No longer a quiet affair when a celeb dies

GONE TOO SOON: (from top clockwise) Notable recent celebrity deaths include music legends Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey and British actor Alan Rickman.


    Apr 28, 2016

    No longer a quiet affair when a celeb dies


    "PRINCE, surely not? Can we turn this year off and turn it back on when it stops being a giant exit for all the most talented people?" The actress Minnie Driver echoed the thoughts of many in tweeting her reaction to the sudden loss of Prince, the latest in a long list of entertainers who died this year.

    Similar comments flooded social media, along with sombre opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines on what has so far been a dark year for the celebrity galaxy.

    "All the adults that affected me in my childhood are making an exodus one by one," the hip-hop producer Questlove wrote on Instagram.

    Prince's death at 57 came three months after David Bowie, another of music's leading lights, succumbed to cancer at 69.

    Other notable deaths this year in the industry include the so-called "Fifth Beatle" George Martin, dead at 90; Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, who was 74; and Paul Kantner, co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, also 74.

    The music world was plunged into mourning once again at the weekend with the death of soul great Billy Paul - he of Me And Mrs Jones fame - at 81.

    Outside the music world, high-profile recent deaths in the entertainment industry include British actor Alan Rickman, who was 69. Britain has lost a host of actors, performers or television personalities this year, many of them from the same era.

    So has 2016 really been the year when the grim reaper took aim at the stars?

    For Nick Serpell, obituary editor for the BBC, the number of notable deaths this year has been "phenomenal".

    "This past year by objective measure has been a year of notable deaths in the music world," said Shaun Tandon, Agence France-Presse's music correspondent in New York, who pointed also to Glenn Frey of The Eagles, Natalie Cole and Lemmy of Motorhead, both of whom died at the end of last year.

    The deaths of Prince and Bowie - both living legends - would have had a massive ripple effect no matter when they died. But social media also amplifies the way we experience celebrity deaths.

    "When, say, Otis Redding died in a 1967 plane crash, plenty of fans were grieving but they could not instantly open their computers and commiserate and create a larger movement of grief," Mr Tandon said.

    "Suddenly everyone has a platform - and might even feel an obligation to share."

    Stef Woods, a professor of American Studies at American University in Washington, DC, agrees there has been a steady stream of celebrity deaths.

    But there are also more celebrities now, as well as chances to "share and be involved with the lives and work of our cultural icons", said Prof Woods, who specialises in pop culture and social media.

    "Our grandparents' generation, there wasn't the same... opportunity to share someone's work through a variety of mediums, or follow somebody on Instagram, or hear their music on Tidal or Spotify, or see a movie on YouTube."

    Like Mr Serpell, Prof Woods predicts that the apparent spike of high-profile deaths will become the norm as the stars of the baby-boomer generation, roughly born from 1946 to 1964, hit their mid-50s and beyond.

    "David Bowie, Alan Rickman, they fall within the baby-boomer years," she said.

    But, she added, we also feel like more people are dying because we are "inundated" with information by rolling news channels and digital media that chart every painful step in a celebrity's illness, the details of their death, the funeral and the impact on their family.

    "For some, it is a source of comfort," said Prof Woods. "For others, it is overwhelming.

    "We are losing someone that we feel close to and has been a part of our lives for decades."