Why do we cry when famous people die?

By Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Published 30/01/2016 | 00:00

michael commane
michael commane

David Bowie's death has received many column inches in newspapers around the world. Radio and television have given the man wall-to-wall coverage.

 I have met rock artist and commentator BP Fallon on a few occasions so when he was talking on radio about David Bowie after his death I did sit up and listen. It seems Madonna tweeted that she was 'devastated' to hear of the death of Bowie. Maybe they had met on a few occasions but it doesn't seem that they were close friends. Facebook was deluged with lesser mortals expressing their 'devastation' at David Bowie's death.

His private cremation was interesting. All the famous people, who could have been there, complete with shades, never got a chance. Nor were any of his fans able to show their pain. Maybe I have no heart, no soul, no feelings but I am confused about how people can get so upset about the death of someone they did not know.

I mention David Bowie because he is the most recent world famous person to die. I admit that the death of a handful of people whom I might have followed on the world scene may have made me think for a moment but I have never been devastated or broken-hearted. The death of former English politician Tony Benn in 2014 caught my attention as he was a man I greatly admired but not for a moment was I 'devastated'. Or when a pope dies why do people seem to get so upset? Since I don't have relationships with famous world figures how in heaven's name can I get upset about their deaths?

It's sad to see anyone, anywhere die. You turn on the radio and you hear of someone losing their life in a road accident. Of course you are sad, it's terrible to hear such bad news. But how can you be 'devastated' by such news. To watch people being killed as a result of war and famine certainly pulls on the heart strings and it is a terrible scandal. But again, how can I be devastated when I have never met the people or been in any sort of relationship with them.

When my mother and father died I was devastated, broken hearted. I hope this does not sound horrible but I was also greatly upset when Jessie my labrador dog died. I had lost a soul companion. She knew me and I knew her.

Journalist Brendan O'Connor said that he cried when he heard of David Bowie's death. Maybe it is that David Bowie's music built bonds between him and his fans. Music certainly brings people together, it builds bridges, so perhaps that could give some explanation to the outpouring of such grief. But I'm still not sure I'm convinced. Is it that the media plays tricks with our feelings? It's more complicated than that. But it certainly is a puzzle for me. Has it something to do with how we use words?

Has it something to do with giving power to people? We are always talking about living in liberated times. But maybe we want to be slaves to our masters. Is there something in our psyche that wants us to look up to people? Do we like having someone to 'worship'? Or maybe we simply admire talent and then lose the run of ourselves?

In preparing this column I discussed it with a friend. Her comment was: 'I would agree with you-except about Bowie.' She went on to say that Bowie was a 'spaceman', 'a separate life-form'.

It sure is a funny old world.

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