why we loved them. They were real. Like us.
We can all do such a good job of hiding the parts of us that we may feel ashamed of, or that we feel embarrassed about. We may think that world only wants the projected image of us that gives the illusion that we have it all together. So maybe the legacy of Matthew, Robin, Diana, Anthony and those like them, is a reminder that its okay to be real, even and especially when we are hurting. The first step in healing is being able to say to someone, “I see you, the real you, and I love you”.
“Please don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky, when the stars are strung across the velvety night, and when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish. Think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.” – Robin Williams.