Wednesday, 2 November 2011

when the public grieve for dead celebrities

Last week British entertainer Jimmy Savile died.  He was well known for the TV programme Jim’ll fix it, as well as for the vast amount of charity work he did.  Next week, his coffin will be on display in a Leeds hotel, in order that mourners may pay their last respects before the funeral which will be held the next day.  No doubt hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people will file past the coffin in order to pay their last respects, even though most of those doing so will never have met him in person.

The public mourning of dead celebrities and public figures is something which seems to have become more prevalent in the past few years.  Perhaps the most memorable was the public grief which was expressed over the death of Diana Princess of Wales, after she was killed in a car crash in 1997.  Mourners went to Kensington Palace to lay flowers, and several books of condolence were filled with signatures.  People travelled from abroad for the funeral, even though they had never met her. 

While the public outpouring of grief for Diana has not since been repeated to the same extent, the death of any public figure does seem to spark an outpouring of grief on some level, with fans often going to lay flowers at the house of the deceased, or the hospital where they died.

But I can’t help wondering why people feel the need to do this.  I suppose that on some levels people do feel they know these people while they are alive.  After all we can generally read about their every move in the press, down to what they have for breakfast and how they spend their free time, and if one is a particular fan then I suppose you might be particularly touched if they then die.  However, given that most fans of celebrities don’t actually meet their idol while they are alive, it seems odd to me that they would feel the need to express a perceived grief once they are dead. 

Or is it that there is a greater acceptance of displaying emotion for someone who was known and loved by many, than there is of displaying personal emotion, and therefore the public grief for a public figure is more of an expression of feelings that relate to one's personal circumstances?


  1. I think it is almost a fashion, to show grief for an unknown celebrity and it makes me uncomfortable in the same way that the expressions of sorrow for a victim of crime does.

    Yes, I feel sorry for the victims of murder, but I do wonder at the people who take flowers to lay at a lamppost or a doorstep to commemorate someone they did not know and had never heard of.

    Especially when they take small children to lay flowers, that is extremely strange.

  2. I think people feel a need to be involved, to say they were there, to have a sense of self-importance.

    I don't understand it personally but I think it is sometimes even narcissistic, trying to turn an event onto oneself, making it about oneself.

    The outpouring of emotion of Diana's death and the fact it was encouraged and deemed acceptable by the pres seems to have left open the floodgates. Now everyone can be part of a major news event, even a local one.

    It is all very well to be sad about someone in the public eye dying. But this need to be a part of it for me is pathetic, and I mean that in the true sense of the word.

    I'm from the north of England and one of my schoolmates travelled down with the rest of her family to London to place flowers at the Buck House gates. Everyone was praising her, and saying what a great thing it was that she had done. I did the smile and nod thing, but inside I was thinking "Oh my God get a life."

    Sorry if all that sounds harsh, but this subject really gets me ranting :-)

  3. I don't know, I like to think it is the latter. I think the UK is actually quite bad at grief, we don't seem to have mechanisms for it. Look at footage post July 7 bombings and it was mostly people stumbling around in quiet shock. Yet when disasters happen in other countries you see mass public displays of grief, wailing etc. I think it is cathartic and we should be less afraid of it. We British pride ourselves very much on dealing with things with dignity and stoicism, illness, death, recession. Maybe that's why the riots were such a shock, and maybe why they happened, pent up anger just waiting to be released.