Why does it feel like we’re losing a loved one when a beloved celebrity dies?
Thursday began like any other day. I woke up, made some coffee, and turned on my laptop to check out what was going on on social media. That’s when my day quickly took a turn for the worse: I learned Alan Rickman had died. He was 69 years old.
I quickly found myself reading articles on his best moments as an actor, compilations of his most memorable scenes in the Harry Potter franchise, Tweets mourning his loss from actors he worked with and his friends. The next thing I knew, tears were rolling down my face, and I had an uncomfortable ball in the back of my throat, warning me the sobs were about to come.
What was wrong with me? I had never met this man, and yet I was crying over the news of his death (and I don’t cry very often). Reading the comments on the many BuzzFeed articles on Rickman, I saw that I was not alone—people everywhere were genuinely upset that he had passed away. Why was that?
To me, and to many others, I’m sure, Rickman’s death hit especially hard because of his portrayal of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter franchise. Rickman dying felt like Snape, a fictional character, was dying all over again. But the sadness came from deeper than that.
Like so many other children around the world, the Harry Potter series was a very important part of my childhood. I can still remember my mother reading me the French translations of the novels before bed; I would always beg her to read just one more page. Later, I read the books myself, in English this time. Going to see the movies at the theatre was a ritual: the movies always came out a few days before or after my birthday, and going to see it was always something I associated with being one year older. Although that tradition ended with the last movie, it is still something I look back on fondly.
I know that Rickman is not Snape, but seeing the actor portray him on-screen for 10 years still made it feel that way. It was, after all, the role he was best known for.
We’ve lost many stars in the last few years. Just this week, David Bowie died, as well as René Angélil. In February 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman died. A few months later, we lost Robin Williams (I cried that time too).
Although we may not realize it, these actors, musicians and celebrities played important roles in our lives. Seeing them on screen throughout the years made us feel like we knew them. We associated with some, quoted others, reminisced about our favourite scenes. Maybe celebrities dying hits us so hard because, in a sense, we are losing a part of ourselves—the person or child we were when we first watched a movie, or listened to a song for the first time.
It feels like more and more of our beloved celebrities are dying. I’m not sure if this is a fact, or just a sign that we are growing up—actors who starred in our favourite childhood films are growing older, just like us.
There is one positive note to all of this: whenever we are feeling nostalgic, all we have to do is turn on the T.V. Our beloved actors will live on forever on the screen, and will be there for us when we need them the most. Always.