Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Using Fame's Fortunes

The number of famous people who have died in 2016 seems to many people to be larger than usual, or perhaps it's a matter of which ones passing away that makes the difference. Some have been outsized figures in their fields, like Prince and David Bowie, while others have been celebrated pop icons known as much for their membership in a particular pantheon than their own work, like Carrie Fisher.

Some people, prompted by the perception that the number is higher, have suggested that it makes 2016 a much worse year than other years. I can understand the thinking, but I reject the idea. For one, many great things happened in 2016 as well, and there were quite a few good and bad things involved no one famous whatsoever. There were also several bad things that happened which should have gotten a lot more attention than they did, such as the destruction of Aleppo, Syria. Any news organization which put up more coverage of any Kardashian whatsoever than of the massacre of innocents in that city deserves to be sentenced to listening to former President Jimmy Carter's official spokesman discourse at length on how much better the world would have been if he had won a second term.

But perspective is called for, I think, and about a lot more things than celebrity deaths. I saw a friend post on her Facebook page about how she was almost glad that her husband had not lived to see "this," referring to the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Now, she was married to him and I wasn't, and she was commenting on the day after the election when many perspectives were a little warped. But I couldn't help but think that "this" was a time which also included the man's granddaughter, whose birth he did not live to see. And I think he might have counted it worth the ugly election and ugly election result to meet her.

It's also kind of funny to think that we'll get a sudden do-over Sunday when the calendar flips to 2017. The reality is that many iconic entertainers will be in their 80s and 90s, and folks in that age range tend to die in greater numbers than younger ones do. The reality is that many Boomer and X-er-aged icons did their bodies a lot of damage when they were younger, and while getting clean definitely lengthened their lives it can't turn back the odometer. And the reality is that a lot of people responsible for great achievements, like first to orbit the earth or first to break the sound barrier, are also in their 80s and 90s, and are no less subject to actuarial laws than anyone else.

Don't get me wrong. I'm saddened when someone whose work I enjoy or appreciate passes away. Same thing when it's someone who pioneered something important. But I didn't know them personally, so the effect is quite a bit smaller than otherwise. Plus, if they are famous for having actually done something, as opposed to 95% of the people TMZ writes about, then we still have their work. Sure, no new Prince music, but Purple Rain continues to reward after multiple listens. In addition to her iconic role as Leia in the Star Wars movies, Carrie Fisher wrote some hilarious books. Those remain.

In the end, if we're honest, we have to admit that we can continue the best part of the work done by our idols and icons. Singer George Michael sang a couple of songs and pursued a couple of activities a fellow in my line of work disagrees with. But after he passed, we began finding out that he was regularly and greatly generous with the money his music had earned him. Any of us can do that, even if we can't match Michael digit for digit as far as the amounts are concerned. In that sense, perhaps we can bring ourselves a little closer to the folks we mostly appreciated from afar, because we might find ourselves doing the exact same thing in memory of those whom we did know directly. Either way, there will be lot worse legacies left behind than one like Michael's, and it's hard to argue against stretching that one out as far as it could possibly go.

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