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Wednesday 28 December 2016

Why have so many celebrities died in 2016?

Another celebrity dies - 2016 has been so cruel! Why are all our icons dying?

You've been hearing this a lot, right? Perhaps even adding to the dialogue, questioning why this is happening in greater numbers than usual?

Asking 2016 to go away so we can herald in 2017 when perhaps the rate of celeb deaths will slow down?

Well, while it HAS in fact been a BIG year for celebrity deaths - and, figures do confirm a spike in high-profile deaths this year, with Wikipedia recording 642 notable deaths in January compared to 466 just a month earlier - the fact is: people die.

I am not being morbid or rude or disrespectful.

It's just that people - stars or family or friends - always seem to die when you don't want them to.

Because when do we want them to die?

How about NEVER!

That's not possible or real life, of course. And we know it.

But we continue to be shocked when someone of notes dies. Or when a family member passes.

I would argue we are not equipped as a society to deal with death in any way that is good for our health. That is, we don't know how to deal with grief, and that loved ones can die at any time (again, sounds so obvious, and that yes, we know the drill... but really, we don't, and are emotionally ill equipped when someone we love dies). I would even go as far to say we make their death about us. Because that's what humans do. (I recently told my brother: I am so sad our dad died, so devastated... but what about him! He lost his life so young!).

This is human nature of course, and a sign we are living, breathing humans who have a heart, and are compassionate, and in tune with our emotional IQ. We are greatly affected by death.

The fact is: people of our era and older are dying because they are of that age group that they are more likely to die, and in today's news saturation society, where a 24 hour news cycle is the norm, it is FAR more widely reported when famous people die. And we know more and more details about how they died, which humanises them even more, and affects us even more greatly.

Here are more theories on why seemingly more people of note are dying:

- There are more celebrities

So, we are more likely to feel like we know them more of them.

And we as a society have CREATED more celebrities for no apparent reason (Kardashians, anyone?), so there are more people we care about and know about, and feel affected by when they die.

Our fetish for pop culture, and our hunger to know more and more about famous people, and their willingness to give it to us through social media posts and snippets - or whole mega paid magazine spreads - on their lives makes us feel connected, and therefore more devastated when they die.

- Social media makes us feel more connected... and therefore more gutted

Think about it. When someone dies, the wave of grief - and social media posting - is like a tsunami of hashtags and virtual tears.

If you announce it on YOUR social media page any later than 28 minutes after TMZ or BBC break the news, you may be deemed to be too slow with the news.

Frankly, there has been many a time when I have gone to bed, and at 1.30am Sydney time there is news breaking in the US. And out of bed I hop to report and blog and try to be one of the first. Because we have to be the first, to lay claim to knowing first. Okay, I run a blog page and I have to be with it, but many WANT to be first to post on Facebook and Instagram because we feel we are delivering breaking news, and can then recount how WE felt and where WE were when news broke.

- Music is the soundtrack of our lives

And so, when artists die, we feel pieces of us are gone too.

Musicians of note this year who has passed - David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael to name a few, died "before their time". But what is "before their time" anyway? They are certainly and absolutely FAR too young to have died! Carrie Fisher - only 60! Still so much living to do. Same with George and Bowie and even older artists we've lost, like Leonard Cohen. It's too young! They still had so much living to do... and they still had so much to give... us.

If your great grandmother dies, and she's - as Aussies say - "had a good innings" - they are STILL your loved one, and you STILL don't want them to die. They hold memories close to your heart; they are the fabric of your history. When they die, a piece of you dies too. And you feel the same way when artists and celebrities die, that they are "have been there for you" in different ways. George was there for you when you had a shitty Christmas with an ex. Or when you wanted to get it on with a potential lover... or had a heightened supermodel fetish (Okay, I may be talking about me now...).

When George Michael died, I was propelled back to 1984 when 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' was released and I was an uncool 12 year old at a girls' Catholic school, then got cooler (I think?), and linked more and more memories to fun times hearing George's song's.

The same applied to Prince's passing. 'Cream', 'Get Off', all of those sexy AF numbers brought me back to a time and place in my 20s when life was FUN. And Prince's tunes was in fact the soundtrack to my life... and many a messy night.

There are stories about how David Bowie made YOU feel a particular way when he was alive, and therefore feel certain emotions when he died. They are YOUR stories, valid and important, but connected to you and your history. Everyone's stories unite each other, although many a time we probably feel that OUR grief is greater than someone else's about a famous person's passing, because WE have more memories about them.

I remember when I interviewed Peter Walsh - Oprah's Aussie declutter guru - he said to me that 'clutter memories' can be overwhelming, and people don't know what to do with things connected to deceased loved ones.

He said that when we throw something out, we feel we are throwing out the memory.

But, he is at pains to kindly point out, we are not. The memory remains. We just need to know how to manage it. Perhaps have a few pieces of theirs which we hold close and dear and have us feel connected.

This has helped me somewhat in dealing with what to do with belongings from my late mum's house - I knew I could not keep everything, and I had to learn the art of culling.

Conversely, we connect concert tickets, festival ticket stubs, and midnight movie session tickets, and movie posters, and signed CDs and books to that artist we loved, and how we felt when we heard, had signed, or danced to anything tangible related to that artist. 

- Baby boomers are dying

What is a 'baby boomer'? 

Well, if you are reading this you might be likely to be a Gen X or Gen Y person, or someone born beyond the 'noughties'.

But you could also be a baby boomer, defined as a person born between 1946 and 1964, when there was a massive growth in population. This means people in their 50s, 60s and 70s now make up a much larger percentage of the population than they did four or five decades before that.

The result? More of them are famous! And now, more of them are dying.


Well, the 'baby boomers' are reaching an age where they are more likely to develop life-threatening conditions such as cancer and heart disease, or suffer a stroke (did you know that the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that heart disease, dementia, and stroke are in the top three causes of death in Australia... cancer does not even make it in the top three. I learned this when I was researching my book 'The Australian Ageing Generation Handbook'... and dementia went from number three, to number two on that causes of death list).

So, there is an even greater chance that YOUR fave celeb / artist / author / movie star is dying or about to die. For real.

Prediction: 2017 will have as many if not more notable deaths - because the maths and illnesses likely to afflict our most fave stars says so.

On a personal note, as someone who has experienced death from a young age - my dad died at age 57 (I was 13; he died in a car accident) and my mum died at age 82 (30 years after my dad, and from dementia; I was her carer), my understanding of death changed RAPIDLY.

I went from an innocent child of 13, thinking my parents would die of old age some day in their 80s or even 90s, only to having my world completely and utterly smashed to smithereens knowing that someone I love could die at any time.

For years I was SO, so fearful of my mum dying young and suddenly, and that I would not be able to control any if it. (Turns out I was half right... she died much later, from a disease I could not control, but I could certainly manage how it unfolded and how she was cared for, ultimately - and my brothers can attest - absolutely prolonging her life).

And so, again - an acceptance of death goes a long way in understanding that your fave cultural icon WILL die. Sadly. And never when you want them to. You will never be ready.

I have spent the past few days cranking up George Michael songs LOUD on the music TV channel at home.

I explained to the kids I was celebrating the life of an artist I LOVED and was part of many memories from my youth.

I think they truly got it as they danced along with me... they were having fun... and I was 12 again, then 18, then 24. And it was a happy time for me remembering some good times from my younger days.

Thank you David Bowie, thank you Prince, thank you George Michael. And Michael Jackson  and Whitney Houston before you. We are grateful for the soundtrack you provided to ALL our lives.

Now rest in peace and party hard in heaven.

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