Grief and Celebrity Deaths


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss


Cory Monteith, Eydie Gorme, Dennis Farina, Bobby Blue Bland, James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, Joyce Brothers, Richie Havens, Jonathan Winters, Annette Funicello, Van Cliburn, Bonnie Franklin. This is just a small sampling of the many celebrity deaths in my lifetime.

Celebrity deaths, whether unexpected or not, tend to feel very personal despite the fact that we probably have never personally met the individual. Still, the relationship seems–and truly can be–personal.

We are fascinated by the lives of celebrities.  We grow up with them. They have been in our living rooms, our kitchens and our bedrooms. We know all about their lives – their struggles and their achievements, their hopes and dreams. They are our friends and when one of them dies, it can have a profound impact.

It’s natural to fixate on celebrities. Humans are social creatures and we have evolved to pay attention to people at the top. By observing them, you learn what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one. And, by knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you are able to navigate the social scene – or simply have something to talk about at lunch with coworkers.

When a celebrity dies, the grief reaction can be quite unexpected. Society, friends, colleagues, teachers, parents do not understand why the death is so upsetting.  For youth, the death of a celebrity may be the first death they experience.  And if it’s a drug overdose or suicide, it can shatter their world view. Any death of a public figure can have an impact on spirituality and belief systems.

Noting the celebrities listed…. I was worried about how my nieces would react to Cory’s death.  With the deaths of Jean and Bonnie, I mourned my time watching TV with my parents and siblings growing up.  Van Cliburn’s death touched my heart as I recalled listening to his records over and over when I was immersed in the piano. And when Tony Soprano died, I was just plain sad. I loved that guy.

The outpouring of grief that often accompanies a celebrity death allows people to feel part of the community and share their grief in a safe and supported way. It can be a time to reminisce, share stories, and face their own mortality. If it is a first loss experience, the experience of grief can help prepare for personal loss later in life.

If you or your child is deeply impacted by a celebrity death, go with it. With grief, there are never right or wrong or good or bad feelings. And one death may trigger a grief reaction from a previous death. Give yourself permission to feel and consider this a time for personal growth and insight.

We Can Help

Speak with the referral team by contacting us seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Any first visit and admission can be made the first day.

Northern Ohio's Hospice of Choice

More than 1,000 Hospice of the Western Reserve employees and 3,000 volunteers live and work side-by-side in the same neighborhoods with our patients and families. We are privileged to have cared for more than 100,000 Northern Ohioans since our inception.