2016 took away some of the most iconic stars out there: from Prince to David Bowie to Gene Wilder to Carrie Fisher and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds at the very end, this past year was historic in terms of number of celebrity deaths. So why have so many famous people passed away of late and will this trend continue? The uptick is due to celebrity culture taking hold in the 1960’s, right around the time the baby boomers were old enough to get famous. While the baby boomer crop of celebrities is entering old age now and therefore coming to their natural end, the trend of famous people passing away with great frequency won’t slow down any time soon. That’s because even though the baby-boomer era passed, celebrity culture only has only grown since the ’60’s and continues to dominate our society, with the pool of possible celebrities continuing to widen as YouTubers and reality TV stars join the ranks.
Besides losing the people we grew up with, the continual loss is jarring as we often cope with the fragility of life by pretending it’s not there. Sure, we face our own mortality on occasion when people we personally know pass away. Attending a funeral of someone who lived a full and meaningful life or whose life was cut short can push us to reevaluate how we use our precious time and what we prioritize. But there’s only so many people in our social circles who can die at any given moment, so it’s easy to slip back into distraction. Open up the list to people we never actually met, but whose films or TV shows we watched or whose music we listened to over the last half century, and suddenly the pool of candidates who could kick the bucket gets incredibly larger.
While we can’t stop death from occurring, we can use these extra reminders to consider our lives more deeply and better ourselves. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Our sages taught that on the day before we die, we should be sure to do “teshuva” (to take stock of our ways and improve ourselves and become more aligned with our Creator). The famous question that is asked next is “How do you know what die you’ll die?” The answer, is of course, “We don’t, so do teshuva every day.” While it normally is challenging to remember “the day you die is coming soon, so do teshuva,” as our beloved celebrities continue to pass, perhaps they will not have only entertained and amazed us during their lives, but also push us to grow in their deaths.