As we mourn the untimely passing of actor Chadwick Boseman, star of several historical movies as well as the blockbuster Black Panther movie, some of us wonder how we can feel so connected to someone we've never met. When I started seeing memorials to Boseman a few days ago, I thought that it was a mistake. (It wouldn't be the first time that a celebrity was erroneously noted as having passed away.) But as I began reading, I realized that Boseman had been battling cancer for the past four years. As the news broke, most people who were around the actor reported that they never knew he was ill. In fact, during this battle for his life, Boseman continued to work as usual, putting out movies such as Black Panther, Da 5 Bloods, Avengers, Marshall, and others. Boseman even took time out to spend a moment with children suffering from cancer.
I felt so deeply sad about Boseman's passing that it put me in a funk for the rest of the night and I wondered why I felt so much grief for someone I only knew from the movie screen. Of course, we are all humans on this planet and we are all connected so anyone's passing should foster a sense of sadness in us, but often times, we have heightened grief for beloved celebrities. Why is this? I puzzled over this for the next few days. Was it because he was so young when he passed? He was only 43. Was it that he used his energy to give such vibrant performances in so many films, even as he was fighting cancer? Was it because he seemed like a genuinely kind human being?
I happened to see a random Instagram post that commented on how it was okay to mourn the loss of a celebrity and I realized I wasn't alone in feeling such sadness over the loss of the man who had brought T'Challa to life and had inspired a sense of pride in the younger generation (and let's be honest, the older generations too).
I decided to do a little research: why is it that the death of beloved celebrities make us so sad?
An article from Well+Good (https://www.wellandgood.com/celebrity-deaths-grief/) delved into this subject after the death of Kobe Bryant at the beginning of 2020. Ali Finney writes that "pros say this reaction to mourn an athlete or a celebrity makes sense, especially when the person was someone we admired and who is inextricably tied to certain memories or moments in time...our relationships with celebrities don't necessarily follow typically understood measures of time and space, making them seem subconsciously immortal to us in a sense."
The website What's Your Grief? discussed this topic after the death of David Bowie. Writer Litsa Williams notes that "we don't know celebrities but we know celebrities. They have often been a regular part of our lives, in the shows and movies we love, creating the music that defines moments in our lives, creating art and writing we love. We have often seen them grow and change and, in some cases, have felt connected to those changes." She also brings up two other good points: "they are connected to friends or family who have died" (maybe a lost loved one was a big fan of the celebrity) and "we connect with the way the celeb died" (maybe you've experienced a personal loss that was similar to the way the celebrity died.).
The main takeaway that I got from reading about celebrity deaths and the public's grief is that it is okay to have these feelings. The actor, singer, dancer, sports player, etc. connected with you in whatever it was they created- whether it was a movie you loved or a song you danced to when you were a teenager or you remember having the best day ever sitting with your family at the stadium while you watched your favorite player. And it's sad to not only lose another human being but to lose someone who created something that you enjoyed and to know that they won't be doing it any longer. With any feelings like this whether you are sad over a personal loss, the loss of a celebrity, the loss of a job (which can also send your world spinning), it is important to take time with your feelings and reflect (perhaps with other people, if necessary.)
Chadwick Boseman, the man and his work, will be sorely missed. I'm grateful for the energy he put into his films and his dedication to his craft.