When the news about Joan Rivers passing away broke only a month after the world lost Robin Williams, I found myself fixed in front of my television simultaneously crying and laughing as clip after clip of the legendary comedian flashed across the screen, much in the same way I had over Mr. Williams. Now Hollywood has lost another legend, Leonard Nimoy. My very to the point grandmother (who has a tongue that could give Joan a run for her money- perhaps this is why I felt the attachment to the late comedian that I do) has always used an expression that goes something along the lines of “you can’t be sad for everyone because you yourself will have enough sadness in your own life.” While a rather cold sentiment, I couldn’t help but dwell on it during the days that followed the news of each star’s death. I didn’t even know these people, but I was overcome with too real a sense of loss. Was I being overly dramatic? After reading through dozens upon dozens of comments on articles celebrating the their lives, I found I wasn’t alone or being silly. Hordes of people were in the same, sad boat and were constantly reiterating “I know I didn’t actually know them…” Yes, we don’t know celebrities on a personal level, but feeling a sense of loss or sadness in their passing is nothing to feel silly about.
Celebrities come with an assortment of adjectives attached to them: funny, talented, giving, selfish, stuck up, rich, charitable, fake, real- the list goes on. For almost every single famous person out there, an odd juxtaposition of descriptions exists. Sometimes what the general public assumes is true and sometimes it’s wrong. The real truth is that despite what we’ve read or what rumors have circulated, we never really know who those in the limelight are. The people that do are those nearest and dearest to them. Take Joan for example. The world knows her for her snarky remarks and twisted tell-it-how-it-is sense of humor. But how many people think about Joan and immediately picture her as a humanitarian or as Joan, the loving mother and grandmother? What we all know, without a doubt, is that Joan was a source of entertainment (whether it was good or bad entertainment is up to the reader- I’m partial to the former). Just as Phillip Seymour Hoffman was, just as Robin was and just as all the rest of Hollywood’s finest who have been taken from us this year were. They were our hardworking entertainers and we their loyal, crazy and affected audience.
When we analyze the sadness we feel and think “I didn’t know them,” we’re entirely right. We didn’t know them the way we do our friends and family. But we knew their work, their artistry and no artist can deny the fact that their work is an utterly personal showcase. We weren’t sitting down to dinner with Robin on a regular basis, but we did regularly invite him into our lives through his incredible and unique work. We turn to Hollywood and its diverse troupe of players to not only provide ourselves with entertainment, but to find a distraction, inspiration, a way to turn a bad day around and even when we’re grappling with some of the tougher questions in life. When Robin stepped into the shoes of Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, he was not simply a teacher to a classroom of prep school boys, he was our teacher, imploring that we all go out and find our own verse to add to life.
Celebrities and the various roles they play, be it as a singer, an actor, a writer, a comedian, etc., at some point cause us to react. Whether they make you laugh, cry or laugh until you cry, whether they make you feel angry or annoyed, they’re eliciting some type of emotional response from you. So when you turn on the news or see on Facebook that they’re suddenly gone, it’s only natural to feel a sense of shock or sadness. For decades, these people have been floating somewhere on our radar. Their music transcends generational gaps, their comedy remains relevant and the lessons their characters (and they themselves as everyday people) teach go unforgotten. We feel loss over their passing because it is a loss, a loss of potential wonderful things yet to have come. The best way to deal with the loss we feel is to remember.
And that’s what we do. We log onto our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds and it’s as if everyone has come together to pay their respects to a lost star. Favorite quotes are tweeted and scenes screenshot. We watch interview clips and recall our favorite films or stand up routines and celebrate the life that was. Robin and Joan, both iconic comedians in their own right, made us laugh. In the days to follow their deaths, both had family members that implored fans of the stars to keep laughing. They leave behind a legacy of their work; a gift to cure the sadness of fans everywhere. Billy Crystal said it best in his tribute to Robin at this year’s Golden Globes when he compared his good friend to a star that’s burned out, but whose light continues to reach us long after the event has taken place. Hollywood has provided us with a sea of stars whos lights continue to glimmer and glow long after they’ve departed the stage.
You might not know them, but it’s okay to feel sad, to want to spend a day watching classics like Flubber and Mrs. Doubtfire or laugh-out-loud reruns of Fashion Police.
If a person like Leonard, Robin or Joan can have an impact on the entire genre that is comedy or what it is to be a funny guy playing a serious role, they can have an impact on you as a person. The same goes for any celebrity out there, no matter what their area of concentration is. A lifetime spent providing laughter, entertainment and inspiration to the world is worthy of a bit of your sadness. And when the sadness passes, remember the light that still shines.’