Gone but not forgotten: The impact of celebrity deaths in 2016

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By this point, everyone knows 2016 was an interesting year, and we’re tired of hearing how much of a mess it turned out to be. While we celebrated a lot of things throughout the 12 months, it was hard not to notice the difficult times we faced. One prominent topic in particular was the overall sadness that many people felt a generation of pop icons and stars began to leave us.

It was a year of heartache for a lot of people with over 100 deaths thrown into the public eye. Starting right away in January, people mourned and celebrated the lives of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Through the months we lost other iconic names like Novelist Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen and Fidel Castro. But it doesn’t end there, of course. The internet was then filled with memes saying how David Bowie “held the fabric of the universe together” by existing, and after his passing on January 10 of last year everything started to fall apart. The year then ended with a bang, people believing 2016 just had to make us suffer until the very end, by taking away mother-daughter duo Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds only a day apart.

We were struck with the loss of modern pop-culture characters such as Willy Wonka, Severus Snape and Halloween Town’s favourite grandma, but we need to remember that they were much more than that. While the news allows us to hear about the tragedies, it can sometimes trivializes the fact that these stars are gone and just use their lives to get more publicity and reads. Sure, people begin to pay their respects towards the ones who have passed, but their popularity only spikes for so long and then fades away.

Streaming of Bowie’s music on Spotify was up 2,700 per cent after he passed away, according to Time Magazine and the same can be said for Prince, as reported by Nielsen Music, stating that over four million copies of his albums were sold since his death.

These people were actors, singers, artists, athletes or politicians, but in many cases they were so much more. Their deaths allowed us to see how iconic they were in life.

In light of Carrie Fisher’s recent passing at the end of December, people mourn Princess Leia, Carrie’s iconic character and her exuberant personality. In a lot of cases we forget to realize how powerful of a figure she was in advocating for mental health and trying to educate the masses — using her stardom for good.

Mass media also does its best to emphasize and, in a way, rate the importance of a celebrity. 2016 saw the death of dozens of public figures almost every month and out of all of them only a handful were given a headline or a mention. They let us know who we should think is relevant and who isn’t — who we should pay attention to and who we can get away with just a brief reference.

Although people choose to focus on whatever they wish, and usually on the serious nature of the passings, the internet has it’s ways of making light of the situation. People went so far as to start a petition to “protect” Betty White, who is now 94, from 2016 and all its wrath. In addition, Forum site Reddit had a thread created where people discussed how somewhere, in another universe, David Bowie — the ultimate starboy — is creating a new, better world and selecting the best of the best to join him, one at a time. At this point in time, I hope that’s the real deal and I can’t wait to join the party.

With the past year in the bag, I’m interested to see where 2017 takes us. Hopefully we can learn from these stars and use the lessons they have tried to teach us to make each year a little bit better and a little bit brighter. The best thing we can do for them is remember what they had to offer to us and the rest of the world without forgetting who they really were.

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