Again – as we saw recently in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman – people are sharing their grief as if he were a close personal friend.
And again, others are asking “Why?”
Why do we mourn the death of someone we’ve never met?
Why do we feel as if we’ve lost someone who was a part of our lives?
Why do we act as if they were our friend?
Certainly, the internet and social media like Twitter and Facebook have enabled millions to share their thoughts and feelings with the world. We’re probably more aware of the impact certain celebrities have on our lives because of the obsessive nature of the 24-hour news cycle.
We admire their talent and maybe their work ethic. We identify their works of art – films, TV shows, songs – and link them to important moments and places in our lives. And that’s what I think is the key.
When I think of Carole King, I remember listening to “Tapestry” in my first dorm room. Many years later, when my daughter was a tiny baby, I remember singing along with the lullaby King contributed to “Til Their Eyes Shine”.
Am I friends with Carole? No, of course not. We’ve never met and I’ve never even seen her perform live. But when I think of the little dorm room at Webster, or sitting on the couch holding my daughter, I think of Carole and her music. And now, when my college-student daughter wants to see Beautiful (the musical based on King’s early career), I think of Carole and those earlier times, too.
That’s doesn’t make us friends, not in the way I define ‘friend’. But it points to the influence people can have in our lives.
With Harold Ramis, that influence often resulted in people – mostly men – who can quote entire scenes from Caddyshack or Stripes; even President Obama can’t resist. But those who worked with him and knew him – his real friends – probably would describe him the way Kelly Leonard, Asst. VP of Second City, did yesterday:
“Harold Ramis was an A-plus creative talent and an A-plus human being, which never happens.”
The oldies radio station I listen to refers to their playlist as “the soundtrack of our lives.” And that’s true. Every one of us can tell the story of the first time we heard a song: where we were, what we were doing, who we were with. The songs and the artists become a part of our lives.
So when a celebrity dies, it’s as if we’ve lost a part of us. It’s not entirely true, because their work lives on. But now there is a twinge of sadness when we hear that song or watch that movie or TV rerun.
That’s okay. Feel sad that Harold Ramis – or Philip Seymour Hoffman or whoever – won’t be creating any more memorable characters.
But don’t forget to celebrate, too. Hold onto those memories; make new ones, too. And for now, let’s remember Harold Ramis:
In the immortal words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Au revoir, gopher.”