The saying goes, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” Unless that single death is someone we saw in a movie we liked.
We have such a bizarre preoccupation with celebrity deaths. We’ll shake our heads in sadness when dozens are killed by random violence or thousands are killed by a natural disaster, but the death of one famous person sends us into seemingly obligatory displays of conspicuous grief. It’s not enough to mourn; we must be seen mourning, in as public a fashion as possible, by as many people as possible. This includes the breathless rush to post the news, of which both we and the media are guilty. It’s as if being first to announce it provides some kind of ownership over it, that our grief is more valid because it was announced before everyone else’s. Is the purpose behind it to actually grieve at the passing of this person, or to get credit for the manner in which the grieving is done?
Now, far be it from me to begrudge sadness at the death of someone whose work, however seemingly banal or pedestrian it may be to me, has touched people in some way. But that connection, no matter how potent it may seem, is ultimately ephemeral. The real tragedy of a sudden death like that of Paul Walker is in a daughter now without a father, a family now without a son. Not in a world now without more Paul Walker movies. And in our fervent desire for martyrdom, Walker’s career is being elevated in some circles from one of competent actor to one of unrealized potential, when that potential was rarely discussed before the events of Saturday. As if his death can’t be sad enough on its own without being focused through the prism of his work. A person is dead before their time in a senseless accident. Isn’t that reason enough to grieve?
But this is a world of In Memoriam montages and Tumblr tributes. Celebrities are our royalty, and we must tell our sad stories of the death of kings.